Review by plushieleona

"Plug it in, strap it on, and turn it up!"

...I need to be sedated!

That's the feeling while rocking hard in Guitar Hero and refuse to let go of the controller to do other forms of labour. Although getting addicted to this game is easy, finding it is anything but.

This was originally released in the first week of November in the States and one whole month afterward for us north of the border. Only because of this delayed shipment did I plunk down the cash to pre order it. I'm glad I did as it has been a rarity at retailers since the first shipments came out across North America. At 70 bucks US, I wound up paying $90 Cdn for the game and guitar controller bundle. Did I mention outside the States, only the bundle is available? Unless of course you choose to order straight from RedOctane. Expensive? Yes. However, I do feel the solid gameplay, the rarity, and the one-of-a-kind controller balances most of it out. ...Most of it.

I'll begin with the controller. Its name is the Guitar SG controller and it is shaped like a Gibson guitar. The thing is about 3' in length, black & white, has five fret buttons, a strum bar, and a tremolo aka whammy bar. It comes packaged in the lovely box along with a sticker sheet, strap, and care/use instructions on top of the info in the game. The player operates it in a similar fashion of a real guitar, but with only the use of five fret buttons instead of six strings. Left-handed? Enter options and select "lefty-flip". Now the notes will flow in a mirrored fashion because the frets will be in your right hand, although the whammy bar may be awkward to use now. The SG is somewhat compatible with other PS2 guitar games, but most of these guys haven't been released for home yet around these parts. It can even detect whether you're holding the instrument horizontally or in vertical position, which normally activates Star Power for all those extra points. To best describe the strum bar... it's more like a wide light switch that will spring back to a neutral position after you hit it. Now if anything, the whammy bar may be a cool and useful addition to play, but it will break easily after excessive use or if it gets caught on something. Next to that, the strum bar would likely be next to go through all its use. For an average song, you could be strumming upwards of 350-450 times depending on how you play. Once the spring effect gets worn out, it'll be difficult to play with. At nearly $50 US, that's a hefty price for a controller, so I wouldn't go punishing it. I would actually prefer six frets over the five, but it really is just like a single string on a six-stringed guitar. It's also not necessary to play using the Guitar SG, but you do lose some fun when you choose Dual Shock 2 where the shoulder buttons, X, Left stick, and Start & Select are used.

In Multiplayer mode, you and your buddy are going head-to-head on stage. Two separate sets of notes will be scrolling on screen. The thing is, you won't always be playing simultaneously, or 100% of the time like in single player. This is the time where you need to know the song (or secretly hope your buddy does worse) to truly shine and show who's the real guitar hero.

Part of the Guitar Hero magic is its songlist. These consist heavily of (but aren't limited to) American rock with a few tracks of British origin. Ones like "Ziggy Stardust", "Iron Man", "Cowboys from Hell", and "Bark at the Moon", are favourites and the last two are even trickier to play. You begin with a measly five songs: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll", "I Wanna be Sedated", "Thunder Kiss 65", "Smoke on the Water", and "Infected". Another five songs get added onto your list as you clear each group until you clear the last song where you will have completed that mode. Your performance is judged by the points you score and percentage of correct notes you hit. Score a five star and receive a big cash. Reel in an average performance and you won't be getting too far. Crap out and get booed off the stage. That really stinks when you're near the end of the song. On top of the thirty songs, you have the option of purchasing seventeen additional bonus tracks. Gameplay-wise, these extras don't necessarily follow the patterns for the difficulty levels they're set in for some are easier and a few possess killer passages to handle.

Before diving deep, check out Tutorial mode. Another point is it will only function when you have the guitar plugged in. If you can master all the moves in here, you'll be able to survive much of what the game throws at you. Afterwards, it boils down to your own fret fingering. Outside the video items, this is the only place with voice work. It's clear and not monotonous like a teacher, thankfully.

There are four difficulty levels. With only three frets to use, those with guitar experience will likely find Easy is too simple. Even Medium sinks into being tedious after you've figured out how to utilize all five frets in Hard mode. On the far end of the spectrum is Expert that calls for nimble fingers and advanced skills that can be found in the tutorial, like Pull-Offs and Hammer-Ons. Constant 1/8th notes will have you scrambling all over the place and force you to be one with the guitar. Once the songs are operated with five frets, you must learn to slide your hand back and forth, or at the very least, reach for that last fret. Like a real guitar or stringed instrument for that matter, you can get away with holding down the lowest fret throughout the entire song because the higher note will cancel out a lower one on the same string. However, playing higher notes when they are un-designated will penalize you. Through experiment, these penalties are more hurtful the higher the difficulty. The one strange thing is not playing a note costs less than playing the wrong note.

While you're ripping it up on your controller, your chosen character (one of a possible eight) will be rocking it out on the stage of your chosen venue. Every member of the band (singer, drummer, bassist, keyboarder) and you actually have strong synchronization to the current song. These mostly are pre-made movements, mind you. The lively 3D crowd will also be going full tilt, along with cheer or boos depending on your performance. Although each of these characters have simple animations, it all works very well together to create a believable concert. The graphics are intentionally showcasing exaggerated proportions to emphasize the mood and set the style of the game.

One of my favourites is the texture used on "Mr. Ripper's" clothing. Although there is clipping, primarily Pandora's waist-length hair, it hardly poses an issue - the closest thing to a glitch. Some characters will actually smack (not smash because there is no destruction, like Candy Cane of Rumble Roses) their guitar after the show, although I would think these instruments should break on impact... We also have Clive who happens to set his guitar on fire after his performances, to name a few. Using the fabled Star Power, your guitar hero will perform an uber trick with his guitar, rally up the audience, and even have them clap. Really, it's the only way to drag them back when you're doing horribly. Are you gonna let them walk out just like that?

It may be harder to spot on stage, but an immense amount of development went into the characters to obtain the right feel. Each one represents a certain group of people. Johnny Napalm has that stereotypical rocker's look with that mohawk and torn clothing. Axel is the hulking bully sort who wears his grittiness on his clothes. Being nearly as huge as Axel, Xavier reeks of intelligence and more sophistication, and still manages to rock just as hard. Clive has bell-bottoms, thick sideburns, hot pink shades, and is the funky British rockstar of the group. You may think females dislike being impolite, but certainly not these two. Pandora wears the gothic makeup, and snug leather outfit, while Judy is the punk rocker girl with pink flared out hair. Neither one holds anything back. There are two secret characters, one being Izzy who's got an overwhelming fashion sense. The second fellow... let's just say he quit his other job and started jammin'.

Aside from the humans, the venues further demonstrate the wild graphical appearance of this game. All objects appear in vivid, fluorescent colours in a varied assortment of shapes. Some of these will go crazy if you manage an awesome performance (i.e. speakers buzz, lights blare and bounce, fixtures will swing). Hell, even police cars show up at the end of one concert. The rooms may be small, but the space is so packed and decorative that it just doesn't matter. Take 34 Winstreet; the very first venue staged inside a basement. When you begin doing well, the furnace starts spewing sparks, the overhead pipes spit steam, the dryer bounces, bubbles overflow from the washer, and all these Xmas lights flash different colours.

Outside the concerts, we have backgrounds ranging from a roughened school notebook to more wacky displays of the game's signature boldness. One of the best parts is actually having semi-useful messages to view on loading screens, which is more than most games bother with. It does get tedious after viewing all of them, but at least load times hover around five seconds and only pop up for performances.

After that five seconds of silence, you're treated to a view of your band and an anxious audience. The crowd's murmur of anticipation and the metal feedback of your guitar heighten the mood as the scrolling notes are brought into view and your playing begins. Oftentimes it's the drummer who starts off softly tapping his cymbals followed by drum beats prior to having the singer and bass player jump in. There may or may not be a keyboarder and it's a rare occasion when he does appear on stage (vice-versa for the singer who is actually on a few songs). Finally, the camera hones in on its target and it's your turn. For "Higher Ground" you can hear the vocalist's voice echoing, as though he was inside an empty stone room. In "Iron Man", the guy begins with a modified voice of the line, "I am Iron Man". Sound is clear and balanced, regardless of the room your band may be standing in. Reach the green zone on your Rock Meter and the crowd gets louder. Hit a wrong note and you will hear that metal squeal. Fall into the red and prepare for the onslaught of boos. Fail and everything comes to a halt, leaving you hanging your head in silence while the singer flaps his lips at you. Silence is a bad thing here.

Although the playable heroes carry backstories, there is nothing more showcased other than seeing them rise through concerts and become legends. Newspaper articles and checklists are also seen along the way to stardom. To put it simply, a real story mode would've really tied it all together and create more individuality between the characters. The one thing I really do miss in this game is a practice mode that won't boot you out while you learn the musics. Better yet, one that allows you to select specific parts of a song, such as the last 10% of "Bark at the Moon" on Hard or higher - it's a killer. For first-timers like myself, it was a steep mountain to start with. Oh, and a demo/watch mode where you choose the songs would've made a lovely addition, as well.

With a total of forty-seven songs to jam to, it's really about playing to perfection. Those players rushing to the end may as well quit in Medium since all the songs can be unlocked through there. Much devotion to this game is also required with its scarcity at retailers and looming price tag. Drop another fifty if you want a second SG controller and you can see the prerequisites for Guitar Hero forming like a queue to a sold-out concert. But if music or party games are up your alley, you will love Guitar Hero.

Rock on, baby!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/11/06

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