Review: Guitar Hero (PS2)

Genre: Rhythm/Music
Platform: PS2
ESRB Rating:
Publisher: Harmonix/Sony
Release Date: 2005

There have been a ton of kitchy games released over the last decade that use a custom controller or some other kind of gimmick to bring a new type of gameplay to the marketplace.

In Guitar Hero, the gimmick is the whole game – instead of using a controller, the player takes control of a guitar with buttons to play along with over 30 rock songs.


Storyline/Modes
There are really only two gameplay modes in Guitar Hero, and not much of a storyline to speak of. In the career mode, the player can choose from a variety of guitar players and guitars, and select one of up to five difficulty levels.

There are unlockable players and guitars as well, including the Grim Reaper which gave me some nice memories of Bill and Ted 2.

Rating: 5/10


Graphics
Rhythm games don’t have much to do visually, and Guitar Hero doesn’t do much to change that. The interface is pretty simple, with a scrolling row of notes coming at the player continuously. Along the side is the guitar player, rocking along with the notes as they are played. The rest of the band is seen too, more in the background, and also in the beginning and end cut scenes.

Whatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s there looks pretty average – its kinda blocky character models on nicely modeled stages. There are a range of venues to play from small to arenas, and those are adequately recreated to give a growing feeling of importance to the shows as difficulty ramps up.

Even though the graphics underwhelm, the gameplay and music is so engrossing that Guitar Hero becomes a rare example of graphics becoming nearly transparent in importance.

Rating: 5/10


Sound
Besides gameplay, this is the one category in Guitar Hero that could have made or broken the game. The song selection in Guitar Hero is nothing short of awesome. Mixing in classic rock, modern rock, cock rock and a bunch of other rocks with hot guitar parts, Guitar Hero might not have a full slate of songs everyone loves, but the songs are all well known enough to be enjoyable. Sure I don’t enjoy Boston per se, but playing More Than A Feeling is just as satisfying as, say, Sum 41 which is one of my favorite bands.

The way the songs are presented is well done as well. As notes are hit correctly, the song plays loud and hard. But as notes are missed, the song itself fades into the background, and the missed note sounds are discordant and perfect. The BONK of a wrong note in the middle of a huge solo is not only a break in game momentum, but an embarrassing display for anyone watching – even if its just the player himself.

Also of note is the crowd itself, which reacts with varying enthusiasm to guitar success, and with thunderous boos for badly played stretches. Getting booed off the stage never gets easier, even after having it done many times (especially at hard difficulties)

Rating: 10/10


Gameplay
The developers of Guitar Hero had produced two other games for PS2 – Frequency and Amplitude. The gameplay in those games had the player use a Tempest-like interface to maneuver across a gameboard and play notes along with popular songs (less popular than those in Guitar Hero after the first few hits). Guitar Hero feels like the spiritual successor to those games in gameplay, with a similar style scrolling board and notes corresponding to buttons.

The huge difference is that instead of a regular PS2 controller, Guitar hero comes packed with a functioning guitar-shaped controller. It has five colored buttons on the neck of the guitar, and a white switch with goes back and forth. There are also two white buttons (one start/pause and one to activate superstar) and the kicker – a whammy bar. The notes on the scroll are in five positions, one each corresponds with a colored button on the guitar. At the same time a colored note appears on the screen, the colored button and the white switch need to be pressed. Longer notes require the colored button to be held down longer. Multiple buttons are pressed at once to create a chord.

At first, the game moves slow, and only has three notes. The next mode adds another note, and it continues to get faster and harder. The hardest modes of the game use all five buttons, move extremely fast, and have an ever changing array of notes, chords and tricky sequences.

Points are earned for each note hit, and at 10, 20, 30 and 40 note streaks, a multiplier is added to reward longer streaks. There is also a crowd meter, which runs from red to yellow to green, impacted by the quality of the performance. If the meter runs into the red, and then begins to blink, chances are good that you’re about to be booed off the stage.

The only real “twist” to that basic gameplay is the Superstar meter. As various things are done during the game, like long note streaks, hitting star shaped notes or using the whammy bar (perhaps the most fun thing in the game) to alter long notes, a light blue turbo-style meter fills up. Once its halfway, it can be activated to add a 2X multiplier to the score, as well as a spiked increase in crowd meter response. During a long solo, missing many notes and deep in the red, a shift into superstar mode turns the red into green in a matter of a few notes. This adds a bit of strategy to the game, breaking up the somewhat monotonous style of the gameplay, and helps save a song from certain failure at times.

In all, the gameplay in Guitar Hero is satisfying, responds well using the guitar controller, and rewards the player for improving.

Rating: 9/10


Replayability
There are 30 songs – which is pretty impressive. After the core 30 are also about 15 other songs, by unknown bands.

Even though the same groups of songs are available in each difficulty level, they change considerably each time. Easy mode only uses three buttons, and then the next two difficulty levels adds another button. The last 2 difficultly levels get EXTREMELY hard, especially with the solos. On easy, the solos seem so easy – the game only gives a few notes in long complicated stretches. By the time expert rolls around, nearly ALL of those notes need to be played and it takes a bunch of practice.

In addition to the game changing on each difficulty level, there are unlockables that are access by earning money at shows. The higher quality the performance, the more money earned, and thus the sooner more guitars, players and extras can be purchased.

Rating: 8/10


Balance
Guitar Hero’s 30 songs are arranged in 6 groups of 5 songs, each unlockable with 4 or 5 completed songs from the previous group. The first group is the easiest, with staples such as “I Love Rock N Roll” by Joan Jett. These songs have simpler note patterns, less chords and less abrupt changes up and down the neck of the guitar. The songs towards the end of the progression get much harder, and the difficulty levels ramp up nicely.

The easy mode is simple enough where novices can jump in and likely complete a few songs with minimal failures. The advanced gameplay seen at the end of the game is for more seasoned players, offering something for all levels of players without altering the core concept of the game.

Rating 10/10

Originality
Rhythm games have been around for a while now, and Konami has been creating Guitar-based rhythm games for a few years too.

That being said, guitar games are hardly commonplace, especially with such a great array of songs, and Guitar Hero executes to a tee. The superstar meter is a small addition that changes up the formula nicely. The controller is also pretty decent quality, compared with the somewhat shaky guitars used in the Konami games.

Rating: 7/10


Addictiveness
Just another song! The addictive quality of Guitar Hero is seen both in its increasing difficulty and the overall fun gameplay. Playing songs is just plain fun, and especially with a group of people, the game calls you back again and again.

Rating: 10/10


Appeal
The game is getting a good push at retail for some reason – I’ve seen Guitar Hero as the display game in Best Buy and TRU so far. The fact that it’s $70 might be a factor – but don’t let that dissuade you from buying the game. Think of it as a $50 with a mandatory $20 upgrade for controller. When you think that the guitar is only $20, it makes it a little easier to swallow.

The appeal for Guitar Hero is wide ranging. The uniqueness of the gameplay will attract many players, as well the rocking soundtrack. As I’ve witnessed first hand, the game also entertains girls and non-gamers, which is exciting considering the relative complexity of the gameplay.

Rating 8/10


Miscellaneous
There is no fun factor or relative score in our reviews at Inside Pulse, but if there was, and this was Gamepro, we’d have one of those red “super happy” faces right here. Guitar Hero succeeds at the very core of why we play video games – it’s incredibly fun.

It’s also nice to see a non-standard genre without any kind of movie or TV license get some attention.

As a public service, I googled the full song list:

Motorhead – “Ace of Spades”
Ozzy 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”
Joan 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”

Rating 10/10


Overall Rating:
Storyline: 5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 10/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 10/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 10/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10
Total Rating: 8.0/10 (82 out of 100)