Thursday, February 23, 2006

Guitar Hero (2005)

by Harmonix and RedOctane
for Playstation 2

When I first heard of this game, I was relatively unfamiliar with "Guitar Freaks" which can best be described as the guitar's answer to "Dance Dance Revolution." That can effectively describe this game as well, only for the home market and much much cooler. When my brother presented me the list of songs confirmed for the game, I was pretty stoked.

If you are a normal person, you will have bought/rented/borrowed this game complete with guitar controller. It's smaller than a regular guitar of course, but should fit and accomodate everybody who comes in contact with it. On the neck are five colored buttons that serve as frets, with the middle having a raised indentation for use later. The start and select buttons are fashioned as volume knobs and you even get a whammy bar.

In case you've been in a cave and don't get what a guitar version of DDR would be, allow me to clumsily explain. It's your job to play a song. The notes will cascade towards a point, and when they get there, you must hold that that fret or frets and strum the end. Instead of strings, you basically have a button, which can be pushed either up or down, just like strings.

The "story" to this is also simple, as you work up from playing basements to playing arenas. Pass 4 out of 5 songs in a given venue, you move on. That simple. The easy difficulty only has three colors. Medium introduces cash rewards and unlockables with 4 buttons in play. Hard and expert use all five, but expert is much faster. You get to name your band and pick a character to represent you. With cash you can buy new guitar skins (in-game of course) as well as original songs.

The soundtrack is nothing short of impressive. They cater to a number of tastes, and even I got to like songs I hated by playing them. Some of the selections include "Smoke on the Water," "Cochise" by Audioslave, "Higher Ground" as performed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Sharp Dressed Man," et al. The original songs are lacking in comparison - and not just because of their competition - a number of them sound very hollow and weird. I've grown to like a few, but that's really it.

You can also duel with a friend. You each have your own screen. Sometimes you'll trade off a'la dueling banjos, other times you'll groove together. This is a pretty fun feature with somebody on a similar skill level.

I personally did not get into the single player game - I like to use the quick play feature and just play the songs for fun. I think it's rather silly to have the big bad unlockables be the original songs - maybe they could've held over some really cool licensed stuff for this. There are cool videos to unlock though about the making of the game. I could really care less what my guitarist is playing on screen as my focus is on the notes and scoreboard.

Oh yes, the scores! Each note you play is worth a point value. Two-note chords are worth more, as are long notes you hold down. Every group of successful notes gives you a multiplier, all the way up to x4 per note. Some notes have stars around them, and if you complete an entire sequence of these, your star power goes up. If you fill it at least halfway, you can hit select, or tilt the guitar rockstar style to activate it. The audience claps, and your multiplier doubles. Use it at the right time and that's a pay off of 8 times the regular rate. It also boosts your "rock meter" which is basically a gauge on how many notes you're hitting correctly. So if you reach a diffcult solo, this can also bail you out. If you miss so much the audience boos you off the stage, you fail the song.

This is also where the whammy bar comes into play. If you whammy on star notes, your bar goes up faster. And it also increases the point potential of held notes. So there's a bit of strategy as far as when to use it goes.

I did play "Guitar Freaks" once and this just blows it away. Some reviewers at GameFAQs latch on to it and decry this game; however, I didn't pay $80 for a plastic guitar to play some Japanese whipped up crap. I wanted to jam to "Iron Man." That's really the allure of this game. Playing well known rock classics. And it's a great venue for it. It supports every skill level, and every skill level I've seen has had fun playing it. If this sounds like you're cup of tea reading it, then it's a surefire buy.


Hopefully next time they can get a lot more cool songs. Every time I hear a particularly guitar-rich song on the radio now I just think of playing it in this game.

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