Review: Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 06/29/08


Okay, so, here’s the deal: if you’re looking for the opinion of a huge fan of Aerosmith, go take a look at Danny’s review. If you hate Aerosmith, well, I can’t help you. If you’re looking for another GH game and don’t care about the subject matter one way or the other, WELCOME! I’m here to help.

So, Guitar Hero has become something of a cash-generating juggernaut in the past several years, largely because it’s an experience that

1.) allows you to pretend you’re an awesome musician,
2.) can be played by just about anyone, and
3.) is a heck of a lot of fun in large groups

and as such, it attracts people from all sorts of different levels of gaming, from the casual to the hardcore, because it gives them something that almost anyone can enjoy (unless, by some chance, you hate guitars). You can effectively describe it as “DDR that uses your fingers”, and that’s not far off, as both franchises achieved great sales records and have become more than “just another game series.” Guitar Hero is something of a phenomenon all by itself, really.

So, it makes sense that something with as much popularity as GH has would try to release theme packs; expansion packs aimed at specific, smaller demographics that have a certain niche interest or like a certain specific style or genre of music. The first of these packages, “Guitar Hero Rocks the 80’s” was a pretty good idea on its own that was a little misguided (charging full-price for a reduced track count and no new additions is generally not the best of choices), but showed steps in the right direction. This time around, instead of focusing on a specific genre or time period of music, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is instead focused on one specific BAND. This isn’t a bad thing in this case, seeing as how Aerosmith is one of the most famous bands on Earth, has a discography spanning three decades and fourteen albums, and has an interesting presence and personality that would lend itself well to a theme pack.

The end result is something that, unless you absolutely loathe Aerosmith, works out pretty well all in all. It’s not perfect, it does some odd things stylistically, and it might not be worth the full asking price unless you’re a huge Aerosmith fan, but all in all it works well enough to be worth playing, if nothing else.

The story, such as it is, details the life of Aerosmith from their beginnings at a high school dance to their ultimate induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the “story” really amounts mostly to them recapping things in interview snippets more than actually narrating any sort of tale, and while that’s amusing (especially hearing Steven Tyler discuss his understanding of how being inducted into anything works), it’s not a game storyline so to say. So, let’s look at the modes. You’re given Career Mode, which is where the magic happens, as you go through each of the band’s major events in their existence and play through the various songs on that “tier”, much like normal Guitar Hero. If you just want to play a song, you’re also offered Quickplay, which just lets you pick a song and run with it. Multiplayer modes feature Co-op play (teaming up to play a song as lead and rhythm/bass guitars), Battle (fight each other with power-ups), Face-Off (play different parts of a song to compete) and Pro Face-Off (both players play the entire song to compete), as well as Xbox Live versions of the same, in ranked and unranked formats. There’s also a Tutorial that is completely interactive, and accompanied by some humorous narration, in case you’re new to the Guitar Hero experience. As you play in Career Mode you earn cash which you can use to buy videos, new characters, new outfits for the characters, new guitars and new songs, and a lot of the content in the game is new and not featured in other games, which is nice. The only thing that’s missing is Co-Op Career Mode, which was presumably excised because, unlike in Guitar Hero 3, there are a lack of songs focusing on bass playing, which is probably just as well, being as how Joe Perry is recognizable on sight and no one knows who the bass player in Aerosmith is anyway.

I’m kidding. His name is Tom Hamilton, and he co-wrote Sweet Emotion. Thanks, Google!

Anyway, visually, GH:A looks like GH3, though nearly all of the visuals, save the GH franchise characters, are re-done in some form or fashion. All of the play stages are brand new and modeled after various locations Aerosmith have played in over the years, and of course the entire band is in the game and looks pretty nice (though Tyler looks like he’s the walking dead, which is amusing in a caricature sort of way). The old cast of GH favorites are here too, and while they sport the same costumes and animations from GH3, they have new color patterns for most of their costumes, which is good to see. Clipping pops up here and there, and the visual engine is a little outdated at this point, but it looks good all in all. Aurally, well, almost all of the songs in the game are master tracks, and the few cover songs sound decent to good in quality, so this is mostly good. The only real complaint about the sound quality is that, well, the earlier Aerosmith tracks would have benefited from some re-mastering, as they sound poorer in quality when compared to newer or re-recorded tracks, though this infrequent enough to not be an issue. The sound effects are the same holdovers from prior GH titles, and as such still fit the theme of the product perfectly, and there are all sorts of interesting stylistic touches that make the game’s audio award-winning (fans clapping along during Star Power and singing along with Dream On, for instance). The audio tends to be the most important part of any rhythm game, and in this case, it’s mostly all good.

Now, insofar as gameplay is concerned, assuming you have played a Guitar Hero game in your life, you can skip to the next paragraph. If not, Guitar Hero works like this: you take the plastic guitar in hand and hold it like a real guitar (either left or right-handed, as the game supports flipping for both hands), with your dominant hand on the strum bar and your other hand on the neck of the controller. As the songs play, colored notes fall from the top of the screen to the bottom along the scale, and as they pass the bottom target area, you will be expected to hold down the appropriate colored “fret” (the buttons on the neck of the guitar) while you move the strum bar up or down. That’s the basic gist of how to play, but as you might expect, things aren’t that simple. There are five frets on the neck of the guitar, and depending on the difficulty, that will determine which frets you need to play (Easy uses three, Medium uses four, and Hard and Expert use all five). As you play, you’ll need to hit the notes in succession, with harder difficulties not only using more frets, but also putting more notes on the screen; in many cases, this literally amounts to pressing a fret (or two or three) for each note played, which can get pretty hectic when you’re moving from the green to orange (which are on opposite sides of the neck). Of course, you can start at the bottom, difficulty-wise, and work your way up as needed. You’ll also see notes with lines coming off of the end, which are held notes (hold the fret until the note completes, essentially); while holding these notes, you can move the whammy bar up and down to change the sound of the note and score more points. As you complete notes in succession, your score modifier goes up (up to 4x), which improves your score on the song, though it also bears noting that missing one note will reset your modifier to zero. You’ll also get the occasional notes shaped like stars in a set; playing all of those notes correctly earns you Star Power, which you can enable by tipping the guitar upwards or by pressing the Back button on the guitar, which doubles your score multiplier, and allows you to earn huge scores in songs. You can also play with a controller, where the triggers and the A button act as the notes, but this isn’t really so much fun. It should also be noted that while older GH guitars are compatible with GH:A, you can also bust out your Rock Band guitar if you have one of those lying around and play with it as well.

Okay, so, now that we’ve discussed Guitar Hero, let’s discuss this version. The first thing worth noting is that the Career Mode works slightly differently in comparison to what you’re used to; instead of simply having to complete a certain number of songs in a set (thus allowing you to dodge songs you don’t like or can’t play), in GH:A, you have to play every song in a set, pretty much, unless you refuse the encore (which actually earns you an Achievement). This is how things work: for the first two songs, you play as the normal Guitar Hero band, and play through whatever two songs are on that tier (which are made up of bands who are not Aerosmith). Upon completing the second song, you’re offered an option to “Bring out Aerosmith”, which works like an encore (and, oddly enough, also counts for the aforementioned achievement), and thus starts the Aerosmith portion of the set. For the next three songs (two plus the encore), you play as Joe Perry while the rest of the band goes to work on the various songs, and upon completion of the set, you move on to the next set. There are a total of six sets to go through, with the sixth set bringing back the Battle Mode (in this case, against Joe Perry) before finishing with a song during the credits (and an amusing cinematic to finish). The difficulty in GH:A seems to be a bit more workable than the difficulty in GH3, and while some of the song balancing seems odd (Rag Doll, for instance, seems a bit harder than Livin’ On the Edge or Love In An Elevator), it’s mostly spot on. Band purists might note that the songs are not in order of recording, but it bears noting that if the game started with, say, Toys in the Attic and Train Kept A-Rollin’ no one would be playing after the first set, so… this is probably for the best. In any case, the game feels a lot more balanced and easier to work with than its predecessor (IE playing on Expert doesn’t feel like you’re playing Klax all the time), though people who can five-star Through The Fire and Flames on Expert in GH3 won’t be getting a challenge here.

Multiplayer modes are functionally identical to their incarnation in GH3, in that they feature the lead and secondary guitarist standing on stage with the drummer as the two of you play whatever song you’ve chosen. Face Off and Pro Face Off amount to the two of you just playing the song against one another (with normal Face Off giving each player parts to play and Pro Face Off making both players play the whole song), while Co-Op simply has each of you pick an instrument (usually defaulting to Guitar and Bass) and play. Battle Mode works similarly to Face Off, only this time there are power-ups instead of Star Power icons; by playing the Power Up notes successfully, you earn Power Ups (up to three can be stored) which you can use against your opponent, which range from raising the difficulty of the song to “breaking a string/the Whammy Bar” which requires you to press the fret/fiddle with the Whammy Bar repeatedly until fixed, and so on. You can play these four modes on Xbox Live as well, and they work as well as they did in GH3 (which is to say, pretty well), so if you’re looking to have some fun with friends online or off, GH:A has the same features ready to go. There’s also a ton of unlockable content to buy from the Vault (as the game calls the store this time around). You can choose from new costumes for your guitarists (including some new to this game), new guitars (including a WHOLE LOT that are new, such as Aerosmith themed guitars), unlockable guitarists (including the various Aerosmith guitarists), and songs (all of which are Aerosmith or Joe Perry songs).

In other words, the game plays well, looks good, and is crammed full of neat stuff… if you’re a fan of Aerosmith. If you’re only a casual fan, well, there are a few things that may either irk you or make it harder for you to drop your cash into the game.

First and foremost, GH:A features less songs and general play time in comparison to GH3; there are only six tiers in career mode (compared to eight in GH3), and the song list is dramatically reduced (forty one versus seventy plus), and while yes, in GH:A the songs are mostly Aerosmith in some form or fashion (twelve songs are from other bands, placing twenty-nine songs as being Aerosmith or Joe Perry tunes), and yes, most of the songs match the theme well (as they come primarily from the 70’s – 90’s), but the fact remains that there’s just less to do and less overall content in the game than one might want, and even as much as one more playable set of tracks might have made the experience more than it ends up being. Also, while EVERY one of these sorts of games inspires the statement “Why didn’t they have THIS in the game?” about the soundtrack, given that GH:A features less songs than GH3 for an identical price, it’s fair to ask why songs like Eat the Rich, Come Together, Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Crazy, Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing and so on were not included may or may not make sense on a case-by-case basis (especially if there’s a sequel in consideration), but it makes the asking price no less hard to accept.

The game also does some odd things that may put the player off beyond the above. For one, the “franchise” characters in GH are basically unimportant in comparison to the Aerosmith band members, and while this will obviously make perfect sense to an Aerosmith fan, it makes the rest of us wonder “so why would I bother investing in costumes for a character I hardly ever see?” This is mostly only a problem in single-player modes; in multiplayer, you will see the characters you choose to play as during play modes, but in single player sets, Aerosmith songs will ONLY be played by Aerosmith, meaning that if you want to use, as an example, Judy Nails or Clive Winston Midori to play an Aerosmith song, it’ll have to be multiplayer. In theory this makes sense, but in practice it’s annoying that you can’t sub in a different guitarist if you don’t really WANT to play as Joe Perry for a song. This becomes doubly annoying when, in set six, you’re challenged to a Battle against Joe Perry; aside from the fact that forcing the Battle mode on the player in Campaign mode is a mostly unpopular feature, in GH3, defeating Slash and Tom Morello in said modes in GH3 allowed your character and that character to play a duet on the track, while here it basically amounts to “congratulations, you beat Joe Perry, now get off the stage and let the REAL band take over”, which is just annoying. It’s also somewhat annoying trying to unlock things in GH:A, because

1.) there is no Co-Op Career Mode (which, in and of itself, is kind of depressing),
2.) there are less sets in GH:A than there were in GH3,
3.) you can’t play songs over to earn money like you can in competing products, and
4.) there a bunch more unlockable things, like guitars and costumes and such,

thus, earning up enough cash to buy all of the things in the Vault is significantly more annoying than it was in GH3 and requires a lot more repetition than before. Also, since GH:A isn’t compatible with downloadable content off of Xbox Live, you’ll still have to go back to GH3 when new content packs are released, which is doubly annoying if, by some chance, you don’t own GH3 but DO own or want to own GH:A, because the product is effectively a full-priced dead end.

In the end, if you like Aerosmith a whole lot, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is a good, solid investment for you, but if you’re a casual fan at best you’re going to find this to be little more than a lacking full-priced expansion pack. It’s very well done thematically, with awesome and memorable sets, interview pieces, interesting themed guitars and a whole lot of Aerosmith motion capture that work well to bring the band to life, and the soundtrack is almost all great tracks that’ll stir the emotions of the hardcore fan while still providing entertainment to the more casual listeners. That said, the game is almost purely a fan product; Aerosmith supplants the franchise characters to the point that there’s really no reason to want to play as them, the amount of tracks on the disc is meager compared to prior releases, several “must-have” tracks are missing from the game, and between the lack of sets and the increase of unlockable content it almost becomes a chore to unlock things in the game because of the amount of repetition the player is asked to endure to do so. Fans of Aerosmith and die-hard Guitar Hero fanatics who are looking for something new (or less challenging) to play will find Guitar Hero: Aerosmith worth the asking price, but for everyone else, this is probably a rental at best.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

Final Score: ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is a cute novelty for fans of Aerosmith or Guitar Hero games in general that’s generally not bad; it’s well presented, well designed, offers a good catalogue of music tracks, a good retrospective of Aerosmith’s career, and a whole bunch of themed unlockables for the diehard fan. The game plays as well as ever, still has most of the multiplayer modes from Guitar Hero 3, and is generally fun to jam with for a while. But a lacking amount of actual content, some missing features, and a strong focus on the theme to the extent that it can alienate the player whose only interested in the product is because of the Guitar Hero name on the front. For the hardcore fan, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is a good buy, but for the casual fan or the new player, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith doesn’t justify its cost entirely; it might be worth a rental, but purchasing, probably not.

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