This week, will Zero Punctuation's rock star fantasies be fulfilled with Guitar Hero World Tour?
You know what, Harmonix? I used to be on your side. When you departed the Guitar Hero franchise and left Guitar Hero III in the hands of Activision and RedOctane, I felt that the game was poorer for it. Then we learned you were working on Rock Band, and I was thrilled, because it seemed like a fantastic advancement of the concept. After all, playing pretend guitar is fun, and playing co-op with a friend on another pretend guitar is even more fun (and incidentally an excellent way to develop a burgeoning romance). So an entire pretend ensemble would provide excellent opportunities for fun (and perhaps eroticism). I was ready to ride the Harmonix train all the way to Fun Street Station.
But it seems on the way to Fun Street Station the Harmonix train went off the rails, around Fuckery Central. Rock Band came out in America in 2007, and I was drinking in the soundtrack waiting for Harmonix to tell us when we Australian residents could expect to be banging our heads so hard that the corks on our hats could take someone's eye out. "I 'unno," came the reply. "Sometime next year, maybe?" An entire year passes. "Oh yeah," says Harmonix, wiping chicken grease from his face as dusky maidens fan his corpulence. "Still dunno about when we're releasing it, but we do know that we're going to sell the instruments separately and charge you three times as much as Americans pay. Now caper for my amusement, you dirty Australian monkey man."
But then Activision swung in through the window wearing a rakish tricorne hat and clenching a dagger 'tween his teeth, robbing the bloated and dastardly Duke Harmonix of his tidy little monopoly, giving complete packaged copies of World Tour to the peasants for a much more reasonable price. I vowed never to buy products from the bloated and dastardly Duke Harmonix again. But then, of course, after a few hours of entertainment Guitar Hero: World Tour started coughing up blood and his legs fell off. In my haste to welcome him into my home, I failed to notice that he was suffering from leprosy.
Believe me, after having my antipodean nutsack paddled by Harmonix for months on end, I was really desperately trying to like World Tour. I went along with it all. I got some friends around and hung plastic instruments around their throats. I put on tight trousers and thrust my hips at the drummer, even after he politely but firmly asked me to stop. And I made a little simulacrum of myself in the character creator, even though you can shift those sliders to the moon and back and you'll always somehow look like Mick Jagger after being smacked in the face with a chopping board for a few hours. Unless you make a girl, perhaps, but everyone knows that you can't have women in proper rock bands, because all the blokes are going to be looking like them anyway.
The first problem we ran into was that no one wanted to sing! This is less a problem with World Tour specifically and more an inherent problem with the original concept and possibly with the people I hang around with. You see, people who like pretend guitar are introverted nerds who picture themselves as the aloof, crazy-skilled lead guitarist whose hands rattle away at the strings like nervous little crabs while he stares into the middle distance pretending to have forgotten he's holding it. Whereas people who like pretend singing are either screechy center-of-attention types or a normal person who has rendered themselves massively drunk and stumbled upon a jukebox full of '80s power ballads. And the two groups rarely socialize, because you need to be sober for those power solos.
I'll tell you what would help bring the glittering vocalist butterfly from the shambling, unwashed cocoon of nerd, and that's having some decent songs on the soundtrack. Deny it as much as you like, but you're asking us to do karaoke here, and the lifeblood of karaoke is a list of memorable classics whose lyrics are ingrained into the public consciousness. Or, at the very least, a few ZZ Top songs so I can sing like I've got a sock jammed in my throat.
But on the World Tour soundtrack, for every Livin' on a Prayer or Band on the Run, there are two shitty emo rock warblers that no one's ever heard of. Admittedly, that's always going to be par for the course in games like these, but what the fuck is with having songs from obscure European bands with lyrics entirely in foreign? If you don't speak Spanish, singing them is like if the guitarist was required to play wearing mittens. Or if the drummer were required to think.
And, of course, with new hardware comes the inevitable hardware issues. The slider bar on the guitar controller could be more productively replaced with a McCowan's chew bar. At least you'd have something to lick in between songs. There's virtually no warning as to when the special slidy notes are about to come up, and switching between the buttons and the slider without looking is so fiddly that I forgot how many fingers I owned and ruined my future masturbation prospects. You might as well just use the fret buttons for all the notes and use the slider bar to store elastic bands to flick at the bassist.
And then there are the drums, whose cymbals are like a pair of dopey inbred twins whose names who need to shout three times before they'll even realize you're talking to them. (Actually, Activision have acknowledged the drum problems and are sorting out a fix, but they won't score points for it unless it comes with all the songs from the Sgt. Pepper album and a selection of prostitutes who will come around my house and take turns beating the slider bar with a pipe wrench).
Really, though, this is all getting a bit nitpicky. Playing Guitar Hero is still as inherently entertaining and shamelessly pathetic as it's always been. And the dodgy additions of World Tour don't usually get in the way of all that. Plus, the music creation facility - while just a little bit too nerdy for me to consider actually using - will ensure that there will always be plenty of new songs online to challenge you (as long as you can tolerate endless MIDI renditions of the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme tune).
Get either this or Rock Band, because it honestly doesn't matter which. Although it's worth remembering that Harmonix are bigger jerks than Activision, which, as achievements go, has got to be worth some kind of medal.
Still crazy after all these years: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
When. The. Fuck. Is. One. Of. These. Games. Going. To. Feature. Stairway. To. Heaven.
Also some Kinks would be sweet
Put on a trenchcoat
and fight some conspiracies
and level up abilities
Will you pick rifles
Don't pick swimming, because
it's fairly useless
It's a shooter
and a role-playing game
The levels are ugly
and everyone looks the same
We're not the same Ion Storm
that made Daikatana
Our games are good
stay on schedule
We made a sequel
that no-one liked
'cos we dumbed it down too much
'cos we're thick