The game's entire set list is composed of tracks culled from Guitar Hero 1-3, as well as the '80s and Aerosmith spinoffs. You've got return appearances from everyone like Ozzy and Iron Maiden to Joan Jett and Queens of the Stone Age. While I can't tell you if the included songs are "good" or not (sorry, I don't know your musical tastes), the included tracks are comprised mostly of the more famous songs from previous titles as well as some of the more challenging numbers. Suffice it to say, if you enjoyed these songs the first time around, you'll likely dig them again here.
The only overriding reason to release a compilation such as this (aside from the obvious monetary gain) is to allow gamers the chance to play these classics as a full band. Since the tracks all come from games that were released before the franchise starting supporting drums and vocals, you can now go back and approach old songs from a new angle. Also, some of the drum tracks also feature the Expert+ mode that was introduced in Guitar Hero: Metallica, so it would seem that the double bass pedal action is here to stay. For those who tend to focus their talents on the instruments newer to the series, this will be reason enough to jump in again; for the guitarists and bassists, though, the appeal just isn't there.
The songs have been updated to include the new guitar and bass functionalities, but the results are rather disappointing. First off, the songs now all use the super-loose hammer-ons and pull-offs that have been featured in the newer games, meaning that "Bark at the Moon," "Cowboys from Hell" and their ilk have had their difficulty effectively neutered. Add to this the fact that some tracks also include the purple "tapped" notes, and previously challenging songs are far less intimidating now. Those who previously struggled on Expert may find the changes welcome, but purists are going to be furious that songs that used to take weeks or months to master can now be conquered easily.
There are other changes to the guitar and bass tracks, but they are strange and the reasoning behind them isn't entirely clear. Nearly every song has had its guitar and baselines inexplicably reworked, often resulting in an entirely different-sounding song. Sometimes the changes are confined to small sections in intros, outros and solos, but at other moments, they pervade the entire track, fundamentally changing the way it plays and sounds. Therefore, if you've memorized songs from earlier games, you may be out of luck here, forced to relearn entire sections due to the tweaks. The optimistic way of looking at it is that the developers changed the tracks for the sake of keeping the game fresh for those who have played these songs before, but the pessimist will tell you that this is just the latest in a long line of occasions where the Guitar Hero franchise has perverted songs for the sake of difficulty or for no reason other than that they simply wanted to. I don't know the truth behind the issue, but the changes are noticeable enough that they might rankle some old-school players.
The game's presentation is ripped straight out of Guitar Hero: Metallica, indicating that this method of progression and stat tracking may be the series benchmark moving forward. Songs are again arranged in tiers based on difficulty, and earning enough stars on one tier will unlock the next one. The star distinction is an important one, as with early games in the franchise you had to pass all the songs on one tier in order to move on. With this new arrangement, you are allowed to sometimes skip songs that are too hard or that you simply don't enjoy and still not miss out on tackling other tracks. Unlike GH: Metallica though, the requirements for advancement are more stringent this time, and you'll need to power through at least a few toughies if you want to make it all the way through to the end.
This also means that the entire set list is unlocked from the get-go, so no more spending hours and hours in the single-player campaign just to unlock songs to play with your friends in Quickplay later. While this should have been the standard from the beginning, it's nice to see that the franchise is coming around and embracing the fact that these aren't typically games you play alone, and only being able to rock out to five or 10 songs really isn't much fun.
I return to the analogy I made at the beginning of the article because this game really strikes me as something that was made for little purpose other than to squeeze a few more bucks out of gamers. All of these songs could have been made easily available as add-ons or DLC for the existing Guitar Hero: World Tour, which would have then made them accessible for future iterations of the series. Heck, I would have been happy if Activision had opted to go the same route as Rock Band, putting all these songs on a disc but then giving you the opportunity to export them to your hard drive and save them to play in other games. That's not the case, however, and the fact that this game doesn't support any DLC you may already have just further proves to me that the game is little more than an appeal to nostalgia in the hopes that you'll remember the early games so fondly that you'll pay full price to get a small sliver of their songs back to play once more.
Just like the dying music industry, Activision has started down the path of asking more out of consumers while giving less and less in return. As though we weren't already inundated with music games, this one jumps onto the pile and inexplicably expects you to love it. With almost nothing new to offer, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is a title that you can skip unless you got into the fad too late to play these songs before or are simply desperate to play them again. It's perhaps a fun weekend rental, but there's no need to invest any real money in owning this game because you're just going to forget about it in a month anyway.Score: 6.5/10
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