October 27, 2010
The heat in this place is unbearable, as it radiates out from thousands of like-minded folks, most of whom are likely to be off their faces on whatever they can get their hands on. Despite that though, we’re all united by a common interest. A love of the music. All around you, you’re surrounded by thousands of people crammed into such a small space that you can’t help but think that you’re stood in one of the world’s biggest fire hazards ever. Don’t ever let a Health & Safety inspector in here, that’s for sure. The smell? It’s not attractive. Let’s put it that way. The sweat? It’s very Neanderthal in nature... People even have their tops off. Mostly blokes. Damn! I now know what a sardine feels like.
When all’s said and done though, it’s amazing to think that so many people would gather in such dismal conditions to salute a god of the music. However, this person isn’t playing the music on a traditional instrument. Oh no, they’re spinning the tunes. They’re mixing the tracks. They’re scratching records with their nose. When Faithless said “God is a DJ,” this is what he must have meant.
Yes! Once again we’re digging out our plastic DJ deck peripheral, as we attempt to re-enact that sense of power. That feeling of euphoria. But this time, we’re not covered in other people’s sweat as a spectator, we’re spinning the tunes now... well, kind of. We’re pressing buttons in truth, and thanks to the small innovations made by FreeStyleGames in DJ Hero 2, we’re adding our own spin on things as well... excuse the pun.
By and large, DJ Hero 2’s biggest addition this year is the freestyle sections. No longer will you be forced to use the same sample on the middle red platter button repeating the same infernal sample over and over again, because instead, DJ Hero 2 says a big hello to track-specific samples that allow you to get creative. These freestyle sample sections can have you playing the synth keyboard riff from Axel F, or making Lady Gaga repeat Poker Face a gazillion times. It definitely adds an extra element to the proceedings that are more than welcome.
DJ Hero 2 also sees the introduction of freestyle scratch and cross-fader elements as well, allowing you to tailor the track to your specific tastes. Perfectly matching up the corresponding vocal lines from two songs so that they switch back and forth in one of the game’s many mashups is as good as it gets in DJ Hero 2. It makes you feel like you’re really behind those decks... which in a way, you are. Other minor additions to the gameplay include held notes, which don’t really change things, and who can forget the ultimately useless guitar segments from the original, which are now replaced with ultimately useless vocal sections. I’ve always wanted to sing along to Firestarter... That was a joke.
Prior to launch, FreeStyleGames promised a much more interactive and engaging career mode: enter Empire mode and a whole load of DJ talent. The aim of the all-new Empire mode is to build a name for yourself and turn it into brand, including choosing a logo and a club, and then preparing to rock a few people’s socks off. You’ll spend your time jetting around the globe playing sets and mixes from a whole array of different musical tastes to the club’s locals, while also challenging DJ legends and local DJs to a wide array of battles. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Yes, the general mechanics in DJ Hero 2 are as good as ever, but this new structure does little to promote a life of a DJ, and soon descends into choosing setlist after setlist until you have all 325 stars. Just sat here, with no game designing experience at all, I could think of a much better DJ lifestyle driven experience than what FreeStyleGames has come up with... and I could do so, after large doses of horse tranquiliser and having not slept for 4 days. It may be harsh, but originality seems to be dead at FreeStyleGames, especially here.
FreeStyleGames has even gone so far as to add “Power Decks” which can be unlocked by playing through Empire mode as well, which truth be told, kind of ruin the leaderboards and the competition element somewhat. These Power Decks offer various power boosts when they’re selected, that can include higher multipliers, more points for scratches/taps/cross fades and so on. Sure, this may add a tactical element to the proceedings – having to choose which deck to use and during which setlist – but if I wanted a tactical game, I’d play chess. This is a music game first and foremost, and now when you look at someone’s score on the leaderboards, you no longer stare in awe, but wonder which boost they added to their deck – incidentally the scores are indicated with a lightning bolt icon when the player has used a Power Deck, but still, it defeats the purpose.
One of the more unique integrations though is the Hero feed, and the constant reminder while you’re playing a certain track of the scores your friends have put up. It’s definitely a minor, but fine addition to the franchise and has you constantly keeping one eye on your friend, hoping to topple their top score. It adds an incentive to keep playing after you’ve nailed that 5-star score.
How I’ve got so far in this review without talking about the music, I’ll never know, but seeing as I mentioned it, I may as well delve right in. On the face of it, DJ Hero 2’s 105 strong tracks, combining to make 80 plus mixes, is a diverse bunch that surely should have something for everything, but you soon realise that it doesn’t quite hold a candle to the original’s setlist. The heavy on the Daft Punk original seemed to have more iconic tracks than the sequel, but the inclusion of Deadmau5 has gone someway to making up for the lack of the French duo – there is one track from them, but it’s not all that great.
There seems to be a sprinkling of more dance and house this time around, but there’s more pop and R&B than ever before, which really doesn’t cater to the crowd that’ll fork out the money for this type of game. Admittedly, it’s a solid list, but there isn’t that oomph that the original had.
If DJ Hero 2 isn’t being played with your mates huddled around the decks, the best action you’ll get is online. Online you’ll find 6 varying different modes that should cater to most players; these include the traditional Star Battle, where you battle for top score; and a Power Deck Battle which lets you choose which Power Deck you use. Then there’s also Streak, where you increase your streak count throughout the song and bank your highest streak when you feel like it’s enough to grant you the win; and Accumulator, which is similar to Streak, but you bank multiple streaks that add into a total score – beware, you only have a small amount of banks. For the more competitive, there are Checkpoint battles where you have to outscore your opponent; and the ultimate DJ face-off, AKA the DJ Battle, which is tailored for 2 players and alternates control of the mix in a sort of checkpoint battle... to the death. Okay, not the death, but until someone wins. In the Checkpoint battles especially, the most interesting aspect is fighting for control of the freestyle sections, which is first come, first served. It does take a while to get a game unfortunately, which is frustrating, and the latter two modes favour the players playing on the lower difficulties, while the former four favour those playing on the higher difficulties. Not a great balance really; what it needs is some sort of matchmaking by difficulty system. All in all though, it’s a pretty robust offering and should offer budding DJs plenty to wrestle with.
From the robust to the absurd... the achievements. For DJ Hero stalwarts, this will be a fairly easy offering, especially with the new Power Decks, but for mere mortals like me, consider a lot of them out of reach. The most annoying aspects though are the stupidly uneven achievement points that mean gone are the days of that superbly rounded off gamerscore, and even worse, the fact you need two DJ decks and a mic to even stand a chance of getting the full 1,000G. To do it once – like last year – is forgivable. Two years on the trot though? Let’s call it greedy and exploitative. Other than that, the points are spread across all modes, but the balance is incredibly off. 18 points for 5 starring the hardest song on expert, but only 16 for 5 starring them all... ummm, what? It’s not a great list, in fact, it’s one of the worst for some time. Yes, I said it.
DJ Hero 2 though as a package is a definite improvement over last year, but may not iterate on the original enough to tempt you to part with your cash. The new “Empire” mode has the depth of uneducated hooker and unfortunately the track selection doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the Daft Punk led soundtrack of DJ Hero 1 – although Deadmau5 does go some way to making up for that. While the freestyle sections are great additions to the franchise, there is little else to get excited about. Unfortunately, based on the upgrades between the two versions, it looks like this franchise is going the same way as the rest of the Hero brand. Shame.
Deadmau5 leads the pack here, with DJ Shadow’s mixes coming up just behind. There’s a bit of Firestarter in there as well, but as far as iconic, it doesn’t meet the dizzy heights of the original’s tracklist.
There’s DJs. They spin tunes. It’s a little bit psychedelic. There’s lots of lights... and lots of people. DJ Hero 2’s visuals are great and they do their job more than adequately.
It plays like DJ Hero 1, but with some freestyling sections. They’re a great addition certainly and FreeStyleGames has done right to not change too much. It doesn’t seem as fresh and addictive as last year though, which is a shame.
Empire mode is bland and uninspired, so the only way to play is either on your lonesome or with friends in Quickplay, or online. Yes, the choices are that lame.
Not only do they annoy the hell out of the OCD achievement hunters out there with odd numbered achievements, but mix in the fact that in order to get the full 1,000, you need 2 DJ decks and a mic as well. We let it off last year for needing 2 DJ decks because it was their first folly on the console. This year though? No way Jose. Dear FreeStyleGames, your achievement list is the definition of “sucky.”
Unfortunately for us, DJ Hero seems to be going the same way as the rest of the Hero brand, with little to no innovation upon the last iteration. The freestyle sections are a great addition, the new track list isn’t as inspired as the original’s and the Empire mode is a complete waste of time. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still fun, but it’s starting to wear a little thin already.