marino's Guitar Hero (PlayStation 2) review

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Please Don't Be the Guy Who Shouts "Freebird"

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Guitar Hero is another rhythm-based game brought to us by Harmonix, who you probably don't remember made Frequency and Amplitude.  This time Harmonix has teamed up with Red Octane to create an even more memorable music experience.  Red Octane is most well known for their high-quality Dance Dance Revolution pads and they have applied their excellent craftsmanship to the guitar controller used in Guitar Hero.  For those who already love the rhythm genre (DDR, StepMania, Donkey Konga, BeatMania, etc), this game is a no brainer.  For those who have shied away from these games due to the embarassment factor, Guitar Hero definitely has a more masculine look to it for you. 
Like other rhythm games, there's not much to write about when it comes to graphics.  You're too busy watching the notes to notice much of anything.  The interface is nice though and the different arenas are well done.  You start out your career in a basement concert for a few people and work your way up to a summer tour event.  The characters are cartoony and exaggerated verseions of rock stereotypes as you would expect.  The detail is great though, as the characters' hands are actually playing the right chords along with the song.  Basic graphics but excellent presentation.     
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First of all, the guitar controller is awesome.  Technically you could play something like this with a regular controller like in Amplitude, but the experience would be completely different.  The guitar adds so much to the gameplay it's hard to imagine playing without it once you give it a try.  If you've played a rhythm game before, how the game is played is nothing new.  Icons that represent notes and chords scroll down the screen toward you, and you must play them as they pass through windows at the bottom of the screen.  Instead of only requiring the press of a button like most rhythm games though, Guitar Hero has you playing the notes and chords much like a real guitar by holding one or more frets, then strumming the guitar.  Instead of strings, the controller has a flipper of sorts that you can flick in either direction to play.  In addition to the frets and flipper, they've also included a whammy bar, which you can use on the long notes and chords.  Advanced techniques, required in the higher levels, allow you to successfully nail pull-offs and hammer-ons. 
Lastly, there's Star Power.  Sometimes, notes and chords coming down the screen will be shaped like stars.  If you nail them all in a combo, you earn Star Power.  Once you fill this meter about halfway, you can activate Star mode which doubles your current combo point counter.  The best thing about this is the way you activate it.  No simply tilt the guitar straight up and rock out.     
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You can't have a good guitar game without good music, and Guitar Hero delivers fully with 30 cover songs.  Most of the songs are done so well that you can't really tell they are covers.  In addition to those, there are 17 indy tracks you unlock through your career mode.  The game seems to favor older stuff more than new, but there is a good mix of everything. 
They seem to have picked songs that have big guitar solos.  So if you're asking yourself why they would pick some of the lesser known songs of some of the more well known bands, that's probably why.  The sound effects are excellent as well.  You really do feel like you're playing the guitar portion of the song (especially on higher difficulties) rather than just pressing buttons to go along.  If you mess up, there is no back-up guitar, so the rest of your band is gonna get pissed.  Missing the timing of a note or chord will result in a familiar screeching fret sound that blatantly tells you that you fucked up.  Simply put, the sound is great.  
Replay Value 
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With 47 songs and 4 difficulty settings, the guitar strap could be over your shoulder for quite a while.  The best thing about Guitar Hero in terms of value is the progression.  Easy mode starts you off by only utilizing the first three frets.  You will probably make it through this in a couple hours once you get the hang of the game.  Medium introduces you to the fourth fret.  The pinky finger is not often utilized in the world of gaming, so you may have trouble at first especially if you're not a guitar player.  Hard mode adds the fifth and final fret to the mix.  By this point, you should be adept to using your pinky, but the new challenge is moving your hand up and down the neck to quickly play the more frequent notes and chords.  By the time you make it to Expert mode, you are almost playing every note of the song.  Expert is extremely difficult, but nailing the solo in "No One Knows" or "Symphony of Destruction" is an experience you will not soon forget.  All of this is presented to you in a career mode that allows you to pick a character, a guitar (all of which are Gibson), and earn money doing shows.  This money is used to unlock more guitars, skins, characters, and the indy tracks.  Most rhythm games, such as DDR, assume you've been in the mall 18 hours a week practicing.  Guitar Hero assumes you've never seen a guitar, and walks you through a challenging series of events that ultimately leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. 
There is also a 2-player mode, which obviously requires another guitar.  You can get another one for about $40, but they aren't for sale yet.  If you know you want two guitars, I suggest ordering straight from Red Octane since you can get a bundle.  The multiplayer works like a battle mode where you trade off doing parts of the solos then compete simultaneously during the chorus. 
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Okay, this game is damn fun.  And it's hard.  With a great peripheral, a great track list, and some of the most addictive gameplay in recent memory, Guitar Hero is the sleeper hit of the holidays.  You may be asking yourself, so much does all this cost?  Well, it's $69.99, and while that is a bit pricey, you get your money's worth.  The guitar is very well made, unlike the Konami Guitar Freaks controllers.  Whether you're a guitar player or not, Guitar Hero is definitely a fun game and worth getting.  Even if you don't dish out the extra cash for a second guitar, you can have a great time just passing the guitar around taking turns on songs.  I just hope that the game does well enough to get expansions with more songs like some of the other rhythm games.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***

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