For those about to rock, we salute you - AC/DC
My gamer self is mostly moribund. Her thumbs have atrophied, her hand-eye coordination has diminished, and even a fine party game like MarioKart can hardly hold her attention long enough to complete a race.
But now she has awakened. A game has called her name with irresistible dulcet tones, summoning her to the living room, guiding her to pick up the controller, and whispering into the curved hollows of her ears, "It's time to rock out."
That game is Guitar Hero.
Guitar Hero rocks. It rocks hard, and it makes you believe that you can rock too. It says, "Here, pick up this guitar. You and me, we are going to rock down the house."
The game comes with its own controller, a guitar-shaped thing about the size of a ukulele, with five fret buttons up on the neck and a strum lever and whammy bar on the body. There are also the obligatory "start" and "select" buttons, but you can't rock with those, so forget them. The three-stage tutorial guides you through the basics of playing notes and chords, hammering-on and pulling-off, and then turns you loose on the catalogue of classic guitar rock waiting for you and your diminutive plastic axe.
You can go straight to Free Play which has a few of the songs available for you to play right away and allows you to switch between Easy, Medium, Hard and Extra Hard whenever you choose. In order to access more than the first five songs however, you will have to take on Career mode, in which you work your way up the ranks of posers, playing in sleazy bars and clubs until you emerge as the true Guitar Hero, rocking out to a stadium of thousands. The game offers the choice of six characters and three guitars, but so far as I can tell, these are purely cosmetic details.
I started a career in Easy mode after watching Shawn struggle through the middle of Medium and was glad that I had. Unless your fingers are unusually nimble from, uh, whatever activities you pursue that build nimble fingers, I'd recommend that you start there too. Guitar Hero has a pretty well designed learning curve but things get hard fast in Medium and I was grateful for the grounding that Easy had given me.
The basic gameplay is this: notes descend from the top of the screen and when they get to the bottom, you play them. The audio track of your playing registers missed or flubbed notes with screeches and plinks and correct notes with glorious, glorious rock. There are two meters on either side of the screen. One shows how much the audience likes your performance and the other shows your score for the song, which tallies as you play. There are a couple ways to boost your score. Enough correct notes in a row will give you a multiplier bonus which can be boosted again by using your Star Power.
Ah, Star Power. Possibly my favorite aspect of Guitar Hero. Some notes are special, marked with stars around them. If you correctly play a sequence of these notes they add to the Star Power bar on top of the audience meter. When you fill up the meter you can activate your Star Power by tilting your guitar upright and pointing it at the ceiling. This is important for two reasons: activating Star Power doubles whatever multiplier currently active on your score meter AND makes the audience love you. This can be a lifesaver when you start to lose it on a difficult song and the audience is starting to boo. Jack that sucker up at the rafters and suddenly you are sex on wheels all over again, baby.
Brace yourself - you get reviewed at the end of each performance. Your percentage of notes played and your score out of five stars pops up on a background of a newspaper article about your show. Once you get into Medium difficulty you also get paid for each show. Better performances mean better money, which you can spend on new songs, new guitars and new characters. You can also buy videos. Of what, I don't know. I've been too busy rocking out for that crap, man. I'm all about the music, you know?
And what music. Guitar Hero features thirty songs from some of the hardest rockers known to man. They are all guitar rock standards, starting with Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll," and ending with the truly insane "Cowboys from Hell" by Pantera. My favorite is "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand, although "Smoke on the Water" and "Ziggy Stardust" are also a lot of fun to rip through. In addition to the more famous tunes that you unlock as you progress through Career Mode, you can also purchase 17 indie tracks. This was a smart and frankly awesome thing for RedOctane to do. They get some kickin' songs for cheap and the indie bands get some great publicity.
I love Guitar Hero. I love the stupid guitar-shaped controller, I love the cheesy cartoonish graphics and the clichéd rock-star posturing and I love the whole concept of Star Power, which is that if you have enough style you can make the audience forget that you suck.
Most of all I love the finely tuned, sharply honed sense that I am, in fact, rocking out. This becomes more pronounced as you move into more difficult songs and harder modes but it is present from the very start, right from the first song in Easy Mode. You feel ridiculous standing there with the little plastic guitar strung around your neck...and then you play that first note and you feel like a f*cking rock star, man. Yeah.
For those who made it possible for me to rock, I salute you.
Licensed songs, and the bands that made them famous:
• Motorhead - "Ace of Spades"
• Ozzie Osbourne - "Bark at the Moon"
• Audioslave - "Cochise"
• Pantera - "Cowboys From Hell"
• Cream - "Crossroads"
• Sum 41 - "Fat Lip"
• Edgar Winter Group - "Frankenstein"
• Blue Oyster Cult - "Godzilla"
• Burning Brides - "Heart Full of Black"
• The Exies - "Hey You"
• Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground"
• Joann Jett - "I Love Rock and Roll"
• The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated"
• Bad Religion - "Infected"
• Black Sabbath - "Iron Man"
• Queen - "Killer Queen"
• Boston - "More Than A Feeling"
• Queens of the Stone Age - "No One Knows"
• ZZ Top - "Sharp Dressed Man"
• Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water"
• Jimi Hendrix - "Spanish Castle Magic"
• Incubus - "Stellar"
• Megadeth - "Symphony of Destruction"
• The Donnas - "Take It Off"
• Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
• Stevie Ray Vaughn - "Texas Flood"
• White Zombie - "Thunderkiss 65"
• Helmet - "Unsung"
• Judas Priest - "You Got Another Thing Comin"
• David Bowie - "Ziggy Stardust"
• Acro-Brats - "Call Out"
• Anarchy Club - "Behind the Mask"
• Artillery - "The Breaking Wheel"
• Black Label Society - "Fire It Up"
• Count Zero - "Sail Your Ship By"
• Din - "Fly on the Wall"
• Drist - "Decontrol"
• Freezepop - "Get Ready 2 Rock"
• Graveyard BBQ - "Cheat on the Church"
• Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives - "Hey"
• Made in Mexico - "Farewell Myth"
• Monkey Steal the Peach - "Theme from Guitar Hero"
• The Bags - "Caveman Rejoice"
• The Model Sons - "The Story of my Love"
• The Slip - "Even Rats"
• The Upper Crust - "Eureka! I Found Love"
• Shaimus - "All of This"