Review by T Prime

"Just like the piped piper who led rats through the streets..."

When I first saw Guitar Hero on the PS2 in late '05, I was intrigued. When at last the time came for me to own a PlayStation 2 Guitar Hero was the first thing I thought of. When I finally found it and popped it into my system I could not have been more satisfied, because Guitar Hero is an awesome game and a blast to play.

To be frank, this game rocks. I've played other rhythm games before (long ago), but GH's custom-shaped controller makes all the difference in the world. If you've never seen the controller, it's shaped just like a real electric guitar but smaller in size. The neck has five colored fret buttons; green, red, yellow, blue and orange. To actually play notes, you hold down the corresponding color fret button and “strum” on the click-flipper that fills in for the strings. For those of you who would like to get more immersed in the guitar-playing fantasy, there is even a whammy bar that can warble longer notes (and increase you Star Power meter, but more on that later). It takes some getting used to, but after a little practice you'll be hitting the fret buttons like it was second nature.

There's no real "story," but what passes for one is that you (the character you select at the beginning and can change whenever) are an up-and-coming guitarist making your way up the ladder on the local music circuit. That's where the game really stops caring because that's where you should stop caring.

Guitar Hero is about the music and there's plenty of it. There are up to 30 songs in Career mode (only 25 in Easy, Medium and up get all 30) with another 17 unlockable songs you can buy with in-game money. You can get a score of 3 to 5 stars in a song, and depending on how well you play a song you're given money which you can then spend on new songs, new characters, new guitars and other things. How well you play a song is graded on things like longest note streak and average score multiplier throughout the song, but also heavily on your final score. For a multiplier, hit ten notes in a row to have notes double in value from 50 to 100 (x2), then another ten for 100 to 150 (x3), and finally another ten for 150 to 200 (x4). But remember, you have to actually finish the song! You can't just play terribly and get away with it, for you will be punished (with the crowd booing and your amp giving you horrible feedback, for example). This is where Star Power comes in.

Star Power is earned by playing enough star-shaped notes throughout the song to fill up a blue bar on the right of the screen above your odometer-like “Rock Meter”. Depending on how well you are playing your Rock Meter will be in Red, Yellow or Green. When you're in the Green, you're hitting most notes and the crowd loves you, but mess up enough to get down to Yellow and then Red and the crowd may become hostile. Once your Star Power meter is full enough you can tilt the guitar to point up (or press Select if you're fast enough) and all notes will glow blue, doubling your score multiplier (up to x8, or 400 points per note) and (important for a hard song) the crowd will start loving you if you hit enough notes, which is important because the crowd's love dictates whether or not you will even pass the song.

Now I noted earlier that your whammy bar helps you with Star Power, so let's delve into that. There are two types of notes, short and long. Short notes are most common; you just press the fret and strum quickly to play these ones. But for long notes you have to press the fret, click the strum and continue holding the fret button(s) until the note is over (not the strum, just the fret). If a long note is star-shaped, you can hold the fret(s) down and then start flicking your whammy bar to boost up your Star Power faster than if you were just doing it normally. Not only does this help with playing, but as was stated earlier it also helps immerse you in the fantasy and dream that you're actually playing guitar and the crowd actually loves you. The line blurs but it's incredibly satisfying.

But the heart of this game is the awesome soundtrack. There are 30 songs split into 6 groups of 5 songs each, and considering that it's safe to assume that most people who pick up this game will have little-to-no guitar playing experience the designers made a lot of the music recognizable. The first two set lists are filled with songs that, if you've ever picked up a broom and "jammed" to a song you were listening to, odds are a couple of those times you were listening to one of these songs. “I Love Rock ‘n' Roll,” “More Than a Feeling,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Iron Man” are all staples of the hockey-stick playing air guitarist and they're incredible to play. However, you aren't actually listening to Joan Jett, Boston or Deep Purple, but rather RedOctane and Harmonix cover bands. For the most part they do a very good job. They play the music extremely well and even make a couple of changes here and there, just by adding a few notes to keep you on your feet. The changes they make are mostly to prevent fade-outs because too many of those are just no fun. The singers are also mostly competent. Symphony of Destruction obviously isn't sung by Dave Mustaine but is well-sung nonetheless, while the cover of Iron Man is spot-on with the real Ozzy Osbourne. Some songs sound better than their originals while others just sound horrible, but that's just to my ears. It's all a matter of perspective.

The mixture of music is one that looks strange on paper, but actually works pretty well in-game. You start by playing classic rock songs from Black Sabbath, Boston and Queen and throw in some harder stuff like Judas Priest and Blue Oyster Cult, but then all of a sudden you're playing much more recent stuff like Franz Ferdinand, Sum 41 and The Donnas. It seems to be that the less you actually know about music the more fun you'll have, because the oddity of playing “Take Me Out” right after “You've Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Fat Lip” after “Ziggy Stardust” is non-existent if you don't know any different (or don't care). While their eras might be completely off, they meld together very well because they're all fun to play and all sound as if, in some alternate universe, they would go side by side.

While single player will give you enough to last for months, multiplayer adds even more replayability to Guitar Hero. If you have a friend with another guitar controller the multiplayer modes open up and you can play against each other in a cooperative face-off. The multiplayer mode has a meter in the middle of the screen that actually keeps track of who is “winning,” which is odd because each player plays different notes at different paces. Sometimes one player will play a lengthy solo while the other just stands there waiting. But don't let the odd placement of “winning” and “losing” in this mode take away the fun you can have with it.

Overall, Guitar Hero is an astounding accomplishment. To be able to make a rhythm/music game that both a 14-year guitar veteran and a tone-deaf weasel can play with relative ease and enjoy is nothing if not remarkable. This game comes wholeheartedly recommended. Buy it, rent it, borrow it or just monopolize the demo station at Best Buy because Guitar Hero is one of the most fun games to come along in a long, long time.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 05/14/07

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