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Review – Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

posted on July 9th, 2008 by christian

Say what you will of Activision and Neversoft’s handling of Guitar Hero, but the idea of themed games revolving around a particular band is a good one. Celebrating the history and catalog (as well as the conflicts) of a world famous band is a great honor. It allows young players to learn some rock history, and for their moms and dads to relive their younger years.

Say what you will about Aerosmith, but the band fits the above description, and have been a huge influence on the rock world for better or worse. Finally, I get to say that while I like Neversoft more than a lot of gamers, there are a few kinks they need to address if they wish to continue making these themed games. GH Aerosmith is better than I expected, featuring more care and new content than I anticipated. The game is in a strange middle ground, more substantial than the miserable GH 80’s, but priced like a full fledged sequel.

If you guessed that this game would be Guitar Hero 3 with scary 3d Aerosmith models, you’re partly right. Aside from songs, all the old content is here, including characters, clothing and instruments. In addition, there are new costume colors and bonus guitars, as well as totally new venues and a new rhythm guitarist to make the band into a five piece group. There are some slight graphical improvements, and Neversoft has decided it would be nice to credit the people behind the cover tracks at the start of the song, rather than deep in the game credits. I hope that all future music games follow this lead, as it is a nice nod to the people working hard to make the music.

Interestingly enough, the issue of product placement has done a 180. Instruments aside, the only brands that are advertised are Aerosmith themselves and some real world locations like Max’s Kansas City and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which only add to the setting and context. Is this “franchise milking?” Maybe, but at least there aren’t cans of Vault soda and Axe spray littering the stage.

Of course the boys from Boston are the main feature here. The inclusion of Aerosmith means new artwork, new secret characters and some of the band’s favorite real life guitars. A series of videos about the band’s history can be unlocked. All necessary inclusions in a tribute game, but after GH 80’s you never can be too sure. All of the old modes are back, except Career co-op, but the only one with serious changes is the Career mode. It is the same rags to riches setup as you move through sets, only this time it chronicles some of the actual venues and moments of Aerosmith’s career, from their first gig at a high school all the way up to their Super Bowl performance.

Instead of the old setup of four songs and an encore, the setlists have a deliberate organization to them. Each one starts off with two songs from other bands, played by the old GH band. After finishing you get to play three with Aerosmith. It is a cute way to simulate the opening band/main act setup of real concerts, and Aerosmith will even change outfits and instruments. Aerosmith also has their own suite of animations, and while the guitarist will mostly stand in place, Steven Tyler is one of the most energetic and wild onscreen singers in the genre, and Joe Perry will occasionally bust out some moves. While touches like these have nothing to do with the music being played, they are appreciated, and at the very least show that Neversoft isn’t quite as lazy as some would believe. Also note that Guitar Battle mode is back, but only shows up once in Career.

As for the songs themselves, it goes without saying that this game is worthless if you don’t like Aerosmith. They dominate the tracklist, and offer a mix between their biggest hits and some of their lesser known works. There are some nice surprises like “Uncle Salty” and “Livin’ on the Edge,” and quite a few tunes that never get radio play. A tribute game like this begs the question of whether to cover the band’s entire catalog, to just go with the hits, or find the songs that are most enjoyable to play. Neversoft seems to have opted for the first choice, and so some of the songs feel long and mundane. On the other hand, if you do like the band, playing “Rag Doll” or “Sweet Emotion” is a blast, and evoke at least some of the old joy of playing GH for the first time. You will also find that some of the tracks have been redone, and have a longer, live concert feel to them.

The rest of the tracklist is surprisingly solid, featuring groups that Aerosmith has toured and played with. Only about four songs total are covers, and there are some real treats, including “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Sex Type Thing,” and “King of Rock,” complete with DMC to rap along with you. On the other hand, more obscure songs by Joan Jett, The Clash and Cheap Trick might not tickle everyone’s fancy.

The difficulty in Guitar Hero 3 is infamous, catering more to the Score Hero crowd than the casual market (though that didn’t stop it from being a bestseller on the Wii for months after release). That challenge has been toned down, mostly due to the nature of Aerosmith’s music. Joe Perry is much more reliant on solid riffs than ridiculous solos, and so most songs can be beaten on the first go and perfected soon after (I never failed anything on Expert). Of course, being too easy runs the risk of making the songs less interesting to play. Again, most of this comes down to how much you like the band.

As the first sample of these tribute games, one important lesson is learned The focus is so narrow with this concept that you have to make sure that fans of the band are satisfied. To do that they are simply going to have to offer more content. While this Aerosmith disc is more akin to GH 80’s it is priced like GH3 and Rock Band. While some of that price can be justified by all of the new art assets, there still should be more songs. As it stands, GH3 at the same price has almost double the songs, and is bolstered by downloads.

It isn’t that the game feels half-assed or incomplete. Quite the opposite actually. The problem seems to stem from the fact that there’s only so much you can do when focusing on one band, save going for broke and featuring, say, an entire album of songs to play. It might lessen the mainstream appeal, but you have already started down that path with this kind of game. Digging even deeper into the band is the obvious course of action. A discography or timeline, or even textual profiles of each band member would be wise features to include in future installments.

To play Devil’s Advocate, a Rock Band fan would tell you that if Harmonix was in charge of this, things would be very different, and perhaps better. The pricing of GH Aerosmith is roughly the same as three big Rock Band song packs, but it is likely that this would be made as two Aerosmith only packs, which would save money and include more instruments to play. It would also mean compatibility with both Rock Band games. This approach wouldn’t be as much of a tribute to the band, but it isn’t like Activision has been able to convince most people that GH Aerosmith is anything but a pathetic attempt at franchise milking, so that might not be a bad thing. If Neversoft were to follow the Harmonix way, future tributes would be downloadable expansions to GH4 which include the new songs and character models.

I feel it is impossible to convince anyone that this game is worthwhile, but those uninterested in franchise pissing matches will find that Guitar Hero Aerosmith is a fine rental. It seems perfect for getting some friends over on the weekend and blasting through, and if Activision somehow finds it prudent to give Neversoft a long leash with this franchise, there is hope yet.

10 Comments

  1. James said on July 10, 2008:

    the fact that this game even exists fills me with dread that there’s a GH: Dave Matthews Band on the way

  2. Christian said on July 10, 2008:

    James – that would involve a Wii bong hit mini game and jam sessions that become nothing but scales.

    I fear it too.

  3. bruce said on July 10, 2008:

    “If you guessed that this game would be Guitar Hero 3 with scary 3d Aerosmith models, you’re partly right.”

    That made me laugh.

  4. JimmyL said on July 11, 2008:

    Just wait until they come out with Wii Guitar Hero Jimmy Hendrix. Free shrooms with every purchase. That keep everyone interested…dude!

  5. Golden Jew said on July 14, 2008:

    I wrote about my thoughts on the GH v. Rock Band earlier, but reading Christians’ review, I feel bad for Activision/Neversoft. It sounds like they went 80% of the way, but then stopped– sort of like Rock the 80’s, where they went 50% and stopped.

    But the problem is, if they want to keep competing at the box sale vs. DLC level with EA/Harmonix, they need to make boxed games that just blow people away. On the other hand, they may have cracked an effort formula that brings in an acceptable margin (15-20% for a big company usually) with as little as work as possible, and are content with that.

  6. Tony said on July 14, 2008:

    I played this game over the weekend at my brother’s house … it’s horrible. The presentation was crap, the “extras” were non-existent, and about 75% of the songs were boring as hell (to play – not to listen to … well maybe both). I don’t like Aerosmith that much. At least not the 90s and beyond Aerosmith that has erased any of the rock influence they might have ever had. They are now one of the blandest bands in history. I can’t understand why Activision believes that this band can carry an entire game with the song list they’ve given you. Anyone under the age of 30 will never buy this game. Anyone over the age of 30 is embarrassed that they ever listened to Aerosmith in the first place. Now I could let it slide as a game for the real fans that could cross-over to the non-Aerosmith crowd if they enhanced some of the features, had a co-op career mode, made the game a little deeper …. really anything other than the pile of crap they gave you. Set list – bad (and short). Animations – creepy. Co-op career – missing. Customization – worthless (one extra costume and a few guitars, come on guys). Party game – think again. Title band – finished. One big, lame advertisement (without needing Axe or Vault logos) – check!

  7. Christian said on July 14, 2008:

    Tony – Aside from the lack of co-op career, what would you have them add over GH3? It isn’t supposed to be a full fledged sequel. Besides, the setup of how each set plays out is indeed different, not to mention it is supposed to be a mini history of the band, not them playing tons a gigs 1000x over. Not even GH4 and RB2 are going to add anything more than a tweaked out and balanced version of World Tour mode (which really is all you need).

    Sounds like your hatred is towards the band mostly, and the fact is not everyone hates Aerosmith. Their blandness now has no retro-effect on their back catalog, which the game does indeed explore.

    I admit I would like to see some more goodies, but what part part of Aerosmith guitars, guitarists, Joe Perry Solo project songs, and band interviews/videos keep them from being extras?

    You don’t have a problem with this game. You have a problem with the band and the GH3 mold. Get in line.

    And come back when you know how to read a review in its proper context!

  8. Tony said on July 14, 2008:

    Not liking the band had a lot to do with my unfavorable opinion, but the game itself is an insult even if you remove Aerosmith from the equation. Ignoring the sub-par bands, they give you about 17 Aerosmith songs. That’s 2 more songs than the Rock Band album Doolittle by the Pixies … which costs $19. And that’s for three distinct note charts AND vocals. GH:Aerosmith is $100 with guitar, $60 without it. The guitar isn’t even a special version, just a re-issue of the GH:III wireless controller with an Aerosmith skin. That price point is more in line with a “full fledged sequel” as you put it, and that’s absurd. This could have easily been released as DLC for GH:III and they could have charged $30 for the Aerosmith Greatest Hits Pack. Instead, they do like Activision always does and fuck the consumer in the ass. $60 is insulting for a half-assed expansion. It was that way with Rocks the 80s and it’s the same now. As far as extras, does anybody really care about interviews with the band? I’m talking about downloadable expansion or the ability to customize your old re-hashed characters with more than one extra outfit. The fact that you have to play a couple sub-par songs before you can unlock some bland Aerosmith songs isn’t a real innovation in my mind. Yeah, it’s slightly different than GH:III but the result is exactly the same. Play songs on a list, unlock more songs … repeat. My entire point about not liking this game (aside from my dislike of Aerosmith) is that there’s zero innovation, zero growth, but it’s all the same damn price. This should have been DLC. And speaking of DLC, you can forget about any ever coming to Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. Which means in the end you’ve purchased a $60 (or $100) stand-alone game built on 2 year old tech which will get old faster than Steven Tyler …. and that guy doesn’t look so hot.

  9. Jeff said on July 23, 2008:

    I bought this game because i have wii and DLC isn’t an option i agree the songs are easy and i can’t even play on expert but the band could have made a lot more money by putting the freakin hits on what about stranglehold instead of cat scratch fever that one song would have made a difference for me i knew like 15 of those songs and im 27 aerosmith left a bunch of hits on the shelf and for what they think when kids teens and young adults hear songs from 75 there going to rock out give me songs off big ones that would have been enough i would love a GH metallica but knowing them it would be the same thing in reverse all new no old hendrix would be amazing but inaccurate who can re create jimi except srv how about a hendrix/srv guitar hero that would be worth sixty bucks

  10. jay said on July 24, 2008:

    I have to say I am in 100% agreement with Jeff.

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