Guitar Hero: Smash Hits

Rock, Rinse, Repeat

Guitar Hero Smash Hits makes playing the same thing seem new again... partly because it is.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 28, 2009
God dammit, Activision, you're making me hate myself for liking your games. Perhaps if there weren't five friggin' Guitar Hero games hitting this year, I wouldn't feel like I was getting fleeced so effing much. The worst part by far, though, is that I know what they're doing to this franchise and I still like the result. Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is taking 48 old songs from Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (plus some Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for good measure), redoes almost all of 'em as master tracks (the other two are live versions) rather than covers and adds the full band experience.


Yes, you're effectively re-buying songs from all the Guitar Hero games you already bought (and probably still have), but this best-of collection is sort of a re-mastered version of 'em all with extra features. The change is more significant than it seems on paper. Instead of the slightly choppy, overly-crowded interface of Guitar Hero World Tour, you're getting Guitar Hero: Metallica's upgraded, smoother, spaced-out, more detailed engine. Oh, and double-bass and the accompanying Expert+ difficulty on drums, can't forget that.

So in a way this isn't exactly like taking all the old songs and copying/pasting them in. For guys like me that really only play music games on the drums now (though obviously for this I gave everything a shot, got some slap bass on, did the slide bits with the touch sensor and so on, but my love is the skins, sorry guitar/vocals), it actually completely overhauled the experience. Were it just guitars with better recordings and some new note charts that will no doubt have the ultra-hardcore all in a tizzy for messing with Harmonix's perfection (which, admittedly, it is to an extent), but there is a significant amount of work that was put into things.

Is it worth a whopping $60? Well, that really comes down to whether or not you want to hear the actual Ozzy singing "Bark at the Moon" or Sting belting out "Message in a Bottle" -- for me one of the biggest factors in learning to appreciate playing through this stuff all over again. There's a bit of an issue in how Beenox (or Neversoft, I'm not sure who did the mixing) actually cobbled together the different instrument and vocal tracks. On some of the songs (Incubus' "Stellar", for instance), the vocals are pushed way to the back of the pile. It doesn't feel like the instruments are properly split among the surround channels and as a result, these don't actually sound like the original recordings, even if they are. I could understand some tracks being bumped up in the aural priority list because you're playing that part of the song, but it doesn't always follow that logic, and that's a bit of a shame.

There's also the issue of how the World Tour stuff messes with the original bits. I'm not talking about the notes themselves (though some of those definitely messed with what was previously a perfect kind of difficulty on the old songs), I just mean the inclusion of things like the slide and tap. It does shift the difficulty around a little, and if you aren't like me and don't have to finish all the songs on the drums (which are usually fairly well designed, but lack the perfect synch and logical progression of the Metallica tracks, though that might just come down to how Lars does fills and rhythms), you might see it as Activision messing with something that wasn't broken. An option to do the "original" versions would let people rock "Through the Fire and Flames" or "Cowboys From Hell" as they first appeared and where muscle memory still worked. I'm not saying they shouldn't have tried to do something new, but why not have both for the purists?

One thing purists never had with the original games, though, was online play, and certainly not with a full band. Stuff like Trophies or allowing players to move through the tiers without having to finish every song (not to mention having everything available in Quick Play from the get-go) add a bit more value too, but one glaring omission turns Smash Hits from a could-be contender for one of the best collections of songs in the series' history into yet another candidate for most-milked franchise in games history: DLC is out. Completely. Okay, fine, there's the GH Tunes studio, but instrumental user-created versions of songs -- most of which are rather blah -- can't compare to having access to some of your favorite stuff from other games. Yes, I know it's probably a rights issue, but a game like this is screaming for a little more legal magic to be worked -- especially given the asking price.

Even still, it is Guitar Hero, and for drummers like me, it's an entirely new way to see familiar songs. Playing a bunch of new drum tracks is awesome, and even better because I know all these songs; I'm just playing a new version of them. For me, that all but justifies having it all be stuff I've already played, though I'll stop short of recommending it for guitar players. At the very least, the graphics are on par with the latest games (which means it's one of the better looking GH games), and having it all in HD is a nice little treat.

In the end, it's going to come down to how much you love the older songs. If you played most of the early stuff on the PS2 or before the days of having an HDTV and a sweet surround system and online play, then you're going to see a bit more mileage out of things. For everyone else, though, it's not hard to see Smash Hits for what it is: a way to squeeze more money out of customers. The question is whether you love these songs or want to play them with more instruments enough to accept that you're getting bilked out of your funds. I'm ashamed to admit that for me, yep, it is. Yes, it's a sickness, and no I won't be seeking help. At least not until my bank account is completely drained.
The Verdict
8.0

Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is not a new game. It's old stuff with new bits. Determining if it's actually worth the asking price comes down to a formula: master tracks + full band - new notes/gimmicks + online play - weird sound = your call.

8.5Graphics:

The best HD version of the whole band interface means more time to react and less crowding, plus actually decent polygonal models cheering you on. Nice, sure, but nothing mind-blowing.

8.0Sound:

For whatever reason, some of the songs are just flat-out messed up, which is a shame considering they're now the actual bands performing 'em. Bummer.

8.5Control:

Guitar purists will balk at the idea of re-done notes or added features, but drum dorks like me will be in heaven double-bassing through Motley Crue.

8.0Gameplay:

There's a lot of new stuff here, some of it better than the rest. Drums, vocals, Trophies, all Quick Play songs from the start and more mean that even though these are older songs, they're also more than just master tracks of the stuff already played.