Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s
It was a wise man who once said 'Be careful what you wish for.' Because seemingly however great an idea appears in your head there's always a chance it'll end up failing to meet your expectations upon realisation. The annoying thing is that as ideas go releasing themed genre editions of Guitar Hero seems an obvious no-brainer, after all the same idea works with the SingStar games and Guitar Hero's infinitely more fun than them. Right?
In fact, the SingStar comparison is a handy one. On the face of it Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s follows a similar plan to Sony's never-ending karaoke series. With a very apparent sense of if it 'aint broke then leave well alone, the underlying game is identical to GHII with all the same features and options, however, subtle changes to the on screen characters and venues have been made to give it an enjoyable 80s vibe. With such a well proven gameplay model firmly in place the only real change to the formula lies in the track listing. Unfortunately, this is where it all goes a little bit wrong.
It's fair to say that having gone from the age of 3 to 13 during the 80s I may not have the clearest of memories of the decade's musical landscape but I'd still got a little excited about the prospect of anthems from bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and even a little Duran Duran. So it was a tad disappointing to scan through the track list and find none of those bands, instead we're 'treated' to songs by bands like Accept, Vapors, Winger, Limozeen, Oingo Boingo, Ratt and Eddie Money. Who? Exactly, and worryingly the list of unknowns could go on and on. Even when bands you've probably heard of do appear (for example Judas Priest, Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Extreme) it's rarely with songs that you'll know and love unless you're a bit of a fan to start with.
And therein lies the whole problem with GH 80s, whereas each and every SingStar release can guarantee that even if you're not a huge fan the chances are you'll have heard of each artist and at least be able to hum the chorus to the songs far too much of GH 80s seems like obscure filler. Perhaps it's a hangover from the slightly Americanised track listing in GHII, perhaps if we were living in the States all these names would roll off the tongue and provoke a warm nostalgic glow at the same time. However, as a UK gamer, who at thirty surely can't be too young to be in the target audience, there wasn't much to raise a knowing smile as I trudged through the unfamiliar songs in the hope of finding something to get excited about. If this were an 80s compilation album you'd throw it back into the bargain bin after the briefest of glances at the track listing.
It would be unfair however to be all doom and gloom about it, there's still fun to be had playing songs you don't already know and a few of them do grow on you over time. This is also still Guitar Hero and as such retains the essence of what makes the series great to start with, the feeling of really playing that undersized plastic guitar as complicated solos flow through your fingers. It's just a bit, well, disappointing that having decided to go down the path of genre releases so many fans (myself included) wanted they've managed to so spectacularly miss the point. It's also a bit of a lapse in judgement to release this as a full price title, where as the SingStar series revels in its impulse buy price point, being asked to shell out an extra tenner for what is essentially GHII with a worse track listing isn't very rock and roll.
To use a musical analogy, rather than a true third album from a great band Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s feels far more like an unnecessary b-side compilation pushed out to fulfil a record company contract. It's as flawless in execution as GH II was however by having mined such an uninspiring collection of obscure 80s songs it has forgotten a large part of the previous game's appeal. With Guitar Hero III and Rock Band on the horizon only those who can claim an encyclopedic knowledge of dodgy 80s rock or find the Guitar Hero brand too hard to ignore should even contemplate this over priced stop-gap release. It's a shame though, the idea had such potential.