Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Coming off a near week long rant about Infinite Undiscovery, it feels like I should switch to talking about a game I liked. Sadly, that isn't going to be the case today. A while back I rented Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and never got a chance to submit my two cents about it. I guess now's the time.

But first, a short history lesson. After Guitar Hero 1 and 2 took the world by storm, the publishers and developers parted ways, supposedly over creative differences about where the series was headed. Harmonix left to make Rock Band, while Red Octane was brought in to make Guitar Hero 3. I played them both and they each have some things to offer - Rock Band is more of a party game with the singing and drumming, while GH3 is for the intense (plastic) guitar enthusiast who wants to develop his or her skills. For whatever reason, Rock Band was pretty much the big winner in the battle for music/rhythm game supremacy, so Red Octane scrambled to make Guitar Hero 4, a carbon copy of Rock Band. In the meantime though, they pumped out a couple "band specific" GH games to make some dough.

That brings us to the BIG problem with GH: Aerosmith - it feels like a cheap cash-in. Understand that it's a full price retail game, so anyone buying it should reasonably expect to get the same value as other retail titles. Further, GH3 (like Rock Band) allows users to purchase new songs online, thus adding to their experience. Thus if Red Octane wanted to give fans some Aerosmith songs to play in GH, there was no need to make a specific game for the band. Just put the songs online and let people who enjoy the band download them for a fee.

I can only think of two legitimate reasons for this game to get made:
1. It introduces new game mechanics above and beyond GH3, making it a new experience and worthy of full price.
2. It's meant to cater to Aerosmith fans, and is therefore the ULTIMATE Aerosmith experience.

Reason #1 flies out the window in a matter of seconds. Remember that Red Octane was scrambling to catch up to Harmonix's title even as they were busy claiming that the fans preferred their game. (It was a little like if Pepsi spent half their budget making commercials claiming that cola drinkers preferred their flavor to Coke, and the other half sending spies to steal the Coke formula so they could copy it.) These guys didn't have time to make new game mechanics for GH: Aerosmith, and it's obvious from the menu screen.

In fact, said menu screen looks suspiciously identical to the one in GH3. As does the career mode ladder, the loading screens, the song selection screen, the online menus, and, of course, the game itself. In fact, the tutorial is 100% identical to GH3. Anyone hoping to pick up some tips from Joe Perry is going to be disappointed!

The bottom line is that there are no innovations in GH:A. It's the same game as GH3, reskinned with some Aerosmith fan service. Which brings me to reason #2 - is it the ULTIMATE Aerosmith experience?

Well, there are 41 songs in total. Not great, but not terrible. If you downloaded 41 songs, it would cost about the same as a new game, plus you wouldn't get a case, disc, manual, etc. (Of course, then your songs would all be associated with one game so you wouldn't have to switch discs to match various people's tastes.) Admittedly, 41 songs is a lot of Aerosmith...BUT WAIT! Actually, only 25 of those songs are by Aerosmith, including two versions of "Walk This Way" (one with and one without Run D.M.C.). There's also four songs from Joe Perry's solo career, and 12 songs from bands that...Aerosmith really likes? I couldn't really tell. If it's Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, then why am I playing "Cat Scratch Fever" by Ted Nugent? Rock Band fans should also note that some of the songs have already been available for download in that game (for example, "Hard to Handle" by the Black Crowes) so there's a good chance you already own a couple of these.

And what about the song selections? Well, there's "Dream On". "Sweet Emotion". "Love in an Elevator". "Rag Doll" is pretty good. But there's a lot of chaff to go with the wheat here. "Kings and Queens" was a commercial flop, for example. Are there a bunch of fans of "Combination" and "Rats in the Cellar" out there? I didn't realize. And what about the songs that are missing? Aerosmith had 21 songs make the Billboard top 40. Now, musical taste is highly subjective, but if you're making the ULTIMATE Aerosmith experience, then they should all be on there, right? After all you're paying full price for a disc that's supposed to focus on just one band...their most popular stuff has to be on there! Well, of those 21 hit singles, only 8 are present while a whopping 13 (!!!) are MIA. So this game is supposed to be a tribute to Aerosmith and their fans, but it's missing over HALF of their greatest hits???

Again, musical preference is subjective. Maybe someone at Red Octane hated the movie Armageddon and didn't want "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" on there. So be it. And "Come Together" is a cover of a Beatles song, so the rights were probably tricky on that one. But no "Angel"? "Amazing"? For cripe's sake, no "Janie's Got a Gun"??? Some of these seem like no brainers to me.

As far as positives go, the developers spent some time motion-capturing the band and it shows in their on screen animations as you play (not that you'll notice since you'll be busy focusing on the notes). For better or worse, the onscreen avatars look eerily similar to the real Steven Tyler et al. And there are little interview blurbs between tiers in the career mode, though they appear to be stitched together from existing material.

So I guess if you consider yourself a hardcore Aerosmith fan (so hardcore that you obsessively followed Joe Perry's solo career, which puts you in rare company) and you don't already own GH3, then Guitar Hero: Aerosmith represents pretty solid value for you. For the other 99% of us, sticking with broader musical titles is probably the way to go.

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