It both succeeded and failed — while the original DJ Hero's track-listing was a breath of fresh air, the game suffered from a lack of polish.
With the idea already established, DJ Hero 2 is more of the same, just executed better. The new "Freestyle" gameplay options are DJ Hero 2's biggest addition, replacing the old air-horn spamming sections with creative cross-fading and scratching. The game's also got a better pace to it than the original DJ Hero, with multiple song set-lists flowing into each other rather than pausing to catch breath.
It's the music that is DJ Hero 2's biggest draw though, with mixes provided by Deadmau5 and David Guetta. But the song selection is also perfect, mixing recent pop tunes from the likes of Lady GaGa with more classic funk and disco hits from Chic and Stevie Wonder. It's hard not to admire the ingenuity of DJ Hero's mixes, even if you're not a big fan of the music on offer.
DJ Hero 2 also takes a stab at being more of a party game. The introduction of vocals - and a new Party Play mode which just sets the game running and lets players jump in whenever they like - do add to the social nature of the title, but DJ Hero still feels more like a single-player experience to us. It's the type of game we want to learn. Which is no bad thing by the way.
DJ Hero 2's main campaign - the Empire Mode - will take roughly 4 hours to complete; but playing the game for its campaign is kinda the wrong way to do it. This is a game meant for replaying.
Looking back on the original DJ Hero, it's clear FreeStyle Games were only able to implement their core ideas. They nailed the fundamental concepts of DJ gameplay - the crossfading, the effects, the mixes - but didn't really tie together their full vision. The original game felt a bit static - in part due to the game's poor sampling and Freestyle mechanics. It's this area that's seen the biggest overhaul in DJ Hero 2. For starters, the basic sampling button is no longer restricted to air-horns and trendy geezers screaming "Yeahhh boii!" — samples are lifted out of the current mix. For example, a sample might include the track's kick-drum or a vocal hit, meaning it fits more in context with the actual song being played. What's more, triggering these samples is actually judged now. Each mix ends with a Freestyle rating, judging creativity and timing in these sections. But the Freestyle rating isn't just restricted to sample sections — the game also has Freestyle Crossfading and Freestyle Scratching. Both put a much greater emphasis on creatively affecting the mix and it works really, really well. In addition to the new Freestyle options, DJ Hero 2 also includes new effects to play with. Instead of simply changing the EQ filter, turning that little knob next to the Euphoria button on the DJ Hero turntable introduces a variety of new effects including bit-crushers, delays, gates and flangers. While DJ Hero 2 doesn't offer any choice over the effects, the ones they pick suit the mix perfectly. It's delightful holding a note - another of DJ Hero 2's new features - while turning the bit-crusher knob to completely destroy the already-glitchy sounds. The tweaks don't dramatically change DJ Hero 2's gameplay, they just make it better. They put a greater emphasis on player input, creativity and make the whole thing feel fresh. The whole game is rich in polish.
The most noticeable thing about DJ Hero 2 is its overhauled UI. Gone are the graffiti tags and edgy black and yellow lines, and in its place are whites and greys. DJ Hero 2 is so sharp and so clean you could almost have a shave with it. It's simplistic, easy to control and really pretty. It also fits the club culture it's trying to represent much better. In addition to the overhauled UI, DJ Hero 2's also improved the in-game visuals. The club-scene backgrounds are as exciting and envy-inducing as the original, but they also look way better. For our money, this is down to a new lighting model that FreeStyle Games have introduced — everything looks a lot more ambient than in the original.
One of our biggest gripes with the original DJ Hero was the way the game stopped for an inane length of time between multiple mix set-lists. DJ Hero 2 corrects that issue by speeding up the breaks, introducing a new mix before the previous has had time to finish. The game also implements some continuous mixes, which seamlessly integrate multiple songs into one huge mix. These are our favourite set-lists from the game and pop-up frequently throughout the Empire campaign.
The game's campaign has been given a bit of an overhaul in DJ Hero 2. Players are prompted to select an avatar and then take them on a campaign across a number of famous venues. There are DJ battles along the way, which require sections of a mix to be dominated. This makes it easier to recover from mistakes, and gives the game a race-esque dynamic. The whole campaign is tied together by Hed Kandi inspired artwork which seems perfectly fitting.
DJ Hero 2's multiplayer component is now a huge focus of the package. Not only are there are a variety of new modes, but the online multiplayer now includes progressive unlocks, levels and even player IDs (like in Modern Warfare 2 and Street Fighter IV). The new modes include the afore-mentioned DJ battles, as well as streak competitions and traditional high score affairs. We played plenty of multiplayer in writing the review and it all works brilliantly (both locally and online). It's especially competitive when playing online against an opponent of similar ability; we found ourselves cheering when we snagged a streak battle with the very last note of the mix. The progressive unlocks only add to the addictive nature of the multiplayer.
Honestly, there's not much to dislike about DJ Hero 2. In fact, our review notes have a big empty space beneath the "Negatives" heading. If there's any criticism, we suppose it's that there could always be more. Character customisation can be a little limited (especially when these can be taken online, it would be cool if everyone had completely different avatars). Likewise, how could we not want more songs? There's more than enough on offer here, it's not really a criticism, but we'd absolutely welcome more. Hopefully DJ Hero 2 gets better DLC support than its predecessor. In addition, it would be neat if all the tracks from the original DJ Hero could be imported into the sequel — something FreeStyle's been hinting at over the past few days. Other than that, we're really struggling to say something negative about the new DJ Hero. The concept maintains the same, but the formula's been polished to perfection.
DJ Hero 2 corrects just about every issue lofted at its predecessor. There's a much greater emphasis on creativity due to the new Freestyle mechanics introduced. Ultimately it's the set-list - which is more dynamic this time around - that will capture hearts, but the improved UI and overhauled multiplayer component elevate the package even further.