Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s Review

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Publisher: Red Octane/Activision
Developer: Harmonix

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

In the immortal words of publisher Red Octane: "Feel the grip of your spandex and smell the hairspray as you take the stage and become an 80s Rock Hero!"

Kevin Rice

Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s (GH:80s) has received lot of buzz, in part because of the fantastic sales of Guitar Hero 2 (GH2) on both the PS2 and the Xbox 360. It's also the only source for new songs until the release of Guitar Hero 3 (GH3) this fall. This PS2 exclusive is essentially an expansion pack with little new to offer (besides the songs). That's not a bad thing. It has all the same modes as GH2, a brand new set list, and some funny reminders of how different the '80s were. A few extras would have raised the game's score, but as it stands, this is a worthy fill-in until GH3 comes out.

Leg Warmers Not Included

We remember many things about the 80s: leg warmers (pre-orders got a GH:80s wristband – really), big hair and B-grade "we're gonna get laid on spring break!" movies come to mind. Of course, pop culture isn't complete without music references, and the '80s had plenty. Opening with "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" and closing with Extreme's "Play With Me," this game hits most of the cylinders well, with shout-outs to heavy metal, new wave, and nearly everything in between.

I'm sure I won't be the only reviewer to say this, but there are some obvious bands missing from this compilation. Being a 30-something myself, I remember an awful lot of music by bands like Foreigner, Styx, Journey, and The Cars, none of which are represented here. There are also some horrible choices: Accept's "Balls to the Wall" was turned into a new phrase by my girlfriend and I as we played through this game. "Well, that song's not great, but it's not 'Balls to the Wall' bad." And, who the hell is Limozeen?

For the most part, the included songs are a decent representation of the Me Decade. Eddie Money, Winger, White Lion (doing a "Radar Love" cover that was done better by Golden Earring), The Police, The Go-Gos, and many more are represented here. A few one-hit wonders even made it in, including A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" and Scandals' "The Warrior." Strangely, that famous guitar echo from "I Ran" is a part where you're supposed to play the actual echoed notes, even though you're sponsored by effects hardware manufacturers. It works, but I didn't expect it.

If you pay attention at the beginning of each song, you'll notice that there are a lot more original tracks here than covers, a precursor to what's coming in GH3. (If it says, "As made famous by," it's a cover. If it says, "As performed by," it's the real deal.) In that same vein, there are some songs that actually fade out at the end as you play them, just as the originals did. It's funny the first time it happens, if only because few modern songs use the same kind of fade.

The Difficulty Chasm Widens

I won't claim to be a Guitar Hero expert, but I'm pretty good. I went through Medium and in one shot, received five stars on every song, including several "perfect" scores. However, the Hard and Expert levels set the bar extremely high, sometimes in silly places. Limozeen's "Because, It's Midnite" has a sequenced keyboard solo that is a string of 16th and 32nd notes at a pretty fast clip. This song comes up within the first ten songs in the game (I don't want to give away the entire song order), and on Medium, you hit 8th notes with a few 16ths to get through it. On Hard, you are expected to play every note. I may have awoken a few neighbors with a combination of laughing and swearing at this, as the entire song is boring to hear and to play. This crazy "solo" should be on Expert, if it even exists.

Additionally, a few songs are made artificially difficult. While Oingo Boingo's "Only A Lad" is fun, complete with tricky beats and a few unexpected chord shifts (you can definitely tell it's Danny Elfman), something like The Romantics' "What I Like About You" is a three chord pop fest. For whatever reason, the difficulty of this song on even the Hard level is way up there. It's nearly as out of place as including something like Dick Dale's "Miserlou" (as they did on GH2), a song that is relatively simple on a real guitar, but on a plastic one with a few buttons for frets becomes infuriating. The Romantics' song is so simple and repetitive that the developers decided to throw in what I call "pattern breakers" (the same thing but with different keys to hold down) and have you shift your hand all over the place. It's annoying and, again, made intentionally harder than it should be.

Calling All Extras

Red Octane has been advertising the "'80s vibe" of this game, and musically, it's there. However, there are very few extras to unlock. All your favorite characters are back, and they have the requisite 80s makeovers: big bows, hair falling over their eyes, etc. Sadly, there are no unlockable outfits, the venues are about the same (save for a few color changes and minor details), and there are no songs to purchase. The thirty songs in the six sets are it. Yes, the encores are still there, but those become part of the set as soon as you play them.

All of the modes are back too, including Face-Off, Pro Face-Off, and Practice (which you may need for a few of these solos from the now seemingly obvious decade of cocaine). In fact, if the mode exists in GH2, then it's here, sans one important one: Leaderboards. If you've played a lot on the Xbox 360, one thing you may enjoy is comparing your scores to people around the world. Most fans have searched YouTube for the videos of some of these crazy people going through the hardest songs on Expert with the guitar behind their back. (Search – they're there.) While I can't do that, I do rank in the top 5% on Xbox Live, and I'd love to see where people rank on these tunes. Many players won't know a lot of these songs just because they're younger, so I'd be curious to see how they do. It's not happening here unless you keep a pen of teenagers out back (not recommended).

A Fond Memory

With all the picking apart I've done here, I can still say it's a hell of a lot of fun. Discovering how accurate and paranoid Judas Preist's "Electric Eye" was for its time is a trip back to my teen years. Playing through a lot of those songs on the "Monsters of Rock" commercial is just fun. Remembering the lyrics just after they're sung is a weird reminder of what it was to be a teenager in the '80s. Despite the lack of extras and a few bad song choices (everyone is bound to have their own list of what's good and bad here), GH:80s is a decent expansion pack for an already well established game. For $40, it's cheaper than the downloadable content on Xbox Live – around $10 per set of five songs, and those songs are all from the first game. It's just enough to hold you over for a few months until GH3 comes out and rekindles the fire all over again.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 25, 2007 11:02 PM.

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