Guitar Hero: Smash hits is kind of like the album AC/DC Live. Bear with me on this one for a moment. Almost everyone likes the band AC/DC regardless of the fact that every one of their songs sounds strikingly familiar. On that same level there are a ton of fans of Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise. Let’s face it, there have been a ton of the GH games in the last two years, but until now some of the most memorable moments in the franchise have felt left out of the loop. Smash Hits resolves that by bringing back the classics in one stellar package, and adding all the functionality found in the current games. Much like AC/DC did with their live album, Activision has given fans a chance to relive the songs that really set the genre on fire in one complete collection, and that is enough to get this fan excited all over again.
First let’s address the elephant in the room. We all know that with the current crop of consoles and technology this disc could have easily been DLC. These songs are prepped using the Guitar Hero World Tour engine, and importing them into the game would have been much more convenient for most than buying an entirely new disc. While I do agree that being able to have all the tracks in one place ala Rock Band is a nice convenience, I will admit that paying sixty bucks for almost fifty songs is much cheaper than the DLC would have been. Of course this leads to my second issue; why can you not import these songs onto your hard drive from the disc. These are the two biggest gripes I have with the current crop of GH games, and it doesn’t seem to be changing so I guess I will have to stop being lazy and just get up and swap discs.
That being said what is on this disc is like a dream come true for fans of the series dating back to the original. Activision allowed the fans to vote on the tracks that appeared in the game, and most of them seem synonymous with the best of the best. Classics such as Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Through the Fire and the Flames by Dragonforce and a personal favorite of mine Unsung by Helmet all make appearances, now complete with full band support. Another huge update to these songs is that now all of them are original tracks. This is a big deal because most of the songs found in the first two games were covers, so hearing them now as they were originally intended is truly a treat.
The structure of the single player game more mimics GH: Metallica than World Tour. Instead of making your way through various venues Smash Hits returns to the traditional style of tiers of songs that increase in difficulty as you progress. Unlike GH: Metallica though you need quite a few more stars to open successive venues. This keeps your progress in check, while not forcing you to repeat songs that you dislike, or have trouble with over and over; the balance is actually very well done. The rest of the game follows the same suit as every title since World Tour. GHTunes is included so you can make and download user-created tracks. You can customize everything in the game from tattoos to instruments to the way your rocker looks. All of the essentials are here, but the songs are what make this a must have for GH fans.
The online also makes a return with band versus gameplay and of course face-off modes. Per usual the online works well enough to keep you interested, but there will likely not be as many people here as there are in World Tour, so be warned that you may not always be able to find three other people to jam with on any given day. Other than that lag is minimal, modes are present, and it pretty much works exactly like the previous games, which is to say, perfectly fine.
Another thing I want to address that seems to have some GH aficionados in an uproar are the guitar note charts for these classic songs. If you memorized the original notes things are going to be different, and not always for the better. With the advances that the series has made over the years (not to mention developer changes) the original charts simply did not translate over. For example a lot of the solos are now performed using the touch fret bar (the notes connected with a purple line) meaning you can simply tap away without having to strum. For complicated solos this makes the game a lot easier because you literally do not have to worry about strumming. Unlike hammer-ons and pull-offs this method does not penalize you for missing notes. This can be both a good and bad thing as songs like Through the Fire and the Flames are now much less impressive when you conquer them. Of course this also means that novices can shred the songs with just a little effort, so the trade off is subjective.
As for the visuals if you have played a Guitar Hero game in the last year, then you know what to expect. The venues and characters are still over-the-top and cartoony, and everything portrays a stylized look that you have either come to love or hate. The restructured career mode really does go a long way to make the game more appealing to those who are not likely sold on all the songs in the playlist, plus like GH: Metallica you have the ability to jump right into any song right out of the box; the way it should be. There is more than enough to keep you busy in Smash Hits; it is just a matter of whether or not you want to lay down sixty bucks for some updated songs that you have probably already experienced.
Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is a great collection of tracks from previous games, re-constructed for the current evolution of the genre. If you are ok with that, and don’t mind swapping discs to access this content, then do not hesitate purchasing it. If you are sick of the series, this outing is not going to change your mind. This is the same game we have been playing for a while. This chapter is more like a chance for hardcore fans to revisit some of their favorite tracks in a new light. Smash Hits is definitely going to be criticized for milking the franchise, but when it is this fun I personally don’t care.