Review by midwinter
"Reclaiming Your Birthright"
Gene Simmons once sang "God gave rock 'n roll to you", and yay, unto his children the Almighty did deliver. From Jimi Hendrix, to Black Sabbath, and Mega Deth, we've gorged ourselves on the power chord, and snacked on sex and drugs like they were going out of fashion. Unfortunately however, some were more blessed than others, and those that couldn't tell the difference between a fret and a spider were left to admire the party from afar. But don't worry, if that sounds like you, Red Octane's superbly produced Guitar Hero has what it takes to find your rock 'n roll soul. Sporting over thirty tracks from established rock gods, this must hit piece of interactive entertainment has been designed to satisfy anyone denied their natural birthright. Even if your idea of a good tune stops with Franz Ferdinand...
... put it in the soul of everyone.
Like puzzle games, musical action has found a comfortable formula that for the most part, will probably never change. Whether you're busting out the moves on Dance Dance Revolution, mixing a new euphoria with Beatmania, or finding culture in Taiko no Tatsujin, the core gameplay usually involves a series of timed, visual prompts and a special hot zone. Stripped of a peripheral, this simple game design allows players to focus their attention on the music, creating an unconscious connection between the hands and the brain. Taken with a dance mat, mixing table, or any number of possible instruments however, and the experience has the ability to transcend the medium, drawing in players from all walks of life. And in such regards, Guitar Hero feels instantly familiar.
Know then, that Harmonix more than anyone understand the genre. Their experience with musical action (see Frequency, Amplitude, and Karaoke Revolution) has put them in good stead for this release, and coupled with Red Octane's ability to produce first class peripherals, high levels of excitement are easily justified. You're not just holding a piece of plastic in the middle of your living room, you're standing on stage with a Gibson Firebird slung heavily over your shoulder while the crowd sways with anticipation. The lights begin to dim as a table materializes in the center of the screen, followed moments later by those timed, visuals prompts and a heavy dose of magic.
Now personally, I've never played a real guitar, but if I were given the opportunity to do so, I'd imagine it feels a lot like this. Fingering the frets in time to the music makes for some incredible gameplay, and with five buttons to work your digits around, the challenge is often immense. Indeed, Harmonix have obviously gone to great lengths in order to perfect the player's expected interactions as every chord, riff, and warble on the whammy has been extremely well placed. Smoke on Water's opening few chords for instance, are a delight to play no matter the skill setting, but crank it up to hardcore and you'll feel like a master. Those that consider themselves musically inept however, needn't worry, a generous learning curve ensures you're given ample opportunity to pick-up the basics. Whether you're hitting two frets for a power chord, or simply learning how to energize the crowd with a little star power (think point multiplier), the assorted training modes should serve you well.
Did someone mention multiplayer? No? That's OK, I was headed there anyway. Like most good, musical action games, Guitar Hero's real strength lies in its ability to create a party-like atmosphere through challenge and competitive spirit. Disciples of Konami's Dance Dance Revolution have been slammin' the multiplayer mats for years, and will tell you in no uncertain terms that the game is far more enjoyable with a friend. Thankfully then, Harmonix have tapped a similar vein with Guitar Hero, and with two peripherals in tow, players can indulge in a series of head-to-head battles that wouldn't feel out of place in a Delta Blue's flick. Songs like Ace of Spades, Thunderkiss 65, and Higher Ground are exceptionally well suited to multiplayer battles, while the inclusion of Cross Road Blues is utter genius.
Damage control - It's true, Guitar Hero does not feature the previously referenced KISS song
But isn't that always the way? You produce one of the most playable, musical action games ever released, capture the essence of your chosen genre with an outstanding peripheral, and then someone begins to pick the track list apart because it doesn't feature their favorite guitar anthem. People suck, right? Seriously though, looking over the soundtrack, it's easy to see where improvements might have been made. While Harmonix have put together a neat cross selection of popular artists, encompassing everything from Queen, to Motorhead, and God help us, Franz Ferdinand, there's an obvious amount of suspect crap that seems completely out of place. A number of local Boston bands have been tapped to provide the obligatory bonus tracks, and though such a concession is admirable in nature, their presence distracts from the overall package.
Consider this - you've blasted through I Wanna Be Sedated, Bark at the Moon, and some other piece of classical rock 'n roll, eventually earning the points needed to unlock a new track. Visiting the in-game store however, presents you with a series of limited options, the most inviting of which happens to be a new tune by Anarchy Club... I'm sorry, did I miss something? It's this type of anti-climactic reward that hurts Guitar Hero the most, though I'm willing to concede it's a minor issue at best.
Oddly though, this decision flies in the face of some otherwise, superlative game design. The further up the difficulty curve you move, the greater the music is, and the more of a God you'll become. Certainly, being confronted by Jimi Hendrix's Spanish Castle Magic after coming off a particularly intense, Queens of the Stone Age track is one Hell of a thrill, and should put to rest any lingering concerns. If love gives you wings, and music lets you fly, Guitar Hero is a supersonic Flying V, blasted from an amp that's been clocked to 11. God may have put the rock 'n roll in everyone, but Harmonix have made it accessible. And for a recently converted wallflower such as myself, I'm going to reward them the only way I know how...
Check it out!
* No musical ability required
* A neat cross selection of musical tastes
* Over 30 tracks to unlock and complete
* The player's expected interactions have been well mapped
* The five skill settings have something for everyone
* Red Octane's guitar peripheral is great to hold
* You'll really feel like a rock god
* What's with the unlockable garage bands?!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/06/06
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