Guitar Hero Review
Guitar Hero Box Art
System: PS2 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Harmonix 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Red Octane 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov 2005 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 - 2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
Review by Cole 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Sell your air guitar on eBay. You ain't gonna need it now.
by Cole Smith

As someone that actually plays the guitar in real life, how do you think I feel about some kid being able to pick up a fake guitar and bang out the hits with only a few minutes practice? Where the hell was this game when I was forced to take lessons?

Guitar Hero screenshot

Guitar Hero offers you a sampling of what it's like to be a guitar player in a hard-rocking band. It won't make you a guitar player. Not even close. But it might get you interested in taking lessons and at the very least it will improve your timing - something that all drummers say guitar players need to bone up on. I tell them to "Bone up on this." Why? Because I'm immature and can't resist making a double entendre whenever the word "bone" is used.

I hate to do this because it sounds like I'm bragging or something but I only say this to establish my credibility to review this game. I play guitar but I'm not a campfire guitarist. I have been a professional guitar player for longer than most of you have been alive. I still perform on weekends but the days of playing six nights in a bar are long gone - that's why I'm working here. I started playing when I was six and I'm probably older than your dad - but much more #*%!-ing cool. Did I pass the audition?

Guitar Hero is like a cross between playing air guitar, a rhythm/dance game and playing the accordion. "The accordion? What the hell does this have to do with something as un-cool as the accordion?" Instead of strings and frets, you push buttons - just like an accordion. Let me explain further before you interrupt me again.

Guitar Hero screenshot

You can use your normal PS2 controller for this game but that would be like going fishing with a coat hanger and a club. The accessory, novelty controller of choice is the simulated Gibson SG - the one that Angus Young plays. If I have to tell you what band he plays in you might want to stop reading this review and purchase a few polka Cds. There's a lot of great rock tunes but unfortunately there are no AC-DC tunes. Maybe we can expect a few in the sequel. The SG guitar is light and only about three-quarters the size of a real guitar but it sure beats the hell out of the PS2 controller.

Using this SG controller you will press up to five buttons in different combinations to simulate the fingerings on a real fret board. These five buttons are arranged horizontally. Higher notes require you going up the fret board and down for lower notes. You have to hit these notes at the right time to correspond to the guitar parts in the tunes. You will have onscreen indicators moving through the center of the screen to guide your timing. While five buttons may not seem like much, and I can see some gamers wanting more as the series progresses, there are still a lot more things to be done with these buttons. Like a real guitar you can do hammer-ons and pull offs. These are ways of playing notes by not picking them. Picking every single note is dullsville, so guitarists are able to fret notes with just the power of their left hand. All this talk about the left hand, what is the right hand doing?

Guitar Hero screenshot

The right hand is in charge of strumming, picking and operating the whammy bar. Not only is timing involved but coordination as well as you have to train both hands to work independently of each other. If it doesn't come naturally you will just have to practice. That's all. Nothing to worry about. There is a practice mode but unlike real practice sessions you won't be able to focus on difficult passages and slow them down until you get it right. You're going to have to rely on the pressure of your band mates to play things properly.

Onstage you will be accompanied by a drummer, bass player and vocalist. Each of them performing their part of a given song. In the vocalist's case his lip synching is almost perfect. The other guys also deliver fine looking performances including your avatar, the guitar player, who mimics your actions on the guitar perfectly. If you screw up, the band stops until you get back on track. If you've ever played with a real band the one thing you want to avoid is getting, "the look" from the other players. It's much better to give than receive.

Guitar Hero screenshot

Playing rhythm is much easier than playing lead. But you can get through some of the more difficult parts of a song by building your Star Power which is awarded for doing well in songs. By moving your guitar to an upright position - a true rock star move - you unleash the Star Power and begin to fill your performance meter faster. Like a power-up this will give you protection when navigating the rapids of these blinding solos. And some of these songs really kick ass. If anything, you'll have a greater appreciation for some of the incredible technique that real guitar players must possess to pull this stuff off live. Songs by Priest, Hendrix, Pantera and Ozzy are included and while not performed by the actual artists, the cover bands are some of the best I've heard. It's not easy to imitate vocalists such as Halford, Ozzy and Mustaine but the music is so close it's virtually impossible to tell the difference.

I have to admit that I'm beyond impressed with this game. It retains a lot of guitar technique and doesn't cater to the attention-span challenged, dance-game crowd. There is plenty of challenge here and a learning curve that will have to be navigated by those lacking natural musical talent. It won't make you a guitar player but it might make you want to become one.

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