DJ Hero 2 Preview
Last year, Activision set out to revitalize the flagging music rhythm genre with the release of DJ Hero, a game designed to tap into the non-classic-rock-loving segment of the gaming public. Unfortunately, the game wasn't quite as accessible as the company hoped it would be, as its middling sales amply reflected. This October, the mega-publisher hopes to broaden the franchise's appeal with DJ Hero 2, a game said to represent a bleeding-edge upgrade on the previous DJ Hero's somewhat old school approach.
Last week in downtown San Francisco, Activision and London developer Freestyle Games held a hands-on preview event where members of the press were allowed to take the new rhythm game for a spin. Setting the scene in a well known dance club, the company filled two rooms with gaming stations, a DJ booth and even an elevated stage for local DJ's to show their skills by going head to head in the game. Each station was set up to reflect DJ Hero 2's new tag line which—in the words of indie recording artist Beck—is “two turntables and a microphone”. Up to three people at a time could jump on and play their way through new mashups by Snow and The Jackson 5, Dee-lite and disco legends Chic, or Nelly and Warren G. From what we saw of the basic gameplay, not much has changed since the game's previous incarnation.
First of all, the game's controls and deck controller are exactly the same. You're still matching a moving “note highway” by pressing red, blue and green button turntable buttons to scratch and beat match, and shifting the crossfader knob back and forth to change tracks. You're still racking up multipliers with note streaks trying to maximize your Euphoria meter, and you can still earn the right to Rewind, thus locking the other player out temporarily while you grab extra points. What has changed in DJ Hero 2 is its emphasis on multiplayer. Having heard the gaming community's complaints that DJ hero failed miserably as a party game, Activision offers a slew of new multiplayer modes including traditional competitive modes like Accumulator, Checkpoint and Streakers, as well as a new Battle mode that emulates real life DJ battles. In this mode, players engage in true back and forth-style gameplay that's different from the type of simultaneous competitive play seen thus far in games like Guitar Hero. Gamers also have the option of playing the new jump in/jump out Party Play mode, a mode that's nonscoring and is entirely for fun. Featuring the same graphics and mashups as the rest of the game, the mode allows one, two or three players to play at any time, and can also function on its own as a visual playlist.
From the demo on hand, it appeared that while the microphone/singing aspect of the game is still something of an afterthought, it's definitely been improved. Most of the songs support a vocalist with on screen lyrics and scoring, although it was admittedly awkward at times, attempting to sing lyrics seemingly randomly rearranged to suit the mashup (and admittedly painful to listen to the various attendees trying to hit the high notes on The Jackson Five's “ABC”.) In addition to the new multiplayer modes, the game also has extended Freestyle gameplay that allows you greater creative freedom during any mashup, and a new Empire career mode that allows you to “build your brand” as you rise through the fictional DJ ranks. Other improvements to the game are apparent in a refined UI, new playable characters and new venues (including some very obvious product placement). Although Activision claims the game's tutorial and five difficulty modes will increase the accessibility of the game, it's likely that first time players will still find the controls and the controller take some getting used to. Even so, the new updated soundtrack filled with an impressive number of current radio hits is a ton of fun and will undoubtedly do a lot to suck new players in.
From what we saw, DJ Hero 2 offers some fun if unsurprising music rhythm gameplay. The game represents if not exactly a giant leap, then rather a well-placed next step in the evolution of what could certainly be a long-lived franchise. DJ Hero 2 will be available for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii as a stand alone title or in two different bundles—a standard bundle that comes with the game and one turntable priced at $99.99 and a party bundle that comes with “two turntables and a microphone” for $149.99. Look for all three in stores this October 19th.