Activision Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s

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Activision Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • It's more Guitar Hero! Who wouldn't want that?

Cons

  • It's basically an expansion pack with all the bonus features cut out.

Bottom Line

Playing Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s is a bit like going to see your favourite band on an off-night -- even if they don't rock the house down, you're still going to have a killer time.

Would you buy this?

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When Guitar Hero made its power sliding debut onto the gaming stage last year, few people could have anticipated the cultural phenomenon that would follow. In much the same way that rock n' roll revolutionised the music industry, it has irrevocably changed the landscape of video games, harbouring in a new age of headbanging, social-based gaming.

In addition to injecting the 'casual' genre with some much needed street cred, it has gone on to outsell almost every other game on the block; making Activision the world's top publisher in the process. If you'll allow us a bad REM pun, it's the end of hardcore gaming as we know it (and we feel fine!)

For those who have somehow managed to bypass the hype machine, Guitar Hero is a rhythm-based party game that lets you live out your axeman fantasies with a miniature Gibson SG. Naturally, the aim of the game is to 'strum' along to legendary rock hits, via colour-coordinated prompts on screen (in place of strings, the guitar has five coloured buttons running down its neck). Like any great video game, the concept is easy to pick up yet difficult to master; with the five fret control board taking some seriously dexterous fingerwork to master.

Although it can be easily dismissed as a glorified bout of air-guitar, the series has proved to be one of the most entertaining and gloriously self-indulgent experiences in video games; proving that fun is the only ingredient that matters. You really need to strap the guitar on yourself to appreciate how addictive the whole thing is.

After rocking fans' and critics' faces off with an equally successful sophomore effort, the Guitar Hero franchise is now taking one final encore before it moves on to next-gen consoles (it will also be the final game by original developers Harmonix, who have since defected to EA's Rock Band label). As its name heavily implies, Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s takes the tried-and-trusted GH formula and decks it out with headbands, big hair and neon-coloured costumes. The available set list consists solely of songs from this fashion tragic era, including such hits as 'Heat of the Moment' by Asia, 'Nothin' But a Good Time' by Poison, and 'I Wanna Rock' by Twisted Sister. However, with just 30 songs to shred along to (compared to over 60 in GH 2) we can't help but feel a little ripped off. It would seem that the franchise has committed the darkest of all rock n' roll cliches ... and completely sold out.

Instead of turning everything up to 11, the game resets the proverbial dial to a piddling seven or eight, with several annoying exclusions. For instance, one of the coolest features of the first two games was the ability to purchase additional songs from contemporary indie-label bands. This hugely extended the shelf life of both games and introduced us to some interesting and eclectic music, such as Freezepop's synth-heavy Less Talk More Rokk.

Unfortunately, by relegating itself to music from one decade, Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s has been forced to cut this feature out -- instead, you're stuck with the main soundtrack, with nothing to unlock thereafter. This wouldn't be so bad if the included songs were quintessential 80s anthems, but many of the tracks are obscure or forgettable. In terms of actual bands, AC/DC, Queen, Guns & Roses, Aerosmith and Motley Crue are all noticeably absent. At times, you'll feel less like Bono and more like Bill Gates as you strum along to the dorkier beats.

Another bizarre omission is the colourful cast of unlockable characters that appeared in the first two games. For reasons we can't begin to fathom, all the extra avatars have been removed with the exception of the Grim Ripper (who now sports a pair of 3-D glasses and some Flava Flav-style bling). We can only assume that the rest of the cast, which included Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix look-alikes, were cut to keep the game in line with its 1980s setting. In any event, it's a frustrating decision that in no way alleviates the game's cheap, knock-off feel.

As you would expect, the modes and levels in Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s play out identically to Guitar Hero 1 and 2 - once again, the career mode sends you on a road trip towards fame and fortune, while the multiplayer mode still offers cooperative or competitive play. Visually, the game is nearly indistinguishable from its predecessors, with all the same old venues cropping up in barely altered form. Indeed, apart from some tweaked character designs and a garishly coloured front-end, the retro touches are kept to a minimum and feel like an afterthought. When you consider the huge comedy potential offered by glam rock and its ilk, the lack of 80s cheese is as baffling as it is disappointing.

The main problem we have with the game however, is its very cheeky asking price. Frankly, $69.95 (sans guitar controller) is far too expensive for an 80s-flavoured expansion pack with zero extras. It is perhaps telling that the game will not be appearing on Xbox 360 despite a highly successful conversion of Guitar Hero 2 earlier this year. There simply isn't enough 'game' here to merit a full priced release... Or is there?

As you have probably gleaned from the score at the top of this page, we still highly enjoyed Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s despite our various misgivings. How can we [i]not[/i] love it? It's Guitar Hero! Although the critic in us sneers at the game for being a rushed and cynical hack-job, our hearts remain steadfast fans. As soon as we plugged our guitar back in and strapped it around our shoulders that same sense of pure, unadulterated joy returned with a vengeance.

Simply put, when a game is this much fun we're willing to forgive a hell of a lot, which is why we're giving it two 'devil horns' of approval. If you're a stickler for value however, we advise picking up a 'bootlegged' (read: second hand) copy.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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