Release Date: October 17, 2008
There are two things worth questioning before you go into this review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for the PC. Firstly, can a single band justify a Guitar Hero game? The whole point of the previous ones has been the variety and the gradual difficulty curve, which is hard to reconcile with a single band getting the majority of the tracks. The second is whether the Guitar Hero experience transfers across to the smaller PC screen from the home consoles. While it's easy to dismiss the first concern if you're a big enough fan of the band, the PC issue refuses to go away. It's not just that it's on a machine on which you write e-mails and do work; it's also pretty horrendously ported.
Let's get to the game because if you're reading this, chances are you're interested in PC rather than console gaming, so you may be new to the whole Guitar Hero phenomenon. It follows the established formula: You're given a large plastic guitar (or the option of keyboard play — more on that later) and have to strum with your right hand while using your fingers to move along five brightly colored frets in time to instructions on the screen that mimic the music. It sounds ridiculous to the uninitiated, but there's a reason why these games are successful and as a formula, it's pretty hard to fault. This is something not lost on Activision, who seems intent on milking the franchise until it's a hollow husk.
This first individual band version is quite cleverly done to mimic the rise of Aerosmith. You start off playing in the venue of their very first gig and play some of their favorite settings as you go along. Each venue is introduced by the band in a short series of mini-interviews (each one lasting no more than a minute) and gives you some interesting, if limited, perspective on what it's like to be in the band. Most of them seem pretty awestruck at their success, apart from Steven Tyler, who shows all the arrogance you'd expect from the front man of one of the world's most successful bands.
Initially, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith plays exactly like Guitar Hero III in that you're given the same set of familiar guitar heroes to pick from (Lars Umlaut, Judy Nails, etc.) and required to enter a band name. Not entirely sure whether this was supposed to be my band playing Aerosmith's hits, I went with the original name of Bearosmith. It was after this that I discovered that the role of my rocker would be to open up for the band on each of the five difficulty tiers. You'll cover the works of Run DMC, The Clash, The Kinks, The Cult and Joan Jett in the spirit of getting the crowd worked up for Aerosmith. When Aerosmith takes the stage, your guitar hero is forgotten and you play along to a cartoon digital version of the band.
For a game devoted to one band, it's a little dispiriting to find out that they're only responsible for 25 of the 41 songs on the disk. It's not like they're short of potential omissions, either. I'm not an Aerosmith fan, and I can still name several popular numbers that would have been perfect: "Crazy," "Cryin'," "Dude Looks Like a Lady" and "Jaded," to name a few. I suppose the advantage to the PC version (there has to be one, right?) would be that these songs could be easily modded in by naughty coders for the Aerosmith die-hard, and you'd still get to enjoy the antics of your flatteringly drawn avatars.
Unfortunately, as I see it, that's the only advantage of the PC version. Aside from the obvious concern that most people's PC space isn't designed for players showboating around like rock stars, the game has been really lazily ported. After finding a very patchy frame rate on my PC with occasional hanging (which sent the notes out of sync when it re-emerged), I checked the system requirements on the box. Get this: a game that, in essence, only requires five notes to move down a screen has minimum requirements as follows: Intel Pentium Dual Core 2.8ghz or Athlon 3500+, 1 GB RAM for XP/2 GB for Vista, 128 MB Video card and a whopping 7.1 GB hard disk space. It's clear they've just stuck the 360 version across with no effort to provide scaling. You can change the resolution and various features to limited effect, but I'm having a hard time justifying how the core gameplay needs more horsepower than something like Bioshock.
It's not just the power required that's a telltale sign of a lazy development cycle. The menus are designed for console, which is fine if you're using an XPlorer guitar like I was (the old Guitar Hero 2 model is the one for PC, I'm afraid, which feels a world away from the newer ones), but should you be without one or wanting to try multiplayer, you're left with the keyboard controls. In addition to not working particularly well and resisting some fairly obvious remapping at times (it would allow some and not others), the menus are still done in the same way as the Xbox: You're told to press the green fret to continue and the red to go back. Good luck remembering which of your 26 letters you've assigned to being green on your first playthrough.
To my mind, the game's core "notes moving up a screen" gameplay manages to work a little better than Guitar Hero III's. The horrible difficulty spike and "off" feeling notation have definitely been improved upon, and as a result, it's an oddly more welcoming experience for new players. This is helped by the presentation, which is as good as you'd expect if you have the rig good enough to run it. The character animation is good and cartoony but recognizable to their Aerosmith counterparts, and the sound quality is as good as you'd need any music game to be.
Due to the game's limited length, it's good to see that the multiplayer modes from Guitar Hero III have made an appearance, though they feel as much of a one-off test play as ever before. Assuming you can find other Aerosmith enthusiasts to play with, you can play cooperative or competitive multiplayer with someone in the same room or over the Internet. To be honest, the Internet play providing one-off battles is very much the sort of thing you try once and don't get hooked into. Local play fares better, but if you're resorting to using the keyboard as a second controller, you may as well not bother.
Since the multiplayer is forgettable and the single-player segment is short-lived in comparison to Guitar Hero 3 (41 tracks versus 73), there's definitely questionable value here. If you're a fan of the band, there's definitely more to be had, with the aforementioned documentary segments and various band-related unlockables (former band member avatars and memorable outfits), but for casual fans, it's a poor makeweight.
Despite its competitively svelte size, it's difficult for me to make a value judgment on Guitar Hero: Aerosmith on your behalf. I'm not a big fan of the band, and I'm not sure whether I'd want a whole game devoted to one of my favorites anyway. If your PC is good enough to run this and you're a big Aerosmith fan, then you could probably add as many extra points to my score as you feel that it requires. My justification is based on the limited scope and substandard porting, but at its core, it's a game that's just as much fun as the first time you picked up a tacky, oversized instrument. Take my score and add and subtract at will, but with the full band experience of Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour available on consoles, I maintain that would be the way to go, if possible.
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