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Guitar Hero Smash Hits

I love rock and roll...again.
The Game:
For those of you not in the know, the Guitar Hero series actually started on the PS2. The series has been available on next gen consoles since Guitar Hero II, so it's easy to forget, but to date, Guitar Hero and Rock The 80's were PS2 exclusives. Not only that, but Guitar Hero, II, and Rock The 80's consisted solely of covers, and all the way up to III and Aerosmith, you could only play the guitar parts (which, at the time, was entirely the point). In other words, in the wake of Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour, there were a whole series of games that felt outdated in one way or the other. Activision aims to rectify these issues with Guitar Hero Smash Hits.

Smash Hits isn't a bad idea: Take tracks from the first few games, make them master tracks, and then give them the full band treatment. Who wouldn't want to play some of their favorite older tracks (including the infamous "Through The Fire and the Flames" and the Ozzy Osbourne knuckle-breaker "Bark At The Moon"), now with a full band set-up? The problem is, even while the game takes its cues from the surprisingly solid Guitar Hero Metallica, the final product is deficient in a few areas.

Like Metallica, Smash Hits offers its songs in a series of "gigs." You don't have to beat every song to continue, you simply have to accrue a preset amount of stars. The amount of stars needed to beat the game is substantially more than in Metallica, which is alright since the song selection is generally more interesting. With tracks by Aerosmith, Alice In Chains, Deep Purple, Kiss, Joan Jett, Motley Crue, Nirvana, Pat Benatar, and more, it's hard to argue with the quality of the music. The game also offers the "Expert +" mode that debuted in Metallica for some of the harder drumming songs.

Like Metallica and World Tour, Smash Hits lets you create your own character (or choose from the well known roster of ready-mades), and although there is some semblance of a "story," it's nothing to write home about. The game also comes with the music studio for making your own songs, but I'm pretty sure no one has used that since the week World Tour came out. Frustratingly, DLC does not work on Smash Hits (Metallica at least let you import their album), meaning that all the songs you downloaded for World Tour still require the World Tour disc. In fact, the lack of DLC begs the question: Why release this as a disc at all, when the songs could have easily been released as track packs for World Tour or the upcoming Guitar Hero V? Smash Hits is one of four Guitar Hero products to hit the market this year (five if you include this year's DS game). Seems like the definition of overkill to me, especially since none of the DLC overlaps between discs. It smacks of Activision trying to stuff the coffers.

The songs all have new charts, meaning that if you memorized the versions from previous games, you're going to start from square one here. In addition, several of the songs now feature sections designed to take advantage of the touch-pad section of the World Tour guitar. Now, even though the touch pad is exceptionally difficult to use, the sections for it (designated by semi-clear notes and a purple line connecting them) are incredibly easy to get through when using the regular buttons, because you don't have to strum. So several of the songs (such as "Through The Fire and the Flames") are actually easier than they were before. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly a different experience than what came before.

The Graphics:
Guitar Hero Smash Hits uses the same graphics style as World Tour and Metallica. There are some new venues which are pretty intricate, but overall, there's nothing here that we haven't seen. Like before, the story clips are animated.

The Audio:
One of the big draws of Smash Hits is that all the songs are master tracks. However, as appealing as this may sound, I noticed that the mix on several of the songs felt off. I don't mean off from the previous versions, which were covers, but from the studio versions I've heard for so long. I'm not sure what the reason is for this, but it does take some of the thrill out of the game. You can change the levels of instrument volume, but that only goes so far.

The Conclusion:
Guitar Hero Smash Hits isn't a bad idea, but the execution is less than perfect, with strange sound mixes and no possible DLC. Given that this is the third of five Guitar Hero products to be released in 2009, making it feel like nothing but a cash grab. While it may be fun to revisit some of these old tunes, it's certainly not worth buying in to Activision's lack of respect for what was once a great game series. Rent It.