In my mind there’s a t-shirted Bobby Kotick in some strobing Ibizan superclub; he’s clutching Tiesto’s latest in one hand and the other’s held tightly against cocked headphones. He’s nodding, not with the deep boom, boom of the bassline, but with the overriding sense that his grand masterplan appears to now be in motion – this time around there’s more chance that people will own two of the plastic turntable peripherals and, wisely, eschewing the disparate guitar from the line-up has meant that not only can a twin desk affair work, but there’s also room for vocals.
DJ Hero 2, then, is very much an evolutionary step for the Freestyle Games powered series: it’s 75% the old, familiar DJ Hero and 25% brand spanking new sequel, and comes with a healthy, far less America-centric crate of records. As a result, helped no end by a vastly improved front end that takes a few cues from the Codemasters school of UI, DJ Hero 2 is fresh, exciting, invigorating and best of all, damned good fun. It’s like Activision knew all along that the first game was just the foot in the door, eventually making way for the bouncer to burst his way in with the second.
Of course, anyone expecting Two to anymore resemble real DJ’ing needs to find a new wavelength to ride, this isn’t DJ’ing as much as Guitar Hero isn’t playing in a band and Tony Hawk Star isn’t skateboarding – this is a rhythm action game in which you press buttons and slide sliders along to prebuild, predetermined tracks, albeit normally ones that involve at least two pieces of music, mashup style. What is does do, mind, is ensure that every button press, every scratch and every slide of that crossfader feels as close to DJ’ing as it needs to do whilst not forgetting it’s a game.
And what a game. That 75% that’s carried over from DJ Hero is present and correct – the game still needs taps, fader flicks and, of course, sc-sc-scratching, but it’s the new that brings as much innovation to the (turn) table as the manual and revert did to that other popular Activision license. This year it’s all about the freestyle, so we’ve got freestyle scratching, freestyle sample playing and freestyle crossfading – when the icon scrolling down the 33 highway is empty, that’s your (literal) cue to go wild and improvise, and the freedom to do things your way is most welcome.
Not that you’re changing too much, of course – you’re only playing with what’s there – but in the absence of the ability to actually be a DJ (Hero 3 would be lovely if it gave you a reason to use two decks in single player) this is as close as you can get to a sense of flexibility without risk of breaking the game. On hard mode and above, when the game’s throwing everything it’s got at you the new freestyle portions offer high score potential that would normally be limited to ensuring you know every tap off by heart, so it’s nice to know there’s no longer an obvious score ceiling.
Empire mode is also new. Across six gradually unlocked locations, you’ll start in Ibiza and, via a series of increasingly tricky set lists, battles and challenges you’ll unlock stars that in turn open up more modes and stacks of secret goodies, including customisation for your DJ (costumes, headphones and decks), new characters and new mixes. Think of Empire as a light career mode and you’ll be somewhere near, and the structured focus is a nice aside from the quick play and battle modes that make up the other single player sections.
What’s neat is the way online is integrated into everything you do in DJ Hero 2, including the display of the next highest score in your Friends list for each particular track, so as you’re trying to concentrate on hitting the right buttons and scratching in the right direction you’re also concious that if you miss a beat and lose your multiplier your friend won’t be seeing your score the next time he tries that mix. Of course, there’s online battling too, and you can also challenge your friends to beat your score directly after finishing a particular section just by hitting a button.
The game’s not perfect, though: there’s still no proper transitions between mixes during a setlist (apart from the six introductory openings for each country in Empire mode which are dubbed megamixes and do exactly that) although the gap is now much shorter, the characters roll from the same ugly extras agency that populates other Hero titles and the vocal sections, whilst a clever inclusion, aren’t as developed or as rewarding as the likes of Singstar. Loading each mix is still too slow, though, and saving, if automatic, shouldn’t take as long as it does after each one.
That said, DJ Hero 2 is brilliant entertainment and is such a clear step up from the first that we’d even suggest those that didn’t get on with DJ Hero should at least try the demo as practically ever aspect that needed work has been improved, tweaked or replaced. With better music throughout the game feels more consistent and the extra polish applied to the non-game sections really gives the game a sense of quality – a hugely improved sequel that doesn’t feel like Activision have done anything but make sure DJ Hero 2 is a success.
Let’s hope it is.
- Better source material and better mashups
- Lovely user interface
- Online has been given a welcome boost
- The bundle includes DJ Hero 1
- The hardware’s still superb
- The super-easy Party Play setting means anyone can have fun
- The graphics aren’t quite up to scratch
- There’s still a bit of repitition with the artists featured
DJ Hero 2 acts like Activision have listened to feedback from the first game and the good points read like a checklist of improvements. Better music? Check. More single player modes? Check. More freedom to influence the audio? Check. I’m impressed with the way this one’s been handled by both publisher and developer, the icing on the game being the inclusion of the first DJ Hero when you buy the turntable bundle, which means for a penny under £90 you’re getting two full games and a DJ controller, which is excellent value for money.