Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits Hands-On Impressions

We raise the chalice of rock once more in our first hands-on session with Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits.

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No doubt as a result of the brand’s meteoric rise to fame, Guitar Hero has evolved into a bit of a video-game industry octopus. Bear with us here. While the core gameplay mechanics in Guitar Hero haven’t changed much between iterations, the financial juggernaut unleashed by its upward spiral in popularity has necessitated its evolution from an amorphous blob into something sprouting several distinctive sub-franchise limbs. First, there’s the guitar-only brand that launched the game, and the format we last saw with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Then there’s the mobile version, Guitar Hero: On Tour, which has been specifically designed for the Nintendo DS handheld and takes advantage of a GBA slot peripheral. Next up is the multiplayer-focused band experience of Guitar Hero: World Tour, which launched late last year. The latter took the basic GH solo formula and added drums and vocals to the mix. Last, there’s the track-pack expansion arm of the Guitar Hero family, with GH: Aerosmith, the recently launched GH: Metallica, and the freshly announced Van Halen game, all of which are built around showcasing individual superacts.

History lesson aside, Activision has now found a new way of shaking a few more dollars out of the wallets of Guitar Hero devotees by remixing previous versions of the games. Activision has handpicked a selection of tracks from Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s and given them a face-lift. The final game will feature a total of 48 tracks, reworked for World Tour-style gameplay, with recharted difficulty, and, where not already, an upgrade to master tracks by the original artists. They’re a far cry from the WaveGroup covers that accompanied the first Guitar Hero when it launched in late 2005.

Internal Activision studio Beenox, which is probably best known for its PC ports of GUN, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, is the team working on Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits (renamed to Guitar Hero: Smash Hits in North America). Our build included eight tracks, two from each of the featured games. The entire track list has now been officially announced, and while we expected to see a fairly even song split between the games, Guitar Hero II sees 19 tracks reworked, with 14 from the original Guitar Hero, six from Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s, and eight from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. There’s also a single track from the Aerosmith expansion in “Back in the Saddle.”

Classic characters like Johnny Napalm, Axel Steel, and Judy are back to tour again in Greatest Hits.
Classic characters like Johnny Napalm, Axel Steel, and Judy are back to tour again in Greatest Hits.

Our demo code included a stripped-back version of the career mode with the game’s opening cinematic. Using the series’ now familiar cartoon cutscene art style, the gist seems to be that the previous Guitar Hero characters (Johnny Napalm, Axel Steel, Lars Umlaut, and so on) are being brought back together for some kind of supershow. The speechlessness and over-the-top rock hand gestures made it hard to tell exactly what was going on, but from the looks of it, the career mode centres on playing shows at each of the Seven Wonders of the World. Solo campaigns and two- to four-player band play is supported.

Like in previous Guitar Hero games, you’ll play through the set list as you unlock new tracks, but like in more recent GH games, you’ll need only a predetermined number of stars to progress. You’ll still earn cash for your performance at the end of each song based on your percentage of notes hit and the aptitude of your opening licks amongst other criteria. One change is that rather than purchase all additional content, such as costumes, guitars, and accessories, through a virtual store, you’ll be rewarded with them for achieving solid performances. Our first venue was set in a canyon, and by completing the zone, we unlocked not only the next two playable tracks, but also male and female venue-specific outfits and a canyon-themed note highway. Likewise, completing the Polar IceCap venue gave us access to an IceCap note highway, male and female IceCap outfits, and three new types of strings--Regular Slinky Strings, Power Slinky Strings, and Skinny TopHeavy Bottom Strings--which you can customise on your in-game character’s guitar.

Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits brings back some of your favourite tracks and makes them playable in a full band experience.
Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits brings back some of your favourite tracks and makes them playable in a full band experience.

The difficulty of Guitar Hero games has ramped considerably since the first title was released, and as a result, the remix sees note tracks for the classic songs brought into line with the current regime. Expect to see some familiar chord combinations like your old buddies the basic yellow and green, the blue and red, and the yellow and orange, but three-note chords and staggered chords are also thrown into the mix at the higher difficulties. “I Love Rock N’ Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts remains almost identical to its original note track, but Queen’s “Killer Queen” deviates slightly, adding new trills and short runs of notes to scoop up amongst the chords. The longer field of view on the note highway than in the original Guitar Hero also makes it easier to hold frets and chords in advance of the need to strum.

The gameplay, audio quality, and graphics of Greatest Hits all appear to be on par with previous Guitar Hero: Metallica and Guitar Hero: World Tour games. Greatest Hits will give Xbox 360 owners a chance to finally play tracks from Rocks the 80s, since the expansion was PlayStation 2 exclusive. The game also gives those who joined the Guitar Hero franchise late a chance to not only play songs from previous iterations of the games, but also do so in a band setting. Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits will be rocking its way onto the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 2 in late June this year. Keep an eye out for our full GameSpot review soon.

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