"The paradigm shift that the rhythm genre desperately needed all started with this semi-bang."

The rhythm genre of gaming, highlighted by Dance Dance Revolution and similar game types took over the arcade-saving role in the gaming culture once the fighting game scene in arcades died off. But after hundreds of games filled with arrows moving vertically, dance pads and wicked Asian kids embarrassing everyone else, the rhythm genre needed something new and fresh. Along came Red Octane with their ambitious idea to replace the dance pad with a guitar equivalent of such, and a new smash hit series was born.

It was an ambitious idea because bundling a guitar with a game jacked up the retail price. This was a huge risk given that Guitar Hero was an untested title, but it paid off for Red Octane big time in the form of the Guitar Hero series becoming one of gaming's staples. But how does the original hold up today?

It all begins and ends with the guitar itself. Compared to a real guitar, the Guitar Hero model is much smaller and will feel a bit uncomfortable at first to those used to playing real ones. Furthermore, there are no strings attached; just five fret buttons, a strum bar, a whammy bar, and start and select buttons next to the strum bar meant to imitate similarly placed buttons on an electric guitar. When the strum bar is strummed up or down while a fret button is held down (or multiple fret buttons, in the event of playing a chord), a note is played in the game. There is a wonderful in-game tutorial that explains all of the basics of using the guitar, and it's suggested that all new players go through the lessons before beginning the game.

Guitar Hero follows the dream of a rock star: start out small in some backwater venue playing small gigs, then work your way up to the big time. This is dine in-game on a giant set list after naming your band and picking a guitarist (aptly called a guitar hero by the game itself) and his or her guitar of choice. You'll play songs on a tiered set list. As you progress through tiers, the songs will get progressively more difficult to play and the venues will get bigger and bigger. In the beginning you'll p be playing very easy songs in pretty crappy venues, but by game's end you'll feel like a pro and be lighting up giant venues all over the place, complete with in-depth lighting shows and whacky stage designs.

As for how songs are played, it's very similar to DDR, only notes are shown as discs and go from the top of the screen to the bottom on a 3D planed fret board, rather than bottom-up on a 2D place. As notes cross the target line at the bottom, you have to hold down the fret button(s) corresponding to the notes on the screen and strum as the notes cross. It can seem overwhelming at first, but a little practice and playing on a difficulty suited for your needs will let anyone grasp the basics. On easy and medium difficulty, most notes cross the target line one at a time, with a couple of chords and held notes (in which the fret button must be held down after strumming) thrown in for good measure. On hard and expert difficulty, a lot more notes are thrown in and the entire fret board is used, unlike in lower difficulties when orange and blue notes are scarce. It all adds up to a hell of a good time in your effort to become the ultimate guitar hero.

Unfortunately, the original Guitar Hero has its fair share of issues, the biggest of which being that some of the game mechanics don't work properly. In higher levels of Guitar Hero, some notes are placed very close together and are marked white. These notes are hammer-ons and pull-offs (HOPOs), which are techniques used by real guitarists to play very fast. The idea in Guitar Hero is that you strum the first note of a HOPO sequence, which will soon become easily spotted once you've played for awhile, and then the rest of the notes can simply be played by pressing corresponding fret bar buttons. For example, a HOPO sequence might have a regularly marked blue note, then one yellow, one red and one green note right after. You're supposed to be able to strum the blue note, then hit YRG on your fret bar and play the entire HOPO sequence. Sadly, you have to be frame perfect in Guitar Hero for HOPOs to register, rendering a lot of the harder solos in hard and expert impossible.

And because Red Octane took a big risk in releasing this game, it's obvious throughout the game that they were trying to save as much money as possible due to not knowing what their fiscal return would be. The graphics in this game are pretty much garbage compared to what the PS2 is capable of; the human models in the game don't look human at all, and a ton of audience members in the gigs you play at are recycled. Worse yet is that the guitar heroes themselves don't look very good.

The unlock shop, in which you use the money earned from shows to buy new guitars and characters and guitar skins and such, only sells unlockable items to the difficulty you're in. This means that your hard-earned money to buy the Grim Ripper to play lead guitar in your band on hard difficulty will have to be earned all over again once you hit expert.

Thankfully, most of the game's faults are passable. Guitar Hero began an unbelievably good and addictive series that continues to appear at parties all over the place, and most important of all, the music in the game is very solid. Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, White Zombie and more have their music in the game, and a lot of the unlockable bonus songs helped lesser-known bands become known. Appearing in Guitar Hero is the new big way for a band to get its name out, which is why so many artists have clamored to get into new releases of the game as the series has progressed. The one big fault in the music (outside of the occasional terrible band or song getting in) is that much of the music in the game are covers in an effort to save money on paying royalties. But it's still better than nothing.

The first Guitar Hero, good as it is, is a pain in the ass to play due to a lot of the gameplay not working right. But if you end up becoming a fan of the series (and you will, because the entire series is godly), owning the original is a must.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 08/09/07

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