Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Axeman Cometh

My friend Bill, it's fair to say, has been the Mephistopheles to my Dr Faustus in gaming terms. It was him that bought an Xbox when we moved into our second year house, which meant that I actually started playing Xbox games and became wedded to the Xbox brand. If it hadn't been for him, I might currently own a PS2, or a Gamecube. Perhaps even a Bandai Crystal Wonderswan. We'll never know.

For two years I've had an Xbox, and in that time I've managed to acquire a grand total of seven games: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Halo, Halo 2, Burnout, Tiger Woods Golf, Dead or Alive and, oh and some other one I can't remember, probably because it's bollocks.

A bit of a rubbish collection, really. The problem is that the box of X is plugged into our living room TV, and the only thing more boring than playing Tiger Woods golf is watching someone play Tiger Woods Golf. The games that get played are the ones where the controllers can be passed around easily between drunk, half-arsed people, and where even people with very short concentration spans and minimal hand-eye co-ordination can have enough of a go to be amused.

That's why Dead or Alive is such a hit, as even a hardened gamer - especially one trying to show off by using a difficult character with poncy special moves - can be hoofed into next Tuesday but a buttonmasher armed with a scantily clad schoolgirl.

But all things must change, and when I heard about Guitar Hero on the PlayStation 2, I knew that it was a game I wanted. All I had to do was acquire it; oh, and acquire a PlayStation 2. The latter was dealt with when my housemate Tom revealed he in fact owned a PS2, but had simply let his sister use it for the last two years. The game was acquired by Matt, a man so susceptible to suggestion that he also bought a PS2 when in Game to pick up GH. He's since bought another copy so we can go 'head to head'.

The game's pretty expensive (£50 retail; but about £40 delivered from Amazon) but that's because you get a free Fisher Price-style guitar as well. This comes with a 'strummer', five coloured keys on the frets, and a wiggly lever thing that has some technical name I've forgotten.

The aim of the game is simple; make the crowd go wild as you strum along to rock and pop songs. Points are gained for hitting the notes, and 'star power' can be accrued to tide you through the tough solos. The control set is pretty straightforward too; a fretboard runs towards you like a treadmill, and you hit the colour-coded notes as they reach the bottom.

I was very nervous at first; Matt picked up the absurdly small guitar and boshed out Crossroads on Medium straight off. "Yeah, but I play the guitar," he offered by way of explanation. (I can't comment, I've only ever heard him play the opening chords of Little Wing until it made me want to cry.) Then Tom, aka Slowhand, stepped up to the plate. I have never seen any part of him move so fast as his hand did during Ace of Spades. "Dude," said Tim, who had wandered in to observe the performance. "You must be able to diddle a girl in, like, fifteen seconds." Tom grinned ruefully.

I knew I was in trouble when I missed the first three notes of Take Me Out.
"It's syncopated rhythm," squealed Matt, gesturing furiously in a vaguely obscene manner.
"What the fuck does that mean?" I shot back, trying gamely to get into the swing of things but missing another set of notes. What was this all about? You'd think with the law of averages I'd hit ONE, wouldn't you? But apparently not.

Anyway, after the basic principles of guitar playing had been explained to me, I started to get a bit better. The boys bashed ahead on Hard, then Expert, while I was mocked for paddling round in the shallows by playing Killer Queen over and over again on Medium (with Matt shouting "She keeps a MO-et CHAN-don in A PRET-ty CAB-inet" at me) But a week later, I am definitely better - I've now got to the stage where I can hit enough notes not to be booed off stage immediately - and what's more, I don't begrudge watching other people play the game.

Luckily, the song selection is reasonable - there's a little Bowie and Hendrix, and even More Than A Feeling, should one be feeling romantic. My only complaint is that there's no real incentive to finish the game... all the bonus tracks are by no-marks from Boston, and who really cares if you can unlock a new guitar, really?

Bring on Guitar Hero 2, which promises more recognisable tracks and more exciting two player stuff. I'm going to have to consider performance enhancing drugs, though - perhaps I'll take ten Pro Plus before attempting Cochise again.

There's just one problem: as I write this, Matt and Tom are sitting with their matching tiny guitars, battling it out over Franz Ferdinand, with expressions of extreme concentration on their faces. I think it's the saddest thing I ever saw.


Blogger hangthedj said...

Katie got one of these for her birthday as well and I agree that it's wicked. Sunday saw many of my friends trying to master it and the frustration on certain member's of the group's faces was well worth me being proper pants at it.

6/26/2006 2:33 pm  
Anonymous Laura said...

I want to try that karaoke one. Competitive singing, the only way to get true brits up with a microphone......

6/26/2006 5:36 pm  
Anonymous pia said...

My gosh. Imagine being able to play the Guitar Hero, the karaoke game AND the dance mat game all at once...we'd be more than legends...

6/27/2006 10:03 am  
Blogger galatea said...

I think I would want to dance to (Mucho Mambo) Sway, sing along to Lady In Red and play guitar to Ace of Spades. Truly it would be a sight to behold.

6/27/2006 11:41 am  
Anonymous towns said...

Woah, woah, woah. I haven't seen any evidence that even one of those can be successfully achieved. This multi-rhythmic-tasking... You're trying to run up Everest with an alpaca on your back, before you can walk: Wouldn't want to see anyone get hurt. Much less end up in hospital wrapped in a dance mat, muttering about the never ending notes.

6/27/2006 2:04 pm  

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