I grew up listening to radio stations that said things like: “The HOME *sound of explosions* of classic rock and roll” or “From AC/DC to Zeppelin *sound of freaking laserbeams* all rock, all the time.” So, when Neversoft decided to print more money by making another Guitar Hero game, thus solidifying their strategy of riding the franchise until the wheels fly off and then skidding along on shredded axles that much farther, they may have had a picture of me at sixteen with my sullen expression peeking through moppy brown hair while sporting a Permanent Vacation t-shirt hanging all the wrong ways right on their desks when they pegged Aerosmith as a partner.
It comes as no surprise that the most overexposed gaming franchise of the past few years has teamed up with a group like Aerosmith, a quintet that is more brand than band. I imagine that someone from Activision called Aerosmith’s manager, said “hey, do your guys like money?” and moments later the manager pulled the pre-signed forms from the Sell-Out file to fax right over, thus preserving a legacy of mediocrity.
Honestly, I can think of no better band to be associated with the absolute pabulum that has become Guitar Hero than Aerosmith, a band once edgy and great, awash in all that was beautiful about rock and roll, and which has become a self-absorbed shadow of itself. Except maybe those whores in Metallica.
Playing Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is a lot like listening to an Aerosmith song, and in more than the most painfully obvious way. There is talent at work here, though it is masked in ill-conceived decisions that constantly dodge out of the way of oncoming awesomeness. The fundamental experience of playing GH:A is in no meaningful way enhanced from the experience of Guitar Hero 3, which is not a good thing.
Having completed the game on Expert, I conclude with some disappointment that the note chart continues to feel as though it was created at random by someone who has never played guitar, has never listened to music and possesses not even a basic understanding of the mechanics of the human hand. So, naturally, the hit detection must, by necessity, give even spastic tremors the benefit of the doubt despite whatever epileptic seizure you impart onto the colored frets. You don’t necessarily have to correctly play the song, just some sort of interpretive impression of it.
Also making an unwanted comeback is the inclusion of a guitar face-off with Joe Perry (he’s plays lead guitar for Aerosmith; the one who doesn’t look like a fish that got stuck in a vacuum cleaner) including all the annoying power-ups and wankery that virtually everyone seemed to agree was crap in the previous game. Fortunately there is only one such face-off, a stubborn and pointless exercise that seems obviously half-hearted in its implementation, included out of what I assume be a vicious sense of spite.
I realize that it sounds as though I hated GH:A, and that’s not precisely true, though it’s not precisely untrue either. The game is just so unabashedly mainstream, that it reinforces my impression that the real heart of the Guitar Hero franchise left with the departure of Harmonix, leaving publisher Activision to cobble together a Frankenstein replacement from the brain of an economist, the heart of a marketing exec and the soul of Lou Pearlman.
I feel like there’s a comparison to be made here between developer Neversoft’s Tony Hawk franchise—itself endlessly rehashed, repackaged and bereft of anything approaching credibility—and EA’s Skate. Neversoft, while a terrible pretender to Harmonix’s throne, is a perfect choice for Activision’s vision of an endless parade of Guitar Hero products with peripherals that won’t work on other games, an apparent contempt for its customers and the need to rebuy the same songs again and again.
That said, GH:A has a smattering of songs that are fun to play. Living on the Edge and Dream On are both appealing enough Aerosmith songs where the hamfisted note charts get in the way slightly less than normal. The game tries to avoid some of the more overdone Aerosmith songs, which is admirable enough I suppose, though seems to fly in the face of everything else about the product. I can, however, die happy having not been forced to listen to I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing again. Unfortunately, the game is never more vulnerable to criticism than when it offers a song that is also available on EA’s Rock Band, underscoring the chasm in quality between the two games.
For reasons I can’t fully explain, though, the most annoying feature in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is the interviews with band members between sets. Between Steven Tyler describing being fisted by Adam Sandler and Joe Perry's muddled monotone anecdotes while cuddling up to a Guitar Hero controller, as if trying to offer us solace in the guise of credibility for our ill-advised purchase, I found any lingering fandom from my teenage years sublimating like exposed ice on the face of Mars. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith will hopefully serve as evidence that a single band can become tiresome even in the game named after it, a lesson that should have been learned back in the eighties when Journey attempted to base an arcade game on their band’s exploits in space, or in the mid-nineties when the abysmal light-gun shooter Revolution X was released featuring …
Oh wait, AEROSMITH!