Publisher: RedOctane | Developer: Harmonix | System: PS2 | Genre: Music
If music is the universal language it’s ironic that the music genre is one of the most recondite around, with even minor progress requiring inhuman levels of dexterity. For those like me, tragically born without a sense of rhythm, much of the genre has been off limits and while Guitar Hero does apparently require three hands on the higher difficulties, it’s one of the most accessible and simply enjoyable rhythm action games in years.
From the creators of the excellent Amplitude and Frequency, Guitar Hero’s USP is the packaged guitar controller. Far from being a cheap pack-in, the controller comes equipped with five fret buttons and a strum bar, and, in addition to start and select buttons, a working whammy bar and tilt sensor. As with the likes of Samba De Amigo it’s essential to the game and is central to the game’s ability to make you feel like you can play guitar.
The choice of songs is also geared towards this aim, as most are songs that anyone will know by tune, if not by title alone – songs I didn’t recognise turned out to be ones that I knew all the words to and so could at least try to play. It’s not often that easy, but it’s a start. Inevitably everyone has songs which would be perfect for this game and will be disappointed not to find them, but with any luck future sequels or song packs will add some (Master of Puppets, please). The selection ranges from out-and-out metal through to rock ballads which I loved because they’re perfect for sitting down and just playing through. Everyone should find something they like, ranging from oldies like Ozzy Osbourne right through to Franz Ferdinand.
There are also unlockables from unsigned bands which are nice to have but lack the recognition factor that you get when playing the well-known songs. These, along with things like new venues and avatars based on amusing rock stereotypes, can all be purchased with money earned in the career mode.
What this game does best of all is provide that feeling that you can actually play guitar, likely to lead to many a shattered dream as players try and transfer their Guitar Hero skills to the real thing. That’s of course assuming that most players can even survive normal difficulty because the addition of the fourth button comes as quite a culture shock. I’ve dabbled in the five-button hard mode just so that I can say that I did it, and the feeling ranges from elation when you manage to pull off a solo and slide your hand from one button to another for a seamless transfer, to abject humiliation as you find yourself gawping at the notes flying past when you lose your place. Overall the difficulty curve feels perfect, providing a constant challenge but also allowing you to perceive yourself getting better at it.
Graphics are inconsequential to a game like this since coloured dots moving down a fretboard can only look so good, but it’s worth mentioning that Guitar Hero has an excellent visual style. Characters have great personality and are based on rock stereotypes so you’ll find generic rockers alongside vague likenesses of recognisable stars like Liam Gallagher and Sid Vicious. Backdrops range from dingy basements to festivals, and throughout the songs the action plays like a live concert recording, all in a nicely stylised form.
Guitar Hero includes support for two players with two guitars (they can be bought solus through the game’s regional websites) in a multiplayer mode which focuses on playing duets with each player getting their own solos. It doesn’t feel quite as fiercely competitive as games like DDR can in multiplayer, but instead feels more like two players riffing together. I actually found it more fun to play in a group with a single guitar and players taking turns, but that’s just me. That way I can’t be shown up as easily.
Guitar Hero is one of the greats of the rhythm-action genre, without a doubt. Packing a surprising amount of depth (I played for several hours before playing the tutorials and learning several new techniques that I didn’t even know about), an outstanding song selection, and accessible but challenging gameplay that makes this a great game, whether played as a duo or solo. Harmonix is the new king of rhythm-action, and long may it reign.