Reviewed: November 16, 2005
Released: November 8, 2005
View Gameplay (3.2mb WMV)
There probably isn’t a guy out there (perhaps even some girls) who at one time during their youth didn’t strum their favorite guitar solo on a tennis racket, broom handle, or anything else that could double as a guitar in a pinch. At least that’s what RedOctane is banking on with their new release, Guitar Hero.
There have been so many specialty games made over the years, both in the arcades and for the home console, that require unique controllers like fire hoses, sniper rifles, steering wheels, microphones, dance pads, and in this case, an actual scaled down version of a Gibson Flying SG guitar. And while you won’t actually learn how to read music or even play the guitar, at least you’ll look like you know what you’re doing after a few sets with Guitar Hero.
Guitar Hero not only gives you the controller required to play the music, but they pack in more than 45 classic rock and metal songs, all performed by some amazing cover bands, as well as some original music from winners of a contest exclusively created to get new songs included in this release.
Pick your virtual star from eight stereotypical rockers, both male and female and all with their own unique performance styles, then head off to six venues to play your sets and energize the crowds in four increasingly difficult skills settings.
The first thing you’ll probably ask yourself after removing the 28” guitar from the box is, “how am I going to make music with this thing?” Well, it’s a whole lot easier than if you try to use the Dualshock. Theoretically, the gamepad is supported by using the four shoulder buttons and the X to mirror the five fret buttons on the guitar, but there is no way you could ever play the game with any success using a gamepad, especially at the harder skill levels.
So once you get the included shoulder strap hooked up and customize your “axe” with all the cool flame and skull stickers that are also in the box you are ready to rock…well almost. Even if you have some real guitar experience under your belt you will want to visit the tutorial just to figure out how this game recreates the actual act of playing a guitar.
It’s quite simple really and anyone who has played Frequency or even a DDR game will have a slight advantage. You hold the guitar just like the real thing with your four fingers around the neck positioned over the five fret buttons. Your other hand strums the guitar using a rocker bar and you can tweak the sustains with the Whammy Bar – more on that in a moment.
As the song plays notes will stream from the center of the screen down toward the bottom. As each note passes through the target zone you need to strum with one hand while the finger is holding down the matching fret with the other. Some notes have lines indicating you need to keep the fret held down for the duration.
On the Easy skill level you only have to worry about three frets (green, red, and yellow). Medium skill adds the blue fret and Hard adds the orange. Expert mode uses all five frets and advanced techniques like chord changes, hammer-ons, and pull-offs that will have you fingering those frets like a pro.
Guitar Hero isn’t your typical “beat” game. While there are some occasions where you get to strum with the actual tempo of the music, most of the notes are independent of the rhythm track, which can make things a bit more challenging.
Another huge difference is the length of the songs in Guitar Hero, regardless of difficulty level. Most music games use abbreviated versions of songs or end them earlier on the easier skill modes, and they almost always eliminate “guitar solos” since they don’t play a part of a dancing or karaoke game. In Guitar Hero those solos ARE the game, so when you are jamming with Boston, Judas Priest, or Ozzy you’ll be strumming away just waiting for those epic solos.
Guitar Hero does an amazing job of making you think you are actually playing music. A big portion of this is how synchronized the music, or at least the guitar track, is to your inputs. When smooth note and chord changes are required, any pause on your part will create a small hiccup in the music. If you miss a note, especially a sustain, you will have to listen to your vocalist do an awkward solo before you can strum that next note.
The presentation of Guitar Hero is pretty standard and offers the Quickplay, Career mode, and Multiplayer. I can only imagine how cool the dueling guitarist multiplayer is, but alas, we only received one guitar with our review copy and nobody wanted to even attempt to play this game with a gamepad. I would love to see a sequel with cooperative multiplayer where one player plays the bass and another plays lead guitar.
Career mode is where you will need to go to earn money, but you can only earn money in the Medium and higher skill settings, so Easy mode is just for practice. Your career takes you from underground nightclubs to outdoor stadiums, with each venue requiring you to play four of the five songs on the set list to advance.
Scoring is pretty standard. Unlike DDR the game doesn’t judge the accuracy of your strum. You either hit the note or you don’t. It does count consecutive notes and increases the combo and multiplier awards. Star Power is another clever way to rack up the big points. Some notes will appear to be energized and when you hit these notes you can build up your Star Power meter. You can also use the Whammy Bar to wobble the notes and fill up the meter even faster.
Once the meter is at least half full you can tilt the guitar vertically (yes, there is a motion sensor) and the on-screen guitar neck will explode with electricity and all the notes will glow blue and the crowd will go into a frenzy clapping with the beat. It’s a truly remarkable experience that will make you feel like a star.
The presentation is stylish and even humorous at times. Your guide during the tutorial will ramble on about his days playing in various bands and working as a roadie between the levels, and the menus and selection screens all fit the rockin’ theme of the game. Even the load screen shows a guitar amp with three knobs that go to 11 (a not-so-subtle Spinal Tap reference) and when all three knobs reach 11 the game is ready to go.
There is also a lot of historic information including dates and history on all the Gibson guitars depicted in this game. If you are a guitar freak (or hero) then you’ll find this game educational as well as entertaining.
Games like this are both a curse and a blessing. There are some really amazing visuals going on in the background, but if you are the one playing the game you need to be totally focused on the stream of notes coming down the neck of that guitar. At least you can appreciate the custom artwork on the neck of each guitar that you can play in the game.
With the notes being the focal point of the game, each is presented as a large colored button that matches the fret, often with matching colored lines for sustains, and it’s easy to see the energized Star Power notes as they approach. It can get a bit trickier when you are using your Star Power and all the notes turn electric blue. You actually have to change your thinking from color to position.
Guitar Hero flawlessly captures the perspective of playing a live rock show with all of the camera angles you see on televised concerts and even some cool soft-focused shots from the guitarist point of view looking out over a sea of undulating fans cheering with their arms thrust high and fists pumping to your mad jams.
Depending on the venue you might have a pretty standard lightshow or a full-on pyrotechnical display worth of a Def Leppard concert. Even the speaker cones pulse with the beat of the chosen music track. There are some really amazing animations for all the performers including back-up guitar, drummer, and even vocalists that match the gender of the singer of that particular song. All of their animations are perfectly synched with their respective instruments.
Of course the best animations are for you, the lead guitar player, and when you tilt back that guitar and pull off a Star Power move you will be amazed at what your character can do with a guitar. Let’s just say that ZZ Top and their spinning belt buckle maneuver is nothing compared to what you can do. Even more astonishing is that your on-screen hero actually strums his guitar each time you do. Too bad the same can’t be said for the Whammy Bar.
As I started making my way through the various sets in the career mode it was interesting to see how the designers get you caught up in the game with a few major hits that everybody knows early on before throwing in the more obscure and even newer releases. But even this old-school rocker who is quickly approaching 42 found each and every song great fun to play.
There were times when the short preview of the track in the menu had me thinking I wasn’t going to like it but 20-seconds in I was really getting into the song. The best part about the music is that it stands up to play after play, and much like learning to play any instrument or piece of music it takes practice, patience, and repetition. And while it might be totally frustrating to play 99% through the song perfectly, only to miss the next-to-the-last note, you won’t mind trying it again.
All of the major music is performed by some extremely talented cover bands that can pull off the vocals, drums, and guitar riffs just as good as the original bands. There were times where I thought they might have actually gotten the real bands. Really, only the vocals will give it away.
The song list includes these monster hits:
Technically, the quality of the audio is outstanding with the guitar track being independently recorded and layered in so various bars can be removed if you flub the note or chord. The use of the Whammy Bar is spot on, and you can create all sorts of fluctuating tweaks to your sustains.
As with any new hardware investment, you go in with a bit of hesitation, not sure if there is enough content within the packaged game to warrant the purchase, or if there will be future releases to keep this guitar out of next year’s garage sale. With controllers like joysticks, wheels and dance pads, you are relatively safe that something will eventually come along to have you blow the dust off that specialty controller.
In the case of Guitar Hero, there is so much musical content and so many skills levels that unless you are Geddy Lee you probably won’t ever finish this game on all the difficulty settings. I was able to get through the Easy mode in a single night and the Medium mode took nearly a day and a half (or about 7 hours) to finish – and for me, “finish” means I repeat all songs until I get at least 4 stars or higher than a 90% ranking.
There is a backstage bonanza of unlockable bonus materials including “making of” movies, new guitarists, guitar skins, and more than a dozen additional music tracks. The game gets evil with these prizes and forces you to repurchase them on each new difficulty level.
If you’ve always wondered what it felt like to play a guitar for a rock band now is your chance. Even if you have no previous guitar training, the excellent tutorial and easy to grasp controls will have you jamming like a pro in no time. And with 30-40 hours of practice you’ll be shredding like Hendrix, or at least playing a good cover version.
Guitar Hero is the single best addiction you can play on the PS2 this year…perhaps ever. Not only is it worth the $70 for the game/guitar combo, I’d go as far to say this game is worthy of purchasing a PS2 if you don’t already own one. From the moment you slip that guitar from the box, you’ll never want to put it down.