Guitar Hero III

The New Year’s Eve party on Monday night was completely dominated by Guitar Hero III. Coincidentally, everybody at the party had clubbed together to buy it for the host as a Christmas present, and we were keen to see it in real-life. I’d heard tell of this much-beloved game, and read plenty of reviews to check it was worth buying, but hadn’t seen it in person before. I was blown away.

For the uninitiated, here’s the premise: you hold a guitar-shaped controller, which has a movable strum bar on the right and five coloured buttons on the fretboard. On-screen, identically-coloured dots fall at varying speeds and frequencies. You have to press the appropriate button(s) and strum the bar as the dots pass a particular point.

It is a ridiculous amount of fun.

The game does an excellent job of making you feel resplendent, and I think a key element is the sound. The (sometimes covered) songs have all the required layers and sound accurate, yet somehow your single notes (in easy mode, anyway) aren’t amateurish as part of the whole. Combine this with the tactile experience of pushing buttons really fast and ‘playing lead guitar’ over the top of a decent song is, somehow, a genuinely exciting experience. I imagine the higher skill levels are a hell of an ego-trip.

While not even close to capable on a real guitar, I was hoping that three years of practice would give me an advantage over the others. I don’t feel bad about this at all, since it is no exaggeration to say I suck at all console games1, and it’d be nice to actually be good at something 🙂 I wasn’t anything special, but the greater brain mass devoted to controlling my left hand meant I probably scaled better with speed, at least until everything went mental half-way through Knights of Cydonia.

Two people can play Guitar Hero simultaneously (one on lead, one on bass) but the main disadvantage is the cost of the guitar controllers – at £40-£60 each it’s hard to justify buying an additional unit, so the bass guitarist has to use a standard controller; this requires as much skill, but isn’t quite as much fun. Which is interesting, really: you’re still pressing five buttons in a particular order, and it’s still difficult, but the act of pretending to play guitar-shaped-thing is that much more enjoyable.

Rock Band, as yet unreleased in Europe, provides guitar, bass guitar, drum and microphone controllers, so four people can play simultaneously. Costs a fortune, but must be bloody great.

It’s quite a while since I’ve enjoyed a new game this much; I think the original Wii Sports are the closest anything’s come. I don’t have a console, and certainly can’t justify the PC version at £45, so shall instead invade my friend’s house at every available opportunity 🙂 And, you know, play my actual guitar.

I wonder whether properly midi-d guitars could be theoretically hooked up to a more complex version with scrolling tab and background music…The gaming aspect would be a cool way to practice. Update: apparently there’s one on the way.

  1. all right, possibly not Wii Sports, but even there I hit average and stop []