- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available for the musical PlayStation 2 gamer:

Guitar Hero II from Activision/Red Octane (Rated: Teen, $79.99).

Any 15-year-old who ever has wished to wield an ax with the power and stage presence of such masters as Eddie Van Halen, Brian Setzer and Slash can virtually live a dream through an awesome simulation.

A pumped-up sequel to last year’s inventive game once again combines a guitar controller with on-screen action to turn an entertainment room into a concert arena.

The player wears a miniature version of a classic red Gibson SG electric guitar that contains five colored fret buttons, a strum bar and whammy bar to play along with an eclectic collection of hard-rock songs.

To succeed, the faux musician must simply match colored notes of various sustained lengths that scroll by on-screen using the instrument while working through a tune.

After an avatar is selected in the career mode, such as the 1950s rocker Eddie Knox or metal monster Axel Steel, the beginner starts his ascent to rock superstardom with a battle of the bands held in a high school gym and, with practice and hard work, eventually makes it to England’s Stonehenge to dazzle audiences.

New rockers will appreciate an added selection of tutorials to learn the songs at a slower pace, while veteran rockers will love the new set of multiplayer options.

They can challenge each other or simultaneously work together on songs as one handles lead duties while the other takes on the bass or rhythm-guitar chores.

Of course, to perform that magic, musicians will need another guitar, and the company ANT Commandos is more than willing to help.

It has a slick selection of controllers and peripherals for the Guitar Hero games to further unleash a player’s creative juices as he performs rock acrobatics.

Just one of its offerings is the Freedom V Guitar ($49.99), which offers a 100-foot wireless connectivity radius and up to 800 hours of action on one battery pack (four AA batteries, not included). It features a chrome whammy bar, blue or red finish and back-lit strum bar. Owners can add a case ($14.99) to protect the investment and colorfully designed skins ($14.99 each) to adorn its body.

For those unsure of how to execute some of theatrics involved in becoming a virtual rock god, I suggest first popping into their PS2 the double-disc DVD set Kissology: Vol. 1 1974-1977 (VH1 Classic Records, $29.98) for a comprehensive tutorial delivered by one of the best glam rock bands in the world.

Viewers get six solid hours of tongue wagging, fire breathing and guitar jutting courtesy of the original Kiss lineup — Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss.

SingStar Rocks from Sony Computer Entertainment (Rated: E 10+, $49.99).

Vocalists have not been forgotten this holiday season, as a complete package for the PS2 enables them to belt out some of their favorite songs.

Although SingStar really doesn’t rock — any song list that includes Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” eliminates it from my headbanger category — it does provide the ability to sing along with 30 music videos from the actual performers through the two included microphones.

It will be a difficult climb to the top as singers try to match pitch and rhythm by following on-screen guides and the actual vocal lines to collect the most points.

I found the song selection a bit too thin, scattered and eclectic for my tastes. Tunes include B-52’s “Love Shack,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Hole’s “Celebrity Skin,” the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gwen Stefani’s “Cool” and the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” I would prefer discs created with specific genres or decades of music rather than an effort to please everyone a little bit.

However, a set of multisinger challenges will liven up a party (the duets are especially fun), and console owners also may wish to attach an EyeToy camera ($29.99) to see themselves perform on-screen.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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