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Guitar Hero

Developer: Harmonix | Publisher: RedOctane
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 11/07/05 | Genre: Music

Admit it, you've played air guitar before. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to rock out on a real guitar, while the rest of us use our imagination. Whether you are in the first or second group of people, Harmonix and Red Octane have created a game that will be enjoyed by everyone and holds as one of the best music games to ever grace a console.

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Guitar Hero comes bundled with a 2ft guitar peripheral, which has 5 fret buttons, a strummer, a whammy bar, Start/Select buttons, and a built-in tilt sensor. If you've ever played one of Harmonix's previous PS2 titles, Amplitude or Frequency (two very underappreciated gems), the concept will appear very similar. In this case, you are set on a road with 5 lanes, one for each button on the guitar. As your 'note grabber' approaches a note on the road you must have the corresponding button held down and strum the guitar as you go over it, hitting the note in the process.

In most cases you will want to start on Easy and work your way up through each difficulty level. Doing this eases you into the game and allows you to slowly build your skills to the point where one day you will be able to hold your own on Insane. The game does this by starting you off with only using 3 out of the 5 buttons on the neck of the guitar. Each higher level then adds another button, until Hard where you are using all five, then Insane when you are all using five in much more difficult combinations.

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To keep a song going, the energy/crowd response meter must stay out of the red. Hitting most notes and keeping the fans happy will keep you from failing the song. Getting enough star power to make the crowd go nuts is also very important to your success, and nailing those star-shaped notes will raise your star power. Once your star power meter is at least half full, you can initiate it by tilting the guitar upwards triggering the built-in sensor, doubling your multiplier and raising the crowd's energy.

As the game gets tougher, you are encouraged to use some of the techniques taught in the tutorial. Strumming up and down (which means that yes, it also supports you left-handers), hammer-ons, and pull-offs. You heard right, Harmonix even supported hammer-ons and pull-offs, two techniques that are very useful for real guitarists. They essentially allow you to more easily play separate notes which come right after another in the song by holding down all the approaching notes, strumming the first one and 'pulling off' as they come by, or by holding down and strumming the first approaching note and 'hammering-on' the rest as they come.

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Career mode is probably where you'll be spending most of your time. You begin by naming your band, and then work your way through the 4 difficulty levels and unlocking over 40 songs. As your progress through each group of 5 songs, you open up a new venue where you'll be performing. Naturally you start off in your parents basement, and somewhere down the road end up in a stadium in front of 30,000 screaming fans. For each song performed you receive a rating out of 5 stars, earning more money the better you do.

The money you earn can be used in the Unlock Shop where you can purchase bonus songs, behind the scenes videos, new characters, and new guitars. The list of bonus songs is pretty large, most of which are from bands you've probably never heard of in your life, but you'll definitely have the urge to look into them after playing some of their tracks.

The Quick Play mode allows you to play with a second player. To fully enjoy 2-player mode you'll want to purchase a second controller, either from RedOctane's website, or by purchasing a second copy of the game and controller bundle. This mode puts both players in the role of the guitarist, essentially a co-op mode where you both strive to do well and keep the crowd happy. Sadly there is no online play, which to me is odd considering their game Amplitude (which was released in 2003) includes a well put together online mode.

Guitar Hero consists of over 40 tracks, with an obvious focus on rock tunes. Symphony of Destruction, Ziggy Stardust, More than a feeling, Iron Man, and Killer Queen is a mere sampling of the long list of songs you'll be playing. There are some questionable absents like AC/DC and Gun n' Roses, but its nothing a sequel can't add. Harmonix favourite synth-pop band Freezepop even makes a welcome appearance in easily one of the most enjoyable and up beat songs to play in game, Ready 2 Rokk.

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Most of the songs are not pulled right from the bands themselves, and instead are re-done (for legal issues I imagine), but you probably wouldn't have even noticed if I never told you. All the songs except for the vocals in maybe one or two tracks, sound as original as the band that recorded them. Just as a side note, all the bonus songs that you purchase in the Unlock Shop within the Career mode are the original recordings. Those are largely from independent labels, making it easier for Harmonix and Red Octane to obtain them.

The visual style appears pretty simple, relying on the animations to give it character and life. You won't notice anything other then the notes if you are the one playing the song, but when you let someone else play you can notice little things in the environment that are triggered when the player is doing well. The animations differ between each guitarist, and are also done well.

Even though Guitar Hero may not be pushing the PS2 on a technical level, it comes down to fun and whether or not that fun is worth paying $70 US. The answer is a screaming 'YA'. Though the lack of online play is disappointing, the fact is this game could easily last you over 100 hours. You'll want to keep mastering the songs, playing with your friends, and taking it out whenever there is a party. It's a blast as a single player game, a 2-player game, and a party game. All the minor shortcomings are easily overlooked when the guitar is in your hands making you feel like a real guitar hero. Another solid PS2 title, one of the best music games you'll ever find on a console, and a surprise game of the year contender for the platform.

By David Doel - 12/20/05
ESRB Details: Mild Lyrics
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