Game Description: Guitar Hero makes you the star of your very own rock band. Using button combinations, sustains and the whammy bar, players will experience the essence of what it’s like to actually play some of the coolest rock songs of all time. The song list includes hits from Jimi Hendrix, Boston, Megadeath and many more. Players can choose from multiple rock characters and play at concert venues that grow in size as your rock career progresses.
I don't usually like music games. They don't do much for me. I don't like singing along doing karaoke, I don't like sweating and stepping on arrows in Dance Dance Revolution, and I don't like anything that uses bongos… but I like Guitar Hero. Why do I like Guitar Hero when so many other audio-based games leave me cold? In this case, it's all about the controller.
Looking strictly at the gameplay, Guitar Hero is nothing more than logical evolution from Harmonix based on their other efforts like the excellent FreQuency and the pretty good Amplitude. Colored icons scroll towards the player and the correct button or sequence of buttons must be pushed at a certain time. It's not new, and it's not even really different. But, like I said—it's all about the controller.
Coming packaged with a peripheral in the shape of a guitar, a certain kind of magic takes hold when the ax gets plugged in and the opening menu screens are navigated. It might not make a lot of sense at first, but there's an incredible difference between sitting slouched over on a couch and standing up with legs spread in a power stance.
It feels stupid and embarrassing at first, so I recommend trying it out in a room alone. However, before the first song is over, the dark overlord of rock 'n roll makes his presence known and any thoughts of self-consciousness or modesty get tossed out the window. Now I gathered an audience. It may have been just my fiancée and my dog, but that didn't matter—I was a rock star.
For a few minutes, dreams of being a bad-ass chick magnet shredding a guitar onstage come true. My hands have to move to make the notes blast. My fingers have to fly. After nailing all the chords in a tough song, I almost expect a roadie to run in from the other room holding a mirror piled high with cocaine, a flock of hot groupies close behind. Without ever having taken a lesson in my life, Guitar Hero turns me into an all-powerful icon, kicking ass and ready to trash a cheap hotel room.
It goes without saying that very few games I've ever played have had such a visceral, immediate and transformative effect. Although intellectually my brain may tell me that there isn't much to it, it's impossible to ignore the electricity of one hand on the fret buttons and one on the strum key. It's a physical reaction.
By playing the game in a way that actually emulates playing the instrument, it becomes that much easier to slip into the music and start pounding away. The song selections are excellent, and although there are a few notable artists missing (where's the AC/DC? Pre-Hagar Van Halen?), anyone who appreciates rock will be sated with the work here; you just can't not move your head and jam to people like Jimi Hendrix, the Ramones, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motorhead, Pantera and more.
There isn't a whole lot to complain about with Guitar Hero—you're either going to rock out like a mofo and become the essence of superstardom, or you're not. The odds say you will. It's true the visuals could use a little more variety and pizzazz, and the game does get unbelievably difficult on the higher settings (so get practicing), but these aren't really things that can be held against it. The game is what it is, and nothing I could say in this review will effectively capture the sensation of holding the guitar controller straight up in the air and slamming through an insane series of notes on reflex, not really understanding how I did it—and not really caring.
Now move aside… my solo is coming up.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Mild Lyrics
Parents might want to get a complete song list and look the lyrics up on the Internet, but other than the occasional word here and there during a song, there's nothing to be concerned about. There's no violence and no sexual content— the game is all about watching notes and playing the guitar.
People who like music games must own this one.
People who don't like music games must own this one. The only reason to not pick this up is if someone has a strong aversion to rock music, and even that person might want to think about it.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers… well, what can I say? The game revolves around playing a mock musical instrument and incorporates huge amounts of auditory input. It's possible to play the game based on visuals alone, but without the music accompanying it, there's really no point. I'm sorry to report it, but people with a hearing impairment are pretty much out of luck.
Brad's review touches upon the visceral reaction of the player once he is sucked into the babe-magnet-maker that is Guitar Hero. However, cool as it may be to have a tool to be a groupie-getter, there is another point to Guitar Hero—it's also about making music.
As he said in his GameCritics.com interview, Alex Rigopulos' primary goal in crafting his games (other than EyeToy: AntiGrav) is to make the act of music-making accessible to any gamer due to their unique skill set. As a musician of 22 years, I agree with his statement that music making is a fundamental joy that every human being must experience. Guitar Hero brings that joy to many who wouldn't ordinarily be able to pick up a guitar and whack away at Black Sabbath within a couple of hours.
What makes Guitar Hero different from almost every other rhythm action game is the basic control mechanic. Harmonix has made a game that actually feels like one is playing a fretted instrument. As such, a player has to learn how to play "properly," as he or she would a real instrument in real life. And just like real life, it's impossible to play the harder modes without practicing the easier songs. While this fact is usually the death knell that heralds the end of music lessons as a child, it's totally appropriate for a videogame.
The realistic feel of Guitar Hero is achieved two different ways: the controller and the level design. The guitar controller layout mimics the feel of the guitar really well. The sensation of the guitar in your hands only furthers the belief that it's not just a game, but a performance. What is most surprising is how natural it is to pick up and play. Virtually anyone with a modicum of rhythm can survive the easiest levels.
However, in order to complete the harder levels, there is one technique that must be learned: the hammer-down. Essentially, it involves plucking only once with the right hand, but fingering multiple notes with the left. Any guitar player worth his weight knows that picks can only go so fast. Guitar Hero has the player using hammer-downs to not only enable them to play more notes, but also to dictate the musical quality of the melody itself. This is how the level design contributes to the realism. Drawing from real fingering patterns, the button presses for each song are very close to what is actually played on a proper guitar (albeit with some creative license for only five buttons). Between main melodies, chords and hammer-downs during fast solos, the fingering patterns feel completely natural--especially for those who've played a real instrument.
Playing music is not a passionless activity, and here is where Brad's emotional reaction to the game actually comes into play as a proper technique. At a rock concert, a guitarist holds the guitar more vertically than horizontally when he gets really pumped (at least in the '80s). Guitar Hero encourages this feeling by having the player tilt the guitar controller upwards once a gauge is built up. Suddenly, the lights shine extra bright, everything is aflame, the volume is turned up and you're the star, rocking harder than before. Playing the right notes suddenly isn't as important. All that matters is you, your guitar and the music. You ARE the Guitar Hero. The primal instinct that tends to take over most players is used to its fullest advantage, making PS2 guitar-playing that little bit more real, even down to "faking" the solo in Hero Mode if the need arises.
In fact, the only downside to the guitar is the whammy bar, which doesn't affect much of the game. Though it sometimes looks like it increases your score slightly, its gameplay impact is marginal. It's only there for the realism of guitar-playing. Considering how minor this complaint is, it doesn't have a negative impact on the experience whatsoever. Besides, it would destroy the illusion of playing the guitar if it weren't possible to bend notes like crazy. And as Brad wrote, the song list is missing a few notable tunes.
But those points are trivial compared to what is there. And what is there is incredible. There are many music games, but few of them hold a candle to Guitar Hero. It's easy to say why it works, but it's better to experience it. It's both technical and visceral, conscious and unconscious. To put it bluntly, it's playing music. With Guitar Hero, Harmonix has fulfilled its mission statement.