April 30, 2007 As you might imagine, we're surrounded with technology at the Gizmag office...and we thought we'd learned to do a pretty good job of soldiering on despite all the distractions the wired lifestyle brings. Alas, those times are over now, and we refer to the period as BG (Before Guitar Hero). For the uninitiated, Guitar Hero is rock and roll condensed into a video game, complete with plastic guitar controller and a drummer who always turns up to practice on time (and doesn't hit on your girlfriend). The original Playstation 2 game sold over one million units in its first year, and the sequel sold over 1.3 million units in 2006 - 800,000 in December alone - and it's hooked everyone from the neighbors seven-year-old to members of the prog-rock super-group Tool. Now it's here on the Xbox 360 in crisp 720p resolution with 10 additional tracks - if you've listened to guitar music at all in the last thirty years, read on for the full review, video and track list.
If you've seen a music or dancing game before, you're probably already familiar with the core mechanics - notes fly down the screen, and the moment they intersect with the frets at the bottom of the screen is the correct time to play them. The guitar controller is scaled down - there's only five notes on the fretboard, but all the basic mechanics of a guitar are there - picking/strumming with your right hand and working the fretboard with your left hand. Hammer-on's and pull-off's work as expected, and the whammy bar allows you to add your own touch to the songs.
The detractors that cry "How stupid! Why not just play a real guitar?" have missed the point. I'm a musician myself, and was hooked instantly. Two other musos who I introduced to the game absolutely loved it - one went out the next day and bought a copy for the Playstation 2 that had previously been gathering dust in his studio. Then there's the mass of people being inspired to pick up a real guitar for the first time after mastering the game, and when one thinks about technology and "mindless entertainment" inspiring artistic endeavor, it's undeniable that this is a very special game.
Newcomers need not worry, the tutorial will first familiarize you with the guitar, then with playing notes and chords in time. It's quite easy to learn and the Easy mode of the game is incredibly easy. The instant gratification of hearing professional guitar work by hitting a couple of notes is ample encouragement to keep at it, and the dexterity and sense of timing that comes from playing the game is definitely transferable to a real instrument should you wish to take that step.
With the whopping track list here, there's almost guaranteed to be a song that will encourage any hesitant first-timers to pick up the ridiculous looking controller and have a bash, and knowing the groove of a song helps the learning curve significantly.
While things start off easy, by the time you get to Expert mode, it's absolutely furious. It'll take a ridiculous amount of time to master the game and there's plenty of achievements to chase, ranging from hard to near impossible - like getting a five star rating on Buckethead's insanely technical "Jordan" in Expert mode.
While the Xbox Live functionality lacks a multiplayer mode, it adds a great deal of replayability. You can view worldwide leaderboards for all songs, but you're much more likely to be competitive if you filter the list down to players on your friends list (unless you're passing songs on Hard mode at 100%). There are also three downloadable song packs, each consisting of three tracks from the original Guitar Hero game, which are available for 500 Microsoft points from the Xbox Live Marketplace. I would prefer being able to buy single tracks from the entire GH song list for 200 points, nevertheless I forked out for all three packs and didn't regret it. New packs are being released each month, but given the price, I really hope we don't have to repurchase these songs for Guitar Hero 3.
The only gripe we have with the package is the guitar - it's a (fairly short) wired USB connection. Thankfully the cord has a safety connector that is designed to fail with any tension, so you can't pull your Xbox out of your entertainment unit by rocking out too hard.
There are issues with the responsiveness of the whammy bar on some guitars, which are easily fixed with a downloadable update, so those who don't usually have their Xbox connected to the Internet will need to find a way to do so for the 10 seconds it will take to patch.
If you enjoy guitar music, aren't afraid of having fun, and have somehow missed the series so far, now is the time to jump in. For those who remain unconvinced, we've included the full track listing below, including the downloadable packs. Xbox 360 exclusive tracks are marked with *.
Even if you decide to steer clear of the game, you must check out this video.
1. Opening Licks
4. Thrash and Burn
5. Return of the Shred
6. Relentless Riffs
7. Furious Fretwork
Guitar Hero Track Pack 1
Guitar Hero Track Pack 2
Guitar Hero Track Pack 3