Activision's latest surprises while it disappoints.
hile I'm confident I may have baffled many readers by choosing to review Guitar Hero: Aerosmith on the eight-year-old PlayStation 2, I had two very compelling reasons for doing so. Firstly, the number of PS2s shipped dwarfs that of all the next-gen consoles combined — this newest Guitar Hero is bound to be most purchased for Sony's aging platform. Perhaps more importantly, one might argue that the PS2 and Wii are the only platforms on which this retail release should even be published — in this age of downloadable track packs and exclusive online content, a retail release featuring fewer than fifty tracks (most from a single artist) seems downright quaint. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is more than just a game, you see — it's a testament to the business model Activision has chosen to embrace as they enter the next phase of their battle for the music/rhythm genre.
Steven Tyler: scarier than ever.Guitar Hero: Aerosmith follows a formula which will be familiar to fans of the series. Players are presented with increasingly difficult "sets" of five songs each — the first two songs in each set are from acts that inspired Aerosmith's work, while the latter three are made up of famous tracks from throughout the band's history. Here, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were some of the non-Aerosmith tracks outstanding selections (Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" and The Kinks "All Day and All of the Night" come to mind), all the game's songs, regardless of artist, seemed to be arranged far more fluidly than in the at-times-blisteringly difficult Guitar Hero III. While the last Guitar Hero title seemed to give too much attention to ridiculously complex and cacophonous metal anthems, Aerosmith focuses on the sorts of melodic classics that are bound to attract a more diverse audience. Yes, some might argue that this has led to a less difficult game, but I'd counter in saying that it's brought back the fun.
Cooperative career mode, a rather polarizing addition to Guitar Hero III's list of features, has graciously bowed out for Aerosmith. Returning in its place is the more traditional (and pick-up friendly) cooperative quickplay mode from the second game in the series. Longtime players might also notice that the game's developers continue to refine the implementation of hammer-ons and pull-offs, leading to some of the most forgiving guitar licks the series has ever seen. I'm confident in saying that all but the most hardcore of virtual strummers will be pleased.
When examining its presentation, Aerosmith begins to waver a bit. In its defense, the PlayStation 2 is an aging platform, and as such, visuals couldn't hope to compare with what you'd see on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Although there's full support for widescreen televisions and even progressive scan via an optional component video cable, the character models in Aerosmith are embarrassingly nasty — while Joe Perry looks decent enough, Steven Tyler is a digitized abomination. I realize he isn't the most attractive man in real life (neither am I, for that matter), but the game's graphics paint him as the love child of Skeletor and Mothra. Audio fares a bit better — the PS2 version's gussied-up Pro Logic II soundtrack can't compete with true 5.1 audio, but both instrumentation and lyrics are clear as a bell on most tracks.
Although Aerosmith succeeds well enough on its own, I would have hoped that this, the fifth Guitar Hero game on the PlayStation 2, would better exemplify a series that should be continually evolving. Instead, we're left with stagnation. Activision may see their franchise as unbroken, and hence not in need of a fix. Now that EA has a rather successful music game of their own, however, the publishers of Guitar Hero will have to pull out all the stops if they hope to compel consumers that theirs is the game worth investing in. Aerosmith may mark the end of an era (what with World Tour waiting in the wings), but this one seems to go out with more of a whisper than a bang. While an entertaining game, this Guitar Hero's features neither justify its $50 asking price or serve the series' illustrious legacy.
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