Guitar Hero Updated Hands-On

The latest rhythm action game from Harmonix continues to kick all kinds of ass. Find out why we can't help throwing up the devil horns when we play it.

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LOS ANGELES--Veteran rhythm action developer Harmonix has already proven its understanding of a variety of musical styles and forms, from the electronic beats of Amplitude to the caterwauling of Karaoke Revolution. Now the team is partnering with Red Octane to turn its attention to rock--excuse us, rawk--in the extremely entertaining Guitar Hero, which we got to try out a new build of at G4's G-Phoria awards show taping. Is it a tad presumptuous to call a game "extremely entertaining" even three or four months before its release? As much fun as we had with Guitar Hero this evening, the answer is no.

The focus of Guitar Hero is--what else?--hard, guitar-driven rock music, from the wailing anthem of Boston's "More Than a Feeling" to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' rendition of "Higher Ground." You've also got such eclectic old-to-new hits as Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust," White Zombie's "Thunderkiss '65," Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction," and even recent stuff like the ubiquitous "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand. There will be around 30 licensed songs in the final version of Guitar Hero, and while we only saw a few, it's a safe bet they're all going to rock pretty hard.

The big gimmick with Guitar Hero is the controller, which features five colored buttons on the fretboard and an up-and-down switch that you can "strum" with your thumb. There's also a whammy bar included, though we didn't have to use it during the songs we played. The game is played simply: you get a track that follows the rhythm of the song and on which colored buttons corresponding to those on the neck appear in time with the music. You have to hold the appropriate buttons and strum along where indicated, holding the switch for longer notes. Each song offers four difficulty levels, from easy to expert. On easy, you'll only have to keep up with three of the buttons, and the note arrangement is pretty simplistic; expert makes you use all five buttons and throws some really devilish combos at you in quick succession.

The final version of Guitar Hero's controller was available for the first time at G-Phoria, and the item has a solid feel to it that's easy to get used to quickly, with large buttons that are easy to move between. A price point hasn't been determined for the game-and-guitar bundle, but Red Octane promises it's working to make sure the cost isn't too ludicrous. You'll also be able to play the game with just a dual shock (boring!), though it wasn't specified if you'll be able to buy the game without the guitar included. However, eventually you'll be able to buy an extra guitar controller separately, in case your kid brother demands to rock out with you in the game's two-player mode.

Guitar Hero will even have a career mode that starts you out as a fledgling garage band, with your ultimate goal being a gig in the most prestigious venue of them all, the Garden. You'll play at a number of bars, clubs, and so on as you ascend to stardom, and each one will feature different characters that will cheer or jeer you, depending on how well you shred. Aside from the 30 licensed songs, you'll be able to unlock more songs as you go through the career mode and other parts of the game.

Speaking of more songs, there's even a contest running until August 15th whereby you can submit your own songs to Harmonix, the best of which will actually be included for play in the game. And who wouldn't want to be immortalized in such an excellent way? Look for Guitar Hero to hit store shelves later in the Fall...we sure will be.

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