IGN Review of Guitar Hero: Smash Hits
When the original Guitar Hero hit the PS2, it was clear that the music genre that we'd known for a while, dominated by the likes of Dance Dance Revolution, would be changed forever. Guitar Hero II was met with even more enthusiasm as people who'd played the first for hundreds of hours wanted more, and it indeed delivered.
And then Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the '80s was released. And then Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. And then Guitar Hero Aerosmith. And then Guitar Hero: World Tour. And then Guitar Hero: Metallica. And now we have Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, to be followed up later this year with Guitar Hero: Van Halen, Guitar Hero V and Band Hero. Oh, and then there's the offshoot DJ Hero.
And let's not forget about Rock Band. And Rock Band 2. And the forthcoming The Beatles: Rock Band. Or the three Guitar Hero DS games. Oh, and Rock Band Unplugged on the PSP.
I think you get my point. By my count, I've listed nearly 20 titles right there, and it looks like we're only just getting started. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably played at least a couple of these games, and they're probably starting to grow a little stale. Or if, like us, you've played them all, a lot stale.
So that brings us to the version, I'll say, at hand, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. The game is a compilation of some of the best tracks from Guitar Hero 1, 2, 3, Rock the '80s and Aerosmith. The song list is great, to be sure, though there are certainly some we would drop in favor of others (where's Clapton, for instance?). But on the whole, it's a great setlist.
But, we've played all of these songs before. It's possible that you're relatively new to the franchise and in that case this will all be new to you. But whatever the case may be, it doesn't change the fact that this is simply a rehash of existing songs with the only "new" thing being the ability to play them as a full band. While that's cool and all, this really should have been DLC or even multiple track packs (especially in the case of the PS2, which doesn't have the capabilities for DLC).
The game's main feature set is largely the same as Guitar Hero World Tour, with a couple of the additions seen in Guitar Hero: Metallica tossed in, such as the Expert+ setting for drummers on select songs (roughly about half of them it seems). It forgoes the gig-based structure of World Tour and instead goes by the setlist-based setup of GH: Metallica, where you unlock the next handful of songs (and their corresponding venue) by accruing a certain number of stars. While the requirements in GH: Metallica were pretty low (I "beat" the game with only 40% complete), you'll need much more to move on here, which I'm happy to see as it means you have to work harder to progress. But the result is the same where you can skip songs that you're not good at (or don't like) and still make it through the game, which is nice.
While the setlist is indeed great as a whole (featuring nearly 50 songs, all of which are master tracks, though two of them are live versions), there are three main problems that I have with the songs. Firstly, the note structure has changed on seemingly every track. If you've memorized these songs in other games, you'll find that you have to play them differently here, and many times it's not for the better. Note progressions sometimes don't make sense when compared to how you'd play it on guitar, and things just generally feel "off" if you've played them before.
Secondly, the changes to the note structure sometimes introduce the purple lines/notes for using the touch pad on the newest guitar. You can play these notes without strumming, and unlike hammer-on/hammer-off notes, if you miss one, it doesn't break your string (in other words, you can play a note just by tapping even if you missed the one before). In these cases, it makes these sections way easier than they were originally as you can just tap your way through a solo instead of having to pair proper strumming with the notes. Even in situations where the purple notes weren't added in, many solos are now just giant runs of hammer-on notes, which make them a lot easier to hit.
The result here is that I'm now able to breeze through solos and sections of songs that I used to struggle with. While I had a hard time getting through the opening to "Through the Fire and Flames" on Expert, as the entire opening is now comprised of purple notes, I can tap my way through and usually come out still in the green. So it's now no longer a question of, "Can you beat song X on Expert?", but rather, "Can you beat song X on Expert in Game X?" because many of them are way easier here.
My third complaint is that some of the mixes sound off. Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows" is a good example - the guitar is drowned out (even when you're only playing guitar), the bass is cranked up and the whole thing sounds too boomy. I've heard similar complaints in the office about other bands that I'm not constantly running on my iPod, but it's clear that something isn't right here. When you've heard a song a hundred times and the mix is slightly different, you can tell immediately. When it's way off like it is here, you don't even want to play it. Now, that's not to mean that the whole thing sounds bad - I didn't notice a problem with most of the songs here. But if you're thinking about buying the game for one or two songs in particular, buyer beware.
One odd thing that I found with regard to the Career mode is that when you start a single-player career, you can create a logo and set your band name. However, you can't do this when you're playing as a band. The interface for this in World Tour was convoluted, but it worked. However, you don't even get the option here. One problem with this is that you can't have two active bands at a time, so if you like to play with different sets of friends separately, you can't really do that. Granted, the progression is very simple and you're not building up fans or anything of that nature (sadly), but still, you can't have the reward of working through the tracks with more than one group of people at a time. I guess you could load up a different account/save and work from that, but that's a back-door solution to this issue (though, admittedly, some people will never care about this).
One carryover from Guitar Hero: Metallica is that every song is immediately unlocked and available for play in the Quick Play mode. Love it or hate it, you can jump right into the hardest tracks right from the start.
One last thing that I want to mention about the PS2 version specifically is that it suffers from stuttering a great deal. It can make it hard to hit notes, and it seemed like I would sometimes play something right as a stutter would happen and it would cause the note to not get recognized. I wasn't constantly missing notes, but it was bad enough. Oddly, the stuttering carries over even into the calibration tool, making it difficult to properly adjust for audio and video lag. I would repeatedly try to get a correct setting and kept winding up with different numbers. Whereas I can repeatedly hit within about 10ms or so with the other systems, I would wind up registering anywhere from 20ms to 150ms in video lag on my display. That's a big difference, and one that can actually cripple the game.
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