This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Beatles Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5.
Rhythm games are a bit of an indictment of our generation, aren't they? Why yes, I would like to clarify that position. We've never had a decent war to give us any sense of mutual achievement or confidence, so we place anyone with the slightest talent or notoriety on ridiculous pedestals and tell ourselves we could never reach them because we're just so shit. And then Rock Band and Guitar Hero say, "Yes, you are shit! Real guitars aren't in your league. All the shit will come off your shitty fingers and clog up the fret board. But never mind, here's something that isn't much like playing real guitar, but kind of looks like it and that's the best you could hope for, isn't it, you empty, hopeless turd!" Let me ask you something Guitar Hero: do you really want to create a generation surfing across mediocrity on a wave of plinky, plonky plastic? And when the fuck are you going to license Stairway To Heaven?
I'll admit, the Beatles Rock Band announcement caused me to have a little squirt. Maturing in the '90s, I was exposed mostly to stuff like the Spice Girls and Robson & Jerome and thought for the longest time that I just didn't like any music. But then I discovered The Beatles and realised that I was, in fact, the larval form of a classic rock snob. If there's any band I can still bear even while their songs are being filtered through plinky plonky guitar rattles and the raucous caterwauling of a room full of early twenty-somethings, it's The Beatles. But I'm forced to remind myself why I didn't like Guitar Hero: Metallica and the whole concept of single-band games. Surely the Rock Band model is intended for parties and its job is to supply a variety of songs from various bands and genres for maximum group appeal. And there will be people at a party who don't want to play the Beatles all bloody night. They'll be the ones who are drinking rubbing alcohol and trying to rape the cat.
Guitar Hero 5, on the other hand, has a strong party focus. If it were a person, it would wear colourful sunglasses and communicate entirely through whoops and request to borrow money. There's a party mode that plays random songs and lets you jump in at any time, and all the songs are unlocked in quick play from the beginning, and you might ask why you'd want to play through the career mode if that's the case. That would be a very good question. This aspect of Guitar Hero 5 really does phone it in and return the charges. I suppose if you want to pretend that you're Carlos Santana for a few brief, wonderful moments, or if you want to see the intro and outro cartoons, if you've got some morbid desire to see what happens when an entire animation department have lost their will to live. And you'll unlock another bunch of brightly-coloured venues full of the same three copy-pasted dudes who wobble about like they're all busting for a slash. But, as always, it's all meaningless movement and colour you won't even look at because you must constantly stare at the notes until your own children start to resemble red and green lampshades.
Beatles Rock Band's career mode raises a similar issue in that a lot of the songs have a colourful music video thing with often quite elaborate production going on somewhere behind all the garish conveyor belts, but it is interesting to follow the Beatles' career all the way from a sweltering basement in England to a windy rooftop in England. Since the song order is based on release history rather than difficulty for once, the progression curve is wonky as fuck. In one song, it's monotonously bouncing your thumb up the strummer like a masturbating stroke victim, and the next, it's rattling the buttons like you're trying to disentangle your hand from the udders of an excitable cow. But nevertheless, the Beatles were hardly the heaviest band in the world so I breezed through the whole game five-starring every song on Expert. It's more of a memoriam to the band than any actual challenge. A very eclectic band that explored a variety of instruments, hence why the guitar track on one song sounded suspiciously like a cello. Come on, the controller's even smaller than a normal guitar, it's certainly not going to pass for one of those!
Come to think of it, Guitar Hero 5 does the same thing, trying to sneak some keyboard sections under our frets. Cowards! Are there so few iconic guitar songs in the world that you have to pull shit like this? Of course not, it's just that they've been all used up by previous Guitar Hero games! How a Guitar Hero setlist usually works is: 1) You start off with some easy well-known classics to sucker us in, then 2) You bridge the middle with lesser-known stuff and sneak in a few complete unknowns while we're softened up, before 3) Dropping a few heavy classics on us to the big finish that will strip the flesh from our backs while we cry for more because we're bitches! Guitar Hero 5 gets as far as number two, but knocks number three on the head in favour of extending its number two into a big, brown coil. But even if it had been gold-plated Bowie from top to tails, what exactly does this game bring that couldn't have simply been added to Guitar Hero: World Tour with downloadable content? Well, you can finally customise your band in single player, so I can fulfill my dream of having a band consisting of three mes and one girl me. the in-game success and star power meters have been made harder to see because I always feel my eyesight grows stagnant when unchallenged; and of course, the patch wouldn't give you the stimulating argument over which disc to put in every fucking time your mates come round.
Still, Beatles Rock Band is certainly keen not to shoot their load too early. The setlist features a rather barren forty-odd songs out of a library of 250, and while they aren't all hits, there's no Help!, no Let It Be, no Eleanor Rigby, and no All You Need Is Love, although that has been released on DLC and thus are the true colours revealed! I'm sure they'll be nickel-and-diming us for the good stuff until our udders turn black and fall off. Oh, but proceeds for All You Need Is Love go to charity, apparently. Well, maybe I don't want to give to charity; maybe it's against my personal philosophy to acknowledge that there is good in human beings.
Rereading this piece, I've made myself a little bit depressed. Why the hell do I still buy Guitar Hero games? Halfway through Guitar Hero 5, I suddenly realised, I wasn't even listening to the music anymore. I just go into automatic with one eye on the score meter and everything else is just so much noise. I guess it's because as a gamer, I live for a string of petty victories, and no victory comes pettier than from correctly pressing buttons in accordance with a big, long rolling instruction sheet for retards.
Who the hell owns three USB mics, anyway: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Rock Band had a song by The Who with a really long keyboard section, and you know what? They made us SIT STILL and FUCKING LISTEN
Mind you, it was really fucking boring
Beatles Rock Band
Guitar Hero 5