Guitar Hero is an incredibly enjoyable and addictive game by Harmonix which allows you to play along with some truly great rock tracks. The idea is beautifully simple. Coloured circles move down a conveyor belt towards the player. When the circle crossed the line just before the end of the conveyor, the player presses the corresponding coloured button on the fret and hits the strum bar to make the note sound out. The rhythm is dictated by the spaces between the circles and you will also have to master cord changes. Add to this a whammy bar for distortion on the longer notes and you are ready to rock. But be warned, if you do not play enough of the notes on cue you will be booed off before you can finish the song.
But getting through a song is not enough. You also earn points for each note that you manage to play, and your multiplier increases if you manage to play a series of notes without any mistakes. If you manage to play enough notes, you will get a "starpower" bonus which doubles your current multiplier. This is activated by raising your guitar upright, and striking a rocking pose. You can use this tactically, either to boost your bonus during a series of chords (which earn more points) or when you are really messing up and need to get the audience back on side.
The difficulty level determines how many of the individual notes you have to play to get the song to work, and how many of the buttons you will have to use in order to do this. On the "easy" level you only use the first three buttons, and you only have to hit the key notes that the game has picked out of the tune to make the whole song play beautifully. However, by the time you have progressed to "hard" expert you will be covering all five buttons and the circles rush towards you at an alarming rate. This is terrifying, but exhilarating, and the satisfaction of making it to the end of a song is immense. Difficulty levels are notoriously hard to do well, but in this case it is handled well. The easy level is slow enough for beginners and forms a good introduction to the techniques you will have to master. The change to medium introduces a few more notes and the fourth fret button. The songs are immediately trickier, but satisfyingly so. If you have ever played the guitar of bass you will probably find that you can get through a song on easy and (to a lesser degree) medium fairly quickly, but will still need to put in some practice to earn a five star rating for any performance. When you do progress, you will find that the move to the hard level is very tricky indeed. I am still too scared to try the expert level, but this definitely adds to the pull of the game.
Harmonix have made a really immersive game. The controller actually does feel like a guitar (if a bit lighter) and you feel like you are playing the music yourself when you get "in the zone". The audience react appropriately to your playing. When you are on form, they cheer you on, but if you suck they will boo. The actions of the other band members fit with the song and with your actions. Your character even reacts to your actions, missing notes when you do and moving his or her fingers frenetically when you pull of an amazing riff.
The game includes thirty licensed songs from classic such as Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water" and The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated" to modern classics such as Queens of the Stone Age - "No One Knows" and Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out". The list is fairly varied and includes many great tracks, but there are some obvious gaps - which we hope will be remedied by a follow-up! There are also a further seventeen "indie" tracks, some of which are quite fun, but not as enjoyable as the classics guitar tracks. What is impressive is the way the songs have been translated to the game format. The timing and the feel of the riffs can really make you feel that you are playing guitar in a band. This is immensely enjoyable. The band that covered the songs also did a great job which adds a lot to the experience. This all means that it is surprisingly fun to watch someone else play. You can sometimes get a better idea what is happening during a tricky part if you are not playing yourself (and so under no pressure) and the character and the band are also fun to watch. The sets even react with the songs, so it is worth stopping once in a while and letting someone else have a go - at least while you rest your fingers.
Guitar Hero is a great game which is very addictive. Throw away your air guitar and take on the challenge - it is well worth the sore fingers.