Where would we be without Guitar Hero? When the series launched back in 2005, it was revolutionary to the genre and proved to be a surprise overnight hit. Music lovers were left with glee over the prospect of rocking out to their most heartfelt tracks, whereas musicians who could actually play the very instrument the game was simulating reviled in all of its pointlessness. But then they completely missed the point – Guitar Hero was a unique, fun and highly addicting game experience that made you feel like a true rock star at its peak. Or it just made you look like a drunken, plastic guitar wielding berk at the same time.
Since then, we have been fed wave after wave of Guitar Hero to the point that you suffer from chronic indigestion. In the space of 4 years, Guitar Hero effectively, and indefinitely, saturated the market, and so to celebrate we now have Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits (or Smash Hits if you reside on the west side), a cunning compilation album of sorts. Greatest Hits albums are often released at the tail end of an artist’s career however, so it is almost puzzling as to why we have been presented with a best of Guitar Hero at this stage when you consider that another successor is shortly on its way. And let’s not forget the forthcoming spin-offs.
So, is Greatest Hits a riff roaring success or has the Guitar Hero cash cow been miraculously milked beyond its limit?
To start with, the gameplay mechanics present in Greatest Hits offer nothing new to the series. This is the same old engine that previously graced World Tour with a few enhancements from Guitar Hero: Metallica thrown in, such as the torturous Expert + mode for dexterous drummers and the improved career structure. To progress, you once again have to play through a set list of increasingly challenging songs by playing along to the colourful corresponding notes on screen, and repeat until your weathered fingers bleed or your arm keels over with cramp. As with Guitar Hero: Metallica, further songs are unlocked by achieving star ratings, with each new batch of tracks requiring a set level of stars to continue. This proves to be useful as it means you can blissfully skip over some of the tougher tracks that are causing you to violently curse and harm inanimate objects.
Of course, as with any music game, the soundtrack can make or break the whole experience, but thankfully Greatest Hits mostly lives up to its promise by delivering a solid setlist overall. Musical taste is obviously entirely subjective, but there is no denying that Greatest Hits offers a diverse roster from the previous games, spanning every game up to Guitar Hero 3 including Rocks the 80s and Aerosmith. There are a total of 48 hits to play through, 14 of which are from Guitar Hero, 19 from Guitar Hero 2, 8 from Guitar Hero 3, 6 from Rocks the 80s and 1 from Aerosmith. All of these are unlocked from the start in quick play mode, but the deprivation inflicted on Guitar Hero 3 is bewildering, as I felt it was, in terms of the soundtrack at least, arguably the best in the series so far.
From a nostalgic point of view, I wholeheartedly welcome the focus on the first two games as it hearkens back to when Guitar Hero felt exciting and new, as I had my first experience of the series with Guitar Hero 2 on that fateful Christmas. It is also nice to actually be able to play these songs again, as to date the original games are unplayable on the PS3 due to a frustrating compatibility issue with the PS2′s guitar peripheral.
The soundtrack was devised as a result from a public voting system which took place every week, so in theory there should be something for everyone. As such, notable hits include fan favourites such as Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas, Bark at the Moon by Ozzy Osbourne, Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, More Than a Feeling by Boston and Through the Fire and in the Flames by Dragonforce, which are certainly great fun to re-play. For every hit there is a miss however – I can’t ever imagine how the likes of Cherry Pie and Killer Queen qualified as Guitar Hero’s greatest hits. Predictably, there are also some glaring omissions – what, no Sweet Child of Mine?
Fortunately, the package is not quite the lazy port that it could so easily have been. In fact, for better or worse, some of the songs play completely differently to their original representations, thanks to some drastic note reworks. Whilst this could lead to dismay for those that spent hours encaged in their unruly bedrooms painfully mastering each track, the changes usually make the tracks feel more accurate, reflecting the advancements the franchise has made over the years. Mercifully, every track on disc is now also the original master version, and not a cover like before which makes all the difference.
Also, with the release of World Tour the series strayed further from its name, thanks to the shockwave that Rock Band emitted, by adding additional instruments to the gameplay to create a full band. Greatest Hits therefore retains this by making every song playable with the new drums and microphone accessories, which will doubtlessly be a perk for some as it updates the scope of the original songs, effectively modernising them.
It all sounds good, but then we get to a catastrophically awkward slump. The fact that, assuming you own every Guitar Hero game, you will have already played every song available is one thing, but to charge full price for this recycled game is inexcusable when you get even less songs than before. Afterall, would it really have been that arduous to release this as downloadable content? This way, players could pick and choose which songs they wish to acquire and it would save up the costs of having to produce the discs. It just doesn’t make much sense to release it as a full game when downloadable content is clearly the more viable option, as, in essence, the game is just one mammoth track pack. I’m not going to delve into the Rock Band vs Guitar Hero debate, but Rock Band manages its’ collection of songs far more effectively through the vast library of downloads available. Add to this the fact that all recurring downloadable content will not work with Greatest Hits, and you have a very misguided result.
Nevertheless, Greatest Hits is a satisfying, if expensive, trip down memory lane that relives a time when Guitar Hero was in its’ infancy at its’ absolute pinnacle. For those that missed out on the beginnings of the series, this is an ideal package, but for others the lousy execution could be a deterrent for what should have been downloadable add-ons. It may still be fun for now, but, to put things bluntly, Guitar Hero simply isn’t as fresh or as groundbreaking to play as it was back in 2005.
Reviewer’s note: The Playstation 3 version was tested for this review
The same passable graphics we have grown accustomed to over the years, but the progression system lifted from Guitar Hero: Metallica is an improvement over World Tour.
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The songs have all been featured before, but the ability to relive them as a full band experience is a nice touch.
The song list is a satisfying selection of Guitar Hero's most renowned tracks, despite some disappointing omissions.
At 48 tracks, there are less songs than in World Tour, and the game does not support any of World Tour's DLC.
Greatest Hits does what it says on the tin and the song updates are welcome, but the logistics of charging full price for what is basically an extended track pack makes it difficult to recommend. If you are new to the series then it is a worthy introduction, but for everyone else this really should have been served on the DLC dish.