I’ve never really been into Rock music. And by Rock music I mean Black Sabbath, Pantera, Motorhead, Guns ‘n Roses, Def Leppard et al. There’s just always been something dirty and wrong about it.
For one, I hate tattoos.
And I’ve never liked having to wear skin tight black jeans with a crotch so tight that in no time I could sing a better falsetto than Justin Hawkins. And those horrible black vests with flaming skulls on the back? No thanks!
Turned up blue jeans, luminous green socks and shell suits are where it’s at. Or at least they were when I grew up in the 80s.
For me, back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, Rock music just seemed like a whole lot of noise and not really much of a tune. And even now that I’m older and a little bit wiser, to be honest, things haven’t really changed. I like some forms of modern Rock music, but nothing that I’d consider hardcore. Play me a Slipknot, Metallica or Bruce Springsteen track and I’m likely to fall asleep or tell you politely to,"Turn that shite off!"
But this week I’ve gone through a bit of change. My inner Rock god has stirred somewhat. And you know what? For a few minutes the other day I wanted to be Gene Fucking Symmons.
Did you see that?
That completely un-necessary use of the F word. That was him. Full of fuck-you attitude, balls and bluster. That was the Rock God in me, escaping slightly before I managed to get him back under control. How did he escape, you might ask.
The answer my friend, lies in Harmonix’s latest sublime release Guitar Hero.
So, straight into it then and without a hint of pretension - Guitar Hero is more than a game. It’s a lesson.
And in this lesson, you will learn more about yourself than you ever will playing any other game. In fact I’d even go so far as to say that calling it a game is to do it a massive dis-service. Guitar Hero is a truly joyous and unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever played or ever will play. At least until Harmonix’s next release.
Aleady I’m sure it’s pretty obvious that I adore this game like no other. But anyone who knows me will know that Harmonix’s previous effort, Amplitude, was, one of my all time favourite ‘games’ of this generation.
Amplitude was under-rated, un-loved, mis-understood and barely bought by the mainstream buying public, yet somehow still remains a game that when fully experienced offers the most intrinsic and gratifying link between your senses and a game that you’re ever likely to encounter.
It has however, been usurped.
Guitar Hero is all of the above and more. Much more.
But alas, for I fear a similar fate will become of Guitar Hero. Not least because to buy the game and the expensive-ish required guitar controller instantly puts the game outside that comfortable ‘impulse buy’ zone. But mostly because a lot of people who play Guitar Hero will either detest the music or hate it because they won’t be any good at it.
The problem with gaming at the moment in my mind at least, is that a 10+ button joypad is no longer intuitive or immersive. The act of using a controller should represent the actions you’re acting out on screen – here’s hoping Nintendo’s Revolution controller is all it appears to be. There’s no longer the same satisfaction to be had from pressing X or O to shoot an enemy, kick a football or fell an opponent with a well timed dragon punch. I want to be sucked in physically as well as mentally.
Guitar Hero does this superbly with its fantastic Guitar controller which I’ll admit at first glance looks like a child’s toy. With its 5 coloured buttons and tacky plastic appearance it wouldn’t look out of place next to a Fisher Price keyboard. But ignore the looks. It’s how it feels in your hands when you’re rocking. And boy is that feeling special.
Before I elaborate any further, let’s get the boring game-play descriptions out of the way. The concept behind Guitar Hero is pretty simple. A vertical bar positioned in the centre of the screen is split 5 ways into what could essentially be described as ‘lanes’ much like on a motorway. Occasionally, down each ‘lane’ appears a circular coloured icon, which when triggered will release – to use Harmonix’s own cheesy but perfectly apt description – “ a Sonic Energy Burst”. To release these bursts, you must press and hold the appropriate colour on the guitar while simultaneously strumming the controller’s paddle, for want of a better word, at the correct moment in time. The concept is tricky to describe but easy to understand when seen and played first hand. These ‘energy bursts’ are actually guitar chords and when activated, play at high volumes if you’ve any sense. Play a few consecutively and on time and soon you’re playing a tune. And that’s pretty much it. Add a few slightly more complicated chord sequences and simultaneous button presses and before long you’re strumming along rapidly to a well reproduced rendition of “Sedated” by the Ramones.
Your Guitar Hero is represented on screen by any of the 8 initially available gloriously animated avatars, each with individual trademark rock moves. The selectable characters are if we’re being critical, generic stereotypes. But anything else just wouldn’t have worked. Amongst these avatars are your typical British Punk Rocker with green Mohican, a sexy rock chick with tight jeans and tight top and a hulking great denim clad mosher, much like that scary bloke with the mullet you always see drinking Special Brew at 11am in the street.
The tracks are broken down into groups of five with each completed track earning dollars which can be exchanged for new characters, skins, guitars or bonus tracks. And that’s pretty much it on paper.
The extraordinary part of Guitar Hero is that when you get proficient at it, which believe me you won’t for a little while, it genuinely feels like you’re playing an actual guitar and that you know the chords and can actually play the guitar for real. And there lies its genius. Guitar Hero utterly and entirely sucks you into believing that you are Jimi Hendrix and that you can play the guitar with your tongue.
Before the game arrived and I’d had chance to taste its delights, I was slightly anxious about playing it, particularly in front of an audience. Which, if I’m honest is because I consider myself a bit stiff. I’ve always lacked rhythm and am self conscious at the best of times. And as much as I desperately want to, I will not embarrass or humiliate myself by playing Singstar or Karaoke Revolution. So I was apprehensive that those same feelings would spoil my enjoyment of Guitar Hero, but there’s something just indescribable about playing the game and playing it well that makes you lose your inhibitions and gets you jumping and rocking on the spot like you are Brian May, The Edge or even Rick Parfitt!
I don’t care if I look a complete arse with my Fisher Price toy Guitar, I’m rocking and I love it. And that’s what makes Guitar Hero stand out from similar titles, and is also the chief improvement over its predecessor. You’re no longer holding a PS2 pad in your hand arbitrarily affecting what happens on screen and out of your speakers. Instead you’re holding an authentic device, that looks and feels like its real life counterpart. Guitar Hero is an experience to behold. And if a game can get me up out of my chair, jumping up and down totally lost, transfixed and immersed in it, then it surely can and will do the same to anyone. Yes that includes you!
Featuring 30+ songs as well as various un-lockable extras, there’s enough in Guitar Hero to keep you occupied for a good while, particularly as mastering the Hard and Expert modes requires Shaolin like dedication and practise. But much like its predecessor, you’ll never grow tired of just playing. There’s no better feeling to be had than nailing the guitar solo on Queens of the Stone Age’s “No-one Knows” or jamming along to Deep Purple’s quintessential “Smoke on the Water”. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s the fact that’s it’s fun to play without actually achieving anything that makes it different from traditional games. You don’t need a mission objective, you don’t need a goal, you play because it’s fun to play.
Which brings me nicely back to the fabulous guitar controller. If you’re not already at least intrigued by it, then surely what I’m about to say will trigger an uncontrollable rush of sticky fluid to various parts of your body.
As well as featuring the 5 chord buttons and strumming paddle, the guitar also feature a tilt sensor. A power bar on screen fills up as your performance progressively improves. Fill the power bar and you can activate Star Power by holding the guitar vertically, thus activating the tilt sensor. Once your Star Power is engaged, it’s possible to increase the score multiplier from the normal maximum of 4 to 8, whilst also coaxing the crowd into clapping or screaming along in time. So even if you are as stiff as me, it’s impossible to sit still and play the game almost motionless, as every so often you’ll thrust the guitar in the air before banging your head and stamping your feet as you embark on the notoriously difficult guitar solo that each song features.
Finally, as if the above wasn’t already enough. The controller features a whammy bar which when well, whammied, distorts the current chord you’re playing. Which when combined with extra long chords is as near to free-styling as you’re going to get with Guitar Hero. The whammy bar allows you to add your own flamboyant touch to any of the playable songs and in turn increases your score.
For those of you still questioning whether you ought to buy this game or not, if you’re a rocker already then it really is a no-brainer. But if Rock music has never really done it for you, all that ‘noise’ hurts your head, and there’s no way you’ll ever be seen dead holding that ‘gay’ controller then go back to playing your FIFA and GTA clones and leave the rocking to those of us more open minded and welcome to new ideas.
For those of you somewhere in between. Still slightly undecided and seeking comparisons. Guitar Hero’s nearest equivalent is Nintendo’s Donkey Konga which itself is a gem of a game. But imagine Donkey Konga with better songs, far superior visuals and a controller that makes you look and feel like Hendrix as opposed to a potty training rugrat. And if the sound of that doesn’t turn you on then you are, as the phrase goes “dead to me”.
But if the above has got your juices flowing then join us. Grow your hair long, don’t wash for a week, cover yourself in temporary tattoos of the devil and unleash your inner Rock God, you won’t regret it. Just lock him away when you’ve done as your neighbours won’t approve of the noise, and perhaps more importantly, your girlfriend won’t approve of the B.O.
After the glorious Resident Evil 4 (GameCube) this is without a doubt, the second best game of the year and I’d even stretch so far as to place this at number one in my all time list of PlayStation2 games.
9 / 10