Guitar Hero
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Red Octane
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 – 2
Words By:

Come on, own up - we've all done it! And I bet most of us have been caught doing it as well at some point eh? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about something the church would frown upon, I’m talking about rocking out to some Air Guitar! Now many of you won’t know this but the world of air guitar is huge. There are CDs dedicated to the art form as well as professional competitions. But all of that is about to change! - Oh yes - Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce to you, the most fun you can have standing up in your living room; Guitar Hero.

Now, while the idea of music rhythm games is nothing new, they've been with us in so many different guises, ranging from the standard and arguably the most popular in the form "dancing" all the way through to bonkers ones like the classical music inspired Mad Maestro. But don’t think that the guitar market ones have been forgotten about either. There is the excellent GuitarooMan on PS2, as well as Guitar Freaks from Konami, but while that did have a PS2 release (Japan only I’m afraid) it’s essentially an arcade machine, and the guitar controller for the PS2 version was very expensive.

And so that is where Guitar Hero comes in. This is the first guitar-based music game to be released on all continents, and this is quite a brave move from the relatively unknown developers Harmonix (Frequency, Amplitude; Both PS2). It’s paid off though, as this is has been a massive hit in the States, and I see no reason why it can’t be here in the UK as well.

One of the possible sticking points though, could be the price tag. Personally I don’t think it’s bad at all. For your £50 you get the game and a custom controller (with neck strap!). If you break it down in to current high street prices, you’re paying £30 for the game and £20 for the controller, and while the game doesn’t need the guitar controller to be played, it would be a real shame if it wasn’t part of the package. The controller is SO integral to the game; it makes it not worth playing at all without it, as all the fun and the genuine sense of immersion completely disappear.

The controller consists of five neck buttons to simulate the notes of a guitar, a “whammy bar” to bend the notes you play and the actual “strummer” to simulate the playing of the strings. There are of course the standard Select and Start buttons on there, as well as tilt sensor in the neck of the guitar – but more about that in a moment. Each of the neck buttons is colour coded to match the notes shown on the screen. The gameplay is very simple (as you’d expect), but becomes incredibly involving later on.

Essentially, you are a budding Guitar Hero and you get to choose from one of 6 likely wannabes to make a name for your band by playing more and more shows and complicated songs. Your view on the screen consists of the guitar neck, and it is separated into five sections that correspond to the colours on the controller. As the notes that you need to “play” travel down the screen toward you, you must time the “strum” and the colour press at the right moment to make the sound. Too early or late, and you’ll either miss or get a bum note. Timing of the notes themselves can be planned in so much as you can get that finger ready before the strum is needed, and that way you can plan a note or two in advance. It can be a touch tricky at first, but you soon get the hang of it. Game Over is reached when you miss too many notes – this is governed by your “Rock-O-Meter” and shows how much the crowd is enjoying your performance. Get it all wrong and your Rock-O-Meter will start to drop; if it gets to the bottom, you’re gonna get booed off the stage. There are ways to combat this: First – learn to play the song better! Second: Your Star Power meter. This is your special weapon in becoming a Rock God/Goddess. Over the course of the song, special notes will appear and if you can get all of them in a string without missing any, you’ll get a bonus, and this adds to your Star Power. You can activate this at any time by simply raising the neck of the controller. The effects are twofold; you’ll get a bonus multiplier for your score and if you’re in trouble with the crowd, it will instantly help.

The game offers 4 difficulty levels, from Easy to Expert, and the leap between them is significant. Starting out on Easy will allow you to become accustomed to the game’s mechanics, as there are only three fret buttons to worry about. The first set of songs you encounter is slow paced enough that you can see what’s going on and eases you into the different types of guitar notes available. Even on easy, the later songs can be quite difficult to master – but here is where the game really excels: At first, you won’t realise it, but this really is a game of practice makes perfect. Some of the songs you’ll come across will seem almost impossible (especially in the later difficulty levels), but stick with it and you’ll soon wonder why you couldn’t do it at all! It’s a really strange thing, and one that I can only liken to say “Ikaruga” on the GameCube.

There are a few excellent tutorials that introduce you to some of the more complicated and challenging areas of the game. These are different skills you need to learn to be able to cope with the harsh reality that these are guitar legends you’re trying to emulate, and they will always be better than you! The harder difficulties start to introduce more fret buttons and even more notes into the equation, but once again, as soon as you get the hang of it you’ll be flying along.

Not many games can draw you in on the promise of making you feel like a rock star, and even fewer could pull it off, but this one manages it admirably. The game is downright FUN. Yes, it does get hard, but it won’t stop you trying to beat it, and then once you do, you’ll be trying to hammer your score. It’s got that “one more go” or in this case “one more song” factor by the truck load. The feeling of actually nailing that particularly tricky section, or a fast lead or time change is immense. It’s a massive sense of achievement and self-gratification, and yet never does it feel like the game is being “unfair” – you know you can do it; you just need to be a bit quicker next time!

One of the only possible downers to this is that the songs are not the originals, they are cover versions. Now, before you go running off and sulking, it needs to be said that they are of amazing quality. Apart from a couple of vocal performances that are not quite as good as the originals, that’s about it – the actual musicianship on offer is stunning. The reason behind this is fairly simple; some of the tracks are too old to have digital masters and therefore the development team couldn’t separate the guitar tracks to allow for them to make the game. A fair point I’m sure you’ll agree.

A game of this sort will obviously live or die on the songs that are available, and it has to be said, the song choice here is nigh on perfect. There is literally something for everyone. I was enamoured by the likes of Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” but for the more musically minded, you get Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Queen, ZZTop, and Stevie Ray Vaughn! Even some more modern acts as Sum41, Franz Ferdinand, Helmet, Queens of the Stone Age and Audioslave are here amongst so many others. Overall there are 30 tracks in the single player experience, and yet there are another 25 or so extra tracks that can be unlocked, from demo bands to the developments team’s own bands – even these offer some excellent fun and variety.

In terms of extras, you have a two-player mode where each of you (either with a pad or extra controller) can play the same songs, each taking different sections of the song, extra characters to unlock, new guitars, songs and ‘making of’ videos can be yours as well.

So, to sum up, a hugely entertaining game, and in fairness, one that has little competition in the West, but one that deserves to do very well. If you’re looking for some genuine fun and thrills, and something a bit different – you cannot afford to look any further than this! Even If you will look a bit of a plonker with your plastic guitar!!

Best Bits

- Excellent learning curve
- Excellent selection of music tracks
- Genuinely fun
Worst Bits

- Sore wrists
- Takes a little while to master
- Not enough hours in the day!

by: Riotus

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