Guitar Hero for PlayStation 2
Game Review by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter / 4/2006


System: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Red Octane
Developer: Harmonix
Release date: 11/2005



I liked Pong, I really did. It was simple, yet effective. It was the Atari 2600 that was the cat's meow though. I had the Sears "Tele-Games" knockoff, but the Space Invaders still made that menacing stomping sound when they marched back and forth that's really all that mattered. Yeah, I was a kid from the 80's; Intellivision, Commodore 64, Colecovision, right up to the first Nintendo NES system I had my hands on all of them. Having an 8-year old at home, I've gotten into the new generation of videogame systems as well. We all know that Microsoft's XBOX and Sony's Playstation 2 laugh in the face of everything that has come before them, as they very well should. These gaming systems nowadays have been bordering on virtual reality for quite some time with their lifelike graphics and fluid animation, and this game may have finally pushed them over the edge. "Guitar Hero" is a unique videogame that allows its players to actually "play" the guitar parts in such classic rock songs as David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," among many others. The question I guess you should be asking at this point is, "Why the hell is he telling me about a videogame?!" Let me just tell you that this is about much more than a videogame, this is about educating a generation of kids about the guitar and some great rock 'n' roll that was made with it.

I first saw the game being played at a local videogame store. The guy who was "working" the counter was glued to the 19" television that rested on the glass in front of him. He clutched the Gibson SG shaped controller tightly with both hands as he tapped away at the five buttons along the neck, and clicked madly at the pick area of the body. As I recognized that the song playing was a beautiful cover of Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell," I commented about it to the clerk. He simply returned with "That's not a cover." Instead of arguing against his ignorance of the original song, I simply smiled and considered myself lucky to see a young kid getting into something musically substantial. My next comment went something like, "I gotta have that!" and that's when I was told I'd have to go elsewhere they were sold out. I went across the street to the local electronics monstrosity and found a stack of about a hundred of them. I laid out my $70 (guitar controller and game included), and rushed home to do my best Dimebag Darrell impression. Now normally, I wouldn't be thrilled about anything that didn't offer me material from the original artists. But these songs are convincing (you can hear them at the official website at:, and the opportunity to actually play these guitar parts is so inviting that you get carried away by the elation of the concept and forget about everything else.

Upon turning on the game, I was asked if I wanted to do some kind of training lessons. Being that I play guitar as well as I build space station equipment for NASA, I thought I'd take them up on their offer. This game talks about playing power chords and explains actual guitar techniques like "hammer-ons" and "pull-offs." I was immediately given that "real deal" feeling. As I got to play my first song, I was given a choice of only five tunes, and "Cowboys From Hell" was not one of them. You see, you have to play the first five tunes in the basement venue successfully, and then they give you five more to play, and the venue changes to the local dive bar, and so on, until you reach the big arena. Kinda like real life, huh?! There are a total of six possible venues, with a five song set for each one (thirty songs total). For now I could have "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Thunderkiss '65," "Infected," or "Smoke on the Water" so I chose "I Love Rock 'N' Roll." Holding that plastic guitar was empowering, man, I gotta tell ya. As the animation on the screen started, and the colored notes started cascading down the screen, I was actually playing the guitar part for "I Love Rock 'N' Roll!" As I stretched my fingers across each of the appropriate "fret buttons" while tapping the "strum bar" at the precise moments, it was invigorating until I missed a note. My likeability meter plunged rapidly from green to yellow, and onward down to red. The boos from the animated head-banging crowd were resounding. Finally, the band just stopped playing, and basically told me I sucked. But let me tell you, after playing that baby through a few hundred more times, I started getting my "chops" with this thing.

There is even a "Star Power" feature here that, once you hit a significant number of notes in succession, you can whip the crowd into a frenzy be lifting the neck of the guitar straight up and striking a pose. There is also a functional "whammy bar" that, when used to bend notes, will increase your "Star Power" meter. Hell, this game is so realistic I thought I was going to get groupies pouring out of the screen at one point. After paying my dues on the club circuit, they eventually told me "You Rock," and I got to type my name on the bathroom wall (right next to the urinal plunger to be exact). Besides this being a great deal of fun to play, this game also includes a ton of bonus material, like film footage of the session musicians laying down the songs, and the development of the animation. There is also a long list of songs from unknown bands that are all playable once you progress to a certain point (or get a cheat code like I did!). And maybe one of the best bonuses here is the track that Zakk Wylde offers up for the game. This is the actual "Fire It Up" tune from Zakk's Black Label Society album "Mafia" that you can try your hand at.

I finally did get my chance to play "Cowboys From Hell," and no matter how much I practice it I still can't make it through the whole song. Even with my 8-year old lending me his "pro tips," I still end up looking more like Poison's C.C. Deville than Pantera's Dimebag Darrell. There are times when I fight my little guy for the guitar controller, but most of the time I'm thrilled to hand the axe over. I've never thought of the video gaming industry as a ministry of youthful offerings, but with the emergence of "Guitar Hero," I'm beginning to change my tune. You see, I'm a subscriber to all the "hip and happening" corporate music magazines, and frankly, I've found the content to be a little skimpy in the past decade or so. While MTV is showing some naked "jackass" getting his ass bitten by a baby alligator, and Rolling Stone is running stories about Scientology and "Flying Tomatoes," the developers of "Guitar Hero" have my 8-year old bobbing his head and singing along to classics like "Smoke On The Water" and "Iron Man." There may be a new outlet for our youngsters to research great rock 'n' roll and feel like they're an integral part of it, and unlike the MTV of the 80's and the current Rolling Stone crop, this one doesn't include Kajagoogoo or stories about snowboarding Olympians.

Here's the list of tunes you could get a crack at playing:

Ace of Spades
Bark at the Moon
Cowboys From Hell
Fat Lip
Heart Full of Black
Hey You
Higher Ground
I Love Rock 'N' Roll
I Wanna Be Sedated
Iron Man
Killer Queen
More Than A Feeling
No One Knows
Sharp Dressed Man
Smoke on the Water
Spanish Castle Magic
Symphony of Destruction
Take It Off
Take Me Out
Texas Flood
Thunderkiss '65
You Got Another Thing Comin'
Ziggy Stardust

BONUS TRACK: "Fire It Up" from Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, among many other songs by lesser known artists.


Printable version | Back to Archives | e-mail this review