Thursday, 29 November 2007

Puppet Angel PWNs Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock...

...All while being worshipped by his loyal fanbase comprising Daffy Duck, Hugo the Hippo, Remy the Rat, Gandalf the Grey, and Theoden, son of Thengel, First Marshall of the Mark, and King of Rohan.

Yes, we got back from our jaunt and bought another bit of pointless kit for the 360, but how could we not? I wager the 360 feels especially loved lately; after buying it I didn't use it for a few months as I never had time. Call of Duty 3, Dead Rising, and Viva Pinata sit unfinished either in a drawer or in a totally different house. Now the machine is on most of the time.

Canyon and her "band" Wall of Crazy are currently getting 100% on Cream's Sunshine of Your Love using her favourite guitar-playing avatar Lars Umlaut, and it's yet another song I'd begun to take for granted but which is now re-revealed through the illusion of interaction to be an astonishing work of art. That's another terrific side-effect of playing these games; while they're pretty much nothing more than a really well-designed rhythm attack game with a brilliant interface, they also make you appreciate music in a new way. I say that as someone with no musical training; I'm sure to musicians that doesn't apply, but to the skill-less bag of fingerless ears that is myself, I now have a different response to songs I know too well. Even Flow, School's Out, Anarchy In The UK, Sweet Child O' Mine and Misirlou from the previous game; I love them all over again, and in a new and deeper way.

That said, I'm still a bigger fan of Guitar Hero II over the new one. The band graphics might be more advanced in this, but the screen was livelier in the second, though they seems to be increasing in intensity as the game progresses. Also, even though the new game has some amazing songs (Holiday in Cambodia! Thank you thank you thank you!!!), the choices are often a little more obvious. It's a no-brainer to add Paranoid by Black Sabbath, or Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss, but then it's ultimate funness to play them, so it seems churlish to complain.

Guitar Hero II had some real oddities; Laid to Rest, Psychobilly Freakout by the incomparable Reverend Horton Heat, Who Was In My Room Last Night?, Tattooed Love Boys, and many more. The new game seems to have less "finds", but as my knowledge of rock (and certainly more recent stuff) is not perfect, I'm still coming across new favourite songs. After playing When We Were Young and My Name is Jonas, I now want to get into these musical chaps The Killers and Weezer. Oy vey, I am an old fart. And hey, who are Priestess? Their song Lay Down has a very appealing lolloping bass line. My avatar Axel Steel agrees.

There are other things I've noticed:

  • Choosing to include The Seeker by The Who over their more famous songs is a nice touch, though the CSI fan in me is a little annoyed.
  • While a lot of the regular songs seem longer than the previous game, there don't seem to be any marathons like The Allman Brothers Band's Jessica, a personal favourite. How great it would have been to follow the Slash boss battle with November Rain instead of Welcome to the Jungle? Having everything around the same length is less interesting than the variation of the other game, but it's not a deal breaker (so far, none of my little complaints are. For God's sake, they've got Kool Thing by Sonic Youth on there! Woooord up!).
  • The co-op career mode is great, but I think we're already on our way to completing it on Easy. I get that it only really works well with a fraction of the songs, but even so, if half an hour gets us to the final level, then it's a real shame.
  • The Star Power phrases are generally much longer, which would probably piss off the first-time player but is good news for addicts as it rewards the higher skillset.
  • I love the predominance of master material over cover versions, but often the song has a bad mix (Paint It Black) or seems too muted (Cherub Rock).
  • Canyon hates Black Magic Woman by Santana, apparently. She's still got 100% on it, though.
  • As psyched as I am that Tenacious D's The Metal is included, part of me weeps that the Godlike face-melter Master Exploder isn't included. There's a custom version out there, but God knows how to get hold of that.
  • While playing the co-op career section (our joint name: Professor XS), Canyon chose Xavier Stone as an avatar and I swapped to Midori, the J-Popster. As I spent most of the mode playing bass, I was thrilled to see that Midori is programmed to dance just like Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads. It was like watching a Japanese remake of Stop Making Sense.
  • Where's the surf guitar??!?!?!
  • For that matter, where's the blues? The Stevie Ray Vaughan song is a fantastic inclusion, but some BB King or Robert Johnson would have gone down a treat, especially seeing as how the story arc of the game involves a deal with the Devil. There's a real gap in the game ready to be filled by other guitar genres. What about some Tito Larriva for a start? Hopefully some future download packs will deal with that.
  • Actually, this version is weighted more towards the more recent songs, but then the previous versions did a lot of the old standards, so it's to be expected. It's just a shame that an opportunity to edumacate those dang youngsters shouldn't be passed up, is all.
  • Easy is not as Easy as Guitar Hero II's Easy, not by a long shot. I heard people complaining about the difficulty of Barracuda, and thought it was the final song, but it's in the second level. I would have scoffed, but when we played it we realised it was way harder than anything in the corresponding spot in the previous game. As a beginner it would have really pissed us off.
  • What is with Heart? In the previous game their Crazy On You drove me to Bruce-Lee-style knuckle-cracking distraction. I had thought they were nothing more than a ballady bland-rock band but by Crom, their arrangements are hellishly complicated and asynchronous.
  • I'm not too sure about the boss battles just yet, but then that might be just because I don't really enjoy listening to Tom Morello's screechy gimmicky feedback nonsense, and never have.

An aside: we just watched him appraising air guitar as a judge at a contest in the mostly annoying but occasionally sweet documentary Air Guitar Nation, and it's hard to take him seriously now. And yes, I realise how ridiculous it is to compare an air-guitar-appreciating Tom Morello to a digitised boss-battle-having Tom Morello, but that's what the world has offered up to me, and I must make lemonade with it. It reminds me that the reflexively mean-spirited nodules posting on the Holy Moly talkbacks were complaining recently about Guitar Hero fans being useless for not trying to get a guitar of their own and learning to play it so that they can become creative instead of slavishly following notes on a screen. Firstly, at least we're not just playing air guitar in Finland (seriously, I got so angry at the absurdity of that frigging movie, even though it was nothing to get steamed about and the documentary itself was not bad), which is a good thing. Secondly, I can't hate on Holy Moly too much because another poster brings his angry typing guns to bear on those frigging Picture loan adverts that pollute TV like so much elephant poop.

Thirdly, Guitar Hero players are at least learning skills that might eventually translate into an artistic ability. Salon's Farhad Manjoo wrote an entertaining post recently claiming that it was an accidental teaching aid.

I've interviewed several guitar teachers about the game, and some speak of it as the most revolutionary thing to hit the world of guitar since Jack White learned his first scale. "Guitar Hero" is introducing millions of young people to the possibility of playing the instrument, and it's also teaching them important skills they'll need to play... I discussed "Guitar Hero" with a half-dozen guitar teachers across the nation; all said they'd never played the game, but many had heard of it from their students. "Personally I've made hundreds or maybe even a couple thousand dollars on it, just because kids see the game and they want to go do the real thing," says Rob Caviness, who teaches at Backbeat Music, a studio he co-founded just outside of Denver. "I think a lot of kids listen to music and they don't know what it is -- the game lets you pick out one particular instrument and it says, 'Hey, this is what you can do with it.'"

I also agree wholeheartedly with this:

Red Octane's Ted Lange argues that "Guitar Hero" instills two important guitar-playing fundamentals: sensitivity to rhythm as well as mastery over "independent hand usage -- the fact that you have to do something different with each hand."

I'm the least ambidextrous person in the world, and I've noticed Guitar Hero has changed that. I'm much better at that confounded rub-the-belly-pat-the-head thing, which is surely the official test for ambidexterity. And yes, I walked past a musical instrument shop the other day and stared longingly at a guitar for the first time in my life. I know it's hard because I've tried it before and sucked at it, and I don't expect to be able to play like Hendrix just because I played along with a game, but I honestly think that now, after months of using training frets, I can make another attempt at the real thing. Whether I do or not is another thing, partially because of the cost of guitars, and partially because I always figured I'd be better at keyboards. Where's Air Keyboard Nation? Or Air Drumming Nation, which would be right up my street?

In short, please buy the forthcoming debut album by Carusonic: Get Behind Me, Thewlis, featuring a 20-minute jazz version of The Future's So Bright, I've Gotta Wear (Crime-Fighting) Shades, with Ornette Coleman on sax and, in a gamble on my part, non-jazz player Philip Glass on keys. It will either be A Love Supreme for the 21st Century, or Jazz Odyssey all over again.

1 comment:

johnilf said...

Now that the principle photography is completed on the much anticipated rom com Faintheart (set in the world of viking re-enactments) blah blah blah...I get the hint, will get your games back to you now that i have my time back. Last six weeks have been a workaholic nightmare!!! Look out postman!!