Shredding. Burning. Melting. What do these words make you think of?
If you said,
"destroying things" or any kind of extreme sport, you're wrong. Actually, these terms are merely a small part of the
atmosphere you'll find in Harmonix Music Systems' latest title, Guitar Hero. A combination of the concept behind
Guitar Freaks and the approach of their own Amplitude, is it the next big thing, or will it be booed off stage?
quite the real thing, but close enough.
The first thing
you'll notice about the game is the special peripheral you'll need to truly enjoy the game. Guitar Hero utilizes
a small mock-up of a Gibson guitar for gameplay. It's decidedly smaller than a real guitar, but not too small to make
it feel like a child's toy. It's a nice, comfortable size, and decidedly sturdy to boot. Five uniquely colored
fret buttons sit on the neck; there's a strum bar for playing notes, a whammy bar for warping sustains, Start and Select buttons,
and a gyroscopic sensor for using your Star Power.
Play is very
simple, in concept at least. As the colored notes scroll down the screen, hold the matching fret buttons and press the
strum bar. It sounds simple, and on the easier difficulties, it certainly is. However, one of the game's strengths
is the gradually increasing difficulty curve as you progress through the song list and across difficulties. Everything
starts mind-numbingly dull on the Easy mode (really just to get you used to the game, mechanically), where you'll use just
three of the five frets. On Medium, you'll move up to four; Hard will set you up with all five. Expert is similar to
hard, but it uses more difficult patterns that effectively match the actual song, or at least as close as you can get.
Not just strumming
made the cut, as far as guitar techniques are concerned. You'll find plenty of chords and note sustains (holding notes
for a longer sound) in the songs, and for those sustains, and whammy bar to warp the note to your heart's desire. Just
like a real guitar, holding down lower frets won't matter while playing higher notes. Hammer-ons and pull-offs (advanced
techniques for hitting series of quick notes with a single strum) are also doable, and while they can be challenging to learn
for beginners, they'll definitely pay off when it comes time to start getting the best scores on the harder songs. Once
you start getting more skilled at the game, the sense of accomplishment increases as you go. Because playing makes you
feel so much like you're playing a guitar, finally hitting those really difficult parts will seem that much sweeter. Finally
beat one of those really difficult songs? Nothing beats that feeling.
notes while you play will keep your Rock Meter (effectively your life bar) nice and high in the green, and missing notes will
quickly lower the meter. Fall too deep in the red and it's game over. As you play, special star-shaped notes will
appear. By hitting an entire sequence or using the whammy bar on starred sustains, you can build up star power.
Tilt the guitar vertically to activate this ridiculously useful feature. If you're comfortable with the song, turn it on right
before the solo, doubling your multiplayer, and allowing you to really rack up a nice score. On the other hand, if a specific
part of the song is too much for you, turn it on, and just hit what notes you can. While in star mode, hitting notes
has a much more positive effect on your Rock Meter, allowing you to simple "brute-force" the hard parts.
(and more) list
Hero's soundtrack is quite impressive, featuring thirty licensed tracks, including "You've Got Another Thing Coming" by
Judas Priest, "More Than a Feeling" from Boston, "Heart Full of Black" by The Burning Brides, and "Bark at the Moon" from
Ozzy Osbourne, as well as twenty-five others. Any fans of rock music in general will likely find it very difficult not
to like at least a large portion of the list. These songs aren't originals from the artists themselves, but instead
are very well done covers by the Wave Group team. Dedicated fans of the artists will likely notice that the songs aren't
originals, but if you ignore the vocal portions of the songs, it would be nigh impossible, even for them. The songs'
instrumental parts have been almost perfectly replicated for the game, right down to often wildly difficult solos.
In addition to
the impressive licensing work, Guitar Hero sports an additional seventeen songs from "indie" bands and staff bands.
While the songs featured certainly don't have the acclaim the licensed list does, players are likely to find several songs
from the list they like. Among them are Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society and "Fire It Up"; the winners of the "Be A
Guitar Hero" contest, Graveyard BBQ, appear with "Cheat on the Church"; Harmonix favorite Freezepop has made a return with
"Get Ready 2 Rokk". These extra songs aren't covers, but are performed by the actual bands themselves.
Rather than reach
for technical perfection, the game focuses more on style with it's visuals and presentation. The characters are more
caricatures, each a distinctly unique guitarist personality, and each boasts a unique array of animations during gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay animations, when you're able to spectate, keep an eye on the guitarist. You'll find that their
hand positioning and strum motions are correct and in time with the song. Even your band's bass player and singer follow
the music very closely. The drummer just does his thing the entire time, but the crowd will react to your playing, and
the giant speakers will thump exactly when they're supposed to. That is
attention to detail.
The venues themselves
range from a basement performance and a small club all the way to a concert hall and "The Garden", the biggest stage of them
all. There's typically something going on in each of them, and each has little touches that make them unique, like the
basement's rugs on the wall, acting as sound dampeners. Regardless of where you play, your playing will affect how many people
are cheering you on or booing you off the stage. You start with an average crowd wondering what to expect. Do
poorly, and people wander off, unimpressed. Do very well, and more people will come, and they'll make more than a little
noise to encourage you.
The game's atmosphere
extends to the menu system as well. Many of the menus look like promotional concert posters, and the song list (and
the instruction manual) are more than a bit similar to the composition books from your school days, including weird little
drawings and notes. Even the Quick Play high score list is unique. High scores are scrawled on the wall above
a urinal in the men's room.
Hero has a lot going for it, but it isn't perfect. A decidedly glaring omission is a practice mode. While there's
a basic training mode, it's just that- basic. It'll teach you the concepts and let you practice a bit, but little more than
that. To get good at the songs and techniques like hammer-ons, you'll just have to play the songs over and over, which
can be a pain if you're just trying to master a specific portion of the song, like a specific note pattern, or even an entire
is the song list. You can say, "Well, this song should've been there," or, "Why wasn't that song included?" from now
until whenever, but it's really nitpicking. Taking the song list by itself, it's hard to say that Harmonix didn't put
together quite the soundtrack for their initial offering in what is hopefully a strong series in the making.
or hopeless garage band?
Hero is, without a doubt, the best rhythm game to hit the market to date. There is so little one can find wrong
with this game, and when you look at the amazing presentation and atmosphere, the fantastic soundtrack, and just simply how
fun the game is to play, you can't help but recognize that. This might seem like a crazed fan raving about it, but Guitar
Hero truly deserves the accolades.