"Aerosmith fans will be left disappointed by a sparse and omission-filled track list, and Guitar Hero devotees will find little of the difficulty they crave. If anything, I'm going to remember Guitar Hero: Aerosmith as the first video game to accurately simulate the embarrassment and humiliation of being an opening act."
I was in on the ground floor with Guitar Hero. I was there at Gamestop on its first day of release, buying a plastic guitar with money that I didn't have. My girlfriend at the time was furious when she found out that we couldn't afford groceries that week, but I did what needed to be done. I was supporting something important. As a long-time fan of the rhythm genre, I wanted Guitar Hero to succeed.
And succeed it did. Guitar Hero became a sensation practically overnight, with early adopters spreading the word to an eager mainstream audience. A sequel soon followed, bringing with it refined gameplay and a perfectly suited soundtrack.
Then came Guitar Hero III.
Guitar Hero III is remarkable in that it single-handedly managed to destroy nearly all of the goodwill built up by the first two Guitar Hero releases. In the hands of a new and clueless developer, Guitar Hero's previously strong gameplay became feeble and unsatisfying. Its once-likable characters became freakish caricatures. Worst of all, its soundtrack was mostly garbage.
Guitar Hero's original developer, Harmonix, went on to make the multi-instrument Rock Band, a game that remains compelling more than eight months after its initial release, thanks to its constantly expanding gameplay variety via downloadable content. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, on the other hand, I managed to play through in its entirety in about three hours.
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith takes everything you hated about Guitar Hero III and...wait, actually, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is Guitar Hero III, for the most part. The interface is the same. The same horrible graphics engine is still chugging along, with Guitar Hero III's Muppet vocalist and meat-mannequin drummer providing backup straight out of your nightmares. The venues and songs are new, but little else is. It's a reskinning whose laziness rivals even the notoriously awful Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s, only Guitar Hero: Aerosmith doesn't have the excuse of being a rush job at the tail end of a contractual obligation.
Your choice of characters remains the same as in Guitar Hero III as well, complete with nauseating Xtreme makeovers and empowering boob physics for the female characters. Still, character selection remains important. Deformed and buoyant though he or she may be, your on-screen persona is an extension of yourself, and serves as a crucial distinction between making you feel like you're a rock star and making you feel like you're some dork strumming a Fisher-Price guitar.
So with your character in tow, you start the game. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith takes you through all the high points of Aerosmith's career, starting with their first gig at Nipmuc High School.
Your character plays as the opening act.
After performing a set of two non-Aerosmith songs, your band is demanded to leave the stage by an angry and Aerosmith-hungry audience. Soon, a terrifying and corpse-like digital representation of Aerosmith bursts onto the scene and saves the day with the power of mediocre rock.
At first impression, the Aerosmith introductory sequence is hilarious in its ineptitude -- the restless crowd uses the exact same animation and art assets as they do in demanding an encore in Guitar Hero III, except the word "ENCORE!" is replaced with "AEROSMITH!" When considering that Guitar Hero has always at least peripherally been about making everyday jerks like you and me feel like rock stars, though, the process is both insulting to the player and mortally damaging to the experience as a whole.
Think about how this plays out. Your avatar -- an extension of your personal performance and self -- is reduced to being an opening act for Aerosmith. What this essentially says is that you, the player, are not good enough to participate in the main selling point of a game for which you have paid $59.99.
But while your character is demanded to leave the stage, you're still required to perform all of Aerosmith's guitar work. Only you're no longer playing as a chosen representation of yourself. You're playing as Joe Perry, Aerosmith's guitarist. The game provides no transition between your avatar and Joe Perry, and does nothing to make you feel like you're performing as him. At best, it feels like your character is strumming Aerosmith's actual guitar performance backstage, while Joe Perry pretends to play along on stage.
It doesn't help that Guitar Hero: Aerosmith suffers from Guitar Hero III's unique brand of awful note patterns, which run the gamut from repetitive to overcharted to just plain unfun. Being booted from the stage by ungrateful Aerosmith fans -- even, mysteriously, at the very first gig in Aerosmith's career -- is bad enough, but having to play unconvincing note charts as a digital Joe Perry obscures the experience behind an impenetrable force field of abstraction. It isn't long before the simulation aspect is completely lost, and soon you begin to feel less like you're playing a guitar and more like you're playing Guitar Hero.
Fortunately, the pain doesn't last long. With only 31 tracks in the main career mode (and a handful of bonus songs that nobody would ever want to play, including Joe Perry's middling solo work and the non-Run DMC version of "Walk This Way"), you're looking at about two hours of music to plow through, little of which is memorable or noteworthy enough to warrant a replay. Oddly, much of the track list skews toward Aerosmith's more obscure songs (was anyone under the age of 80 really looking forward to the chance to jam along to "Uncle Salty?"), while recognizable hits like "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," "Eat the Rich," and "Janie's Got a Gun" remain conspicuously absent.
Also puzzling is Guitar Hero: Aerosmith's lack of difficulty. Considering that Activision has recently (and smartly) catered directly to Guitar Hero III's hardcore fanbase by releasing expert-level downloadable content tracks featuring guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai and Buckethead, you'd think that Guitar Hero: Aerosmith would attempt to make up for what it lacks in personality with difficulty. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. I'm by no means a great player, but I was able to beat Expert mode in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith in a night's work, five-starring most tracks, and with only one failed stage along the way.
Without the personality of Rock Band or the difficulty of Guitar Hero III, to whom exactly is Guitar Hero: Aerosmith supposed to appeal? With Rock Band 2 and its clone Guitar Hero: World Tour on the way, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith screams "stop-gap release." It brings nothing new to the series, and in fact manages to be less appealing than even the point-missing Guitar Hero III. Aerosmith fans will be left disappointed by a sparse and omission-filled track list, and Guitar Hero devotees will find little of the difficulty they crave.
If anything, I'm going to remember Guitar Hero: Aerosmith as the first video game to accurately simulate the embarrassment and humiliation of being an opening act. Guitar Heroing has never been less glamorous.
Freelance review by Danny Cowan (August 14, 2008)
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