Review by Sheepdude123

"Not bad, for RedOctane's first guitar game"

The time has come. Guitar Freaks fans have rejoiced, because Konami's drought of console GF games have left some people behind. Now, with RedOctane's new music sim Guitar Hero, GF fans can channel their energy away from Tom Howard songs and jam out to some real guitar classics.

That all sounds good, except fans of the Guitar Freaks games will be sorely disappointed by Guitar Hero's easier gameplay and array of songs. This game isn't bad by any means, but to all you guitar freaks, don't get your hopes up. Probably the most positive aspect of this game is the exposure to the music simulation genre for Americans who have never heard of Bemani or played DDR.

Gameplay - 7/10

It goes without saying that in the music simulation genre, gameplay is the most important aspect. These games are meant to be played in the arcade for only a few minutes. If it isn't fun, people won't want to play it.

7 isn't a very good score for a game of this genre. I have a couple snafus with the gameplay. The most obvious being that Guitar Hero is too easy. "But this game is supposed to appeal to beginners too," you say. Fine, but the majority of players are Guitar Freaks crossovers, and expert players will sneeze at most the songs, even on expert difficulty. I confess that I can't combo some of the tougher solos, but Guitar Hero's timing window is very lenient.

The second major problem is the Star Power. After comboing some parts of the song, you get this star power, which is activated by the Select button. When active, your guitar reverberates like crazy, the crowd cheers, you perform some crazy stunts, and your Rock gauge fills up after hitting only a couple notes. Sounds cool, except for the last part. Because Star Power makes you temporarily invincible, if you save your star power until a hard part that you have trouble comboing, then you can pretty much pass every song. You may think this is strategical, or that it was put in to help new players get through hard parts, or that it's there for coolness, but the bottom line is that Star Power makes songs too easy to pass.

Now, about how the game is actually played. There are 5 fret buttons that you have to press in combinations of one or two buttons at a time. Then, when one of five notes reaches the bottom of the screen, you can pull the pick and play the note. This is different from Guitar Freaks, because on GF, you can hold down all three at the same time. You'll notice that you will be concentrating more on moving your fingers along the neck, just like a real guitar (in contrast, I find myself concentrating on strumming the pick more in Guitar Freaks). Whether this is better or not is really your choice (I still prefer Guitar Freaks, obviously). One thing that I DID find cool about Guitar Hero, though, is that it doesn't matter if you hold down lower frets when playing higher frets, like a real guitar. That doesn't count for when you have to play a combination of two frets though.

Visuals- 8/10

Guitar Hero was developed by Harmonix, who as you know, also developed Karaoke Revolution. If you want to visualize what it looks like when you're actually playing, just think of Karaoke Revolution: it's almost exactly the same. The notes fall from the center of the screen to the bottom of the screen in a "hallway"-like fashion (coming closer into perspective as they reach the step zone). In the background, you are rocking on-stage with a band as the crowd is cheering (or booing). You have your choice of character, guitar, and venue, but the audience comes in only one variety: clones. The graphics look nice, basically like what you'd expect from a game in this age. But you can't really control the graphics or anything, it's mostly there for people watching you play (which is probably no one).

Controller- 9/10

The thing that makes most music-simulation games stand out is their unusual controllers. As you might expect, the controller is shaped like an electric guitar. There are five fret buttons on the neck, a pick, Start and Select buttons, and a whammy bar. Those are pretty self-explanatory. However, the third fret has a reverse indentation, I guess so that you can get a feel for which frets you are pressing. I find it really annoying though, because it hurts my hand when I press the middle button a lot. If that were removed, or at least indented inward, I'd probably give the controller a 10.

The pick. I can't say it any other way. It's a godsend. I have a cruddy third-party Guitar Freaks controller, and I can only hit the pick downwards, because it doesn't always register the other way. With the Guitar Hero controller, you can strum up and down, any way you want, and you can expect perfect registration. The pick is really nice, and you can't complain about it. The pick will never be the reason that you miss notes. This relates to what I said earlier: you will concentrate most your efforts on hitting the frets, not picking.

Finally, there is the whammy bar. It sounds cool at first, but it doesn't play an important role in the game. It does not play a similar function to the "wailing" bonus in Guitar Freaks; you get no bonus for using the whammy bar. You can only use it during "freeze"-type guitar notes for that sweeping effect, but there aren't many notes of that type, especially not ones that you can hold down long enough to actually use the bar. The whammy bar is more for appearance than anything, I hardly use it.

There is one part of the controller that REALLY bothers me. I don't know if it's just me, or if it's common of the controller design, but the guitar neck is really uncomfortable. With the way the strap forces you to hold the guitar, your grip on the neck is compromised, and my left wrist gets in a funk after a couple hours of playing. Honestly, this is one of the main reasons that I don't like Guitar Hero as much as Guitar Freaks.

Songs - 8/10

There are 30 legendary (or at least, well-known) rock songs, as well as a handful of other and original songs. The problem is, unless you grew up in the 70s, you probably won't recognize most the songs. Even so, all the songs are over 3 minutes long, with some being REALLY long, which is cool. But as you'd expect from Harmonix, the songs are covers, not the originals. Although some of them sound pretty damn close (I can't tell the different between Ozzy and the Harmonix singer in Iron Man), others sound just awful (Take Me Out has some good guitar riffs, but some parts don't sound similar, and the singer is really awful). Even so, there are quite a few songs to choose from (certainly more than in a GF mix), but I still appreciate the ingenuity and originality of playing Konami in-studio songs on GF rather than the Guitar Hero songs.

Overall- 7/10

I forgot to mention, Guitar Hero has a Career mode, in which you play at certain venues, get cash, and unlock songs. Cool, but it takes away from the arcade-style "coin-and-play" feel that usually comes with music simulations, and forces you to go through it before you can play most the songs. I think it's more of a hassle than an objective: there's nothing different from playing Career mode than normal play, other than making you unlock stuff.

With all that said, I give Guitar Hero 7/10. I haven't read other reviews, but most people are giving it 9s and 10s. I think people might be too hasty to say that this game is great, without really looking into the small problems that the game does have. You can be sure that none of those rave reviews were written by a Guitar Freaks pro, because I'd take Guitar Freaks over Guitar Hero any day.

If you want to impress your friends, you might think about buying this game. But if you play guitar freaks, don't make a mistake and buy this game thinking it's going to be the next big thing. You'll probably go back in a couple days. I recommend this as a "try-it-out" game for the casual player.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/26/05

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