Review by Bach_741

Reviewed: 11/14/05

WOW!... just, wow.

Harmonix has done it again – bravo! Frequency and Amplitude were outstanding titles in their own rights, but now that the rocking-out involves a peripheral other than the PS2 controller, the feeling of interactivity and depth is heightened even more. (Guitar Hero may be played with a standard controller, but – who in their right mind would want to!?) Now, you can feel like a rock star without the pain of learning scales, building up calluses, and getting hit on by old, fugly bar chicks. Aside from the aforementioned Harmonix titles, and the underrated Bust a Groove series, Guitar Hero is the epitome of how to appeal to music lovers of all skill sets.

Let’s start with the best – the gameplay in this title is a solid 10. While I haven’t seen all of the expert stages yet (the levels are easy, medium, difficult and expert), I’ve seen a few, and they appear to have enough tricks, turns and goodies to keep the fret-lovin’ fanatic busy for hours on end. Just like any other music-based title, it pays to play through the easier levels first – not only to get a good feel for the game (and, in this case, the controller), but to better learn the songs you may not be so familiar with.

The controller, albeit a little on the small side for someone over 6 ft. tall like me, is a true joy to play with. The strumming mechanism – a simple switch that can be pressed either upwards or downwards for input – doesn’t seem to be overly picky as far as accuracy goes (you’ll be more concerned about putting your fret fingers in the right place than you will be about attacking at precisely the right time), and responded rather well. Speaking of input accuracy, I felt it was easier to lie back, and attack the notes / chords from their front side, rather than think I was coming in RIGHT on the beat, and be late. The whammy bar is great fun to experiment with as well, although I do wish more would have been done with it. The ability to bend any sustained note is awesome, and helps to make you feel like what’s being played is even more influenced by your actions… however, only being able to bend in one direction, as well as only having a whole step of bending room takes away from the magic just a bit.

The fret board is deceptively simple; five multi-colored buttons for four fingers (everything on your left hand but your thumb). These buttons, aside from roll-offs and hammer-ons, are pressed either one at a time to create simple melodies, or together to form chords. As with any instrument, you’ll only be able to play the game as well as you’ve mastered the feel of your controller, so again – I advise taking it slow, and learning the ropes. There’s also ‘star power’, which you earn by performing well enough, and activate by raising your guitar upwards, into the air. This can be a little tricky to pull off, especially if you’re dedicating your focus to a difficult section of the song. Also, it’s unclear to me exactly at what speed, and to what extent one should ‘move’ the guitar controller to active this power. A few times while playing, I was literally throwing the guitar into the air over and over again, to no effect… other times, I would gently tilt it, and receive the desired effect. I’m sure it’s just something I need to play the game more to master, but (I think) there’s an alternate way to activate the power, like the Select button, so the choice is yours.

The sound? What do you expect from the sound!? Holy rockin’ beats, Batman! The music is nothing short of a good time. No DDR insanely-obscure techno-pop, no Donkey Konga kiddie songs (whoever approved the Happy Birthday medley had better be out of a job by now)… Hero has all great rock tunes, with some blues and whatnot thrown in for good measure. Even when you whiff an attack, there are some pretty sweet sound effects that really do emulate a hack choking at the axe.

Graphics? Please, let’s not be picky. It’s a beat-matching game. It’s all about having fun, not being blown away by what’s on the screen. Still, I thought the textures of all the character models were good, and the use of applying the ‘stage name’ which you give your rock star is stellar. You’ll see it in different fonts, on various concert posters, and in many different contexts. Next to the game being able to actually speak the name you’ve chosen, I found the personableness (it’s in the dictionary!) of this feature to be very delightful.

That’s it. You need know nothing more. You know what the game is, and what it does. If the brilliance of Harmonix has impressed you in the past, and you don’t mind coughing up the $70 for the illusion of actually handling an axe and teaching the world what rocking is all about, then go my son (or daughter). Go grab this title, and in the immortal words of Mr. Jack Black, “Let’s get rockin’!”.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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