Well well. Gamers, journalists and most other people familiar with the name are waking up in a slight state of shock today.
Yesterday, Activision announced that along with the quite interesting-looking True Crime update, they have cancelled Guitar Hero. Development on the new game has been stopped, and there are no plans at the moment to make a new installment.
A statement from the company simply states "...due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing's Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011,".
The signs were there when the game released that the formula was starting to stagnate at an alarming pace, when first-month sales announced that the last installment "Warriors of Rock", compared with sales of up to 500,000 units in the first week of GH: World tour, only sold 86,000 units.
Guitar Hero has almost become synonymous with gaming. Almost everyone, even if they haven't played it, has heard of the game. Tournaments still happen all over the world, and at it's height it was everywhere, even featuring in top satirical animation swear fest "South Park".
So.....from total global domination to being thrown on the rubbish heap. Where did it all go wrong for Guitar Hero? Here's my take on the story.
Guitar Hero (PS2)
First release in 2005, I didn't hear about the first Guitar Hero until I saw a review in GamesTM magazine. They reviewed the import US version and were gushing over it. It sounded amazing, but I wanted to get my hands on it. Having played in a few bands, I liked the sound of the game, thrashing away in little plastic guitars to various bands sounded like a great laugh. It was a long wait until the game came out....months....long, boring months. But finally, the UK release date was announced and my pre-orders went in. Popped to Gamestation on the morning of release and picked up my order. They didn't actually have any guitars sold separately, so I just bought two versions of the game (I really did). I took my purchases home, and waited for my friend to finish work, as He knew I was getting the game and wanted to play. Packing my PS2 and newly acquired plastic Gibsons into his car we shot round to his house, set it all up and started to play. My love affair with the game started that very day.
Guitar Hero became a staple form of entertainment at my house. Anyone who came round had to sit and play the game. I actually can't imagine how many hours me and my friends put into the game, we played day, night, whenever we could. So much so that we organised a Guitar Hero tournament at a local pub in the city centre. I actually threw a sicky at work so I could just sit for a couple of days and take down anyone who dared to score higher than me in a song. And what songs......the first game features arguably THE best tracklist of any other Guitar Hero release. There was something for everyone. The highlight song for us though, the one that we constantly tried to better each other on was "Bark at the moon" by Ozzy Osbourne....we nailed that song. Throw in QOTSA, David Bowie, Megadeth....if there wasn't at least 2 songs that someone liked they were mental. And then the news came along that Guitar Hero 2 was being made.
Guitar Hero 2
Guitar Hero 2 first launched on the PS2, and then when I heard it was coming out on the fairly new at the time Xbox 360 console I traded it in for the new versions when that came out. It took the components of the first game and expanded them. An arguably very strong setlist compared with the first game, some more slightly complicated song charts, the ability to play in co-op, either as rhythm and lead guitars or the option to play bass guitar. And my addiction to the game was confirmed. No other game took up as much of my time as this...it was never out of the CD tray. Now for the first time new song packs were available to download for the game, including some of the best songs from the Guitar Hero 1. The usual aural emanations that were released from my house was "Hanger 18"by Megadeth overdubbed with the clatter of the strum bars moving at a blinding speed. I was a Guitar Hero in my head. And then things started to go slightly wrong.
Guitar Hero 3.
With the news that Harmonix had gone and Neversoft were taking over the development, I was quietly confident. Seeing previews of the game it looked pretty cool, as it was going to feature "Real" Guitar heroes, such as Slash from GNR and Tom Morello from Rage against the Machine. I once more did my usual ritual of booking the day off work, went down and picked up the game with the new wireless guitar and got settled down at home.
I was struggling. It seemed like Guitar Hero...it sounded like Guitar Hero...but something was wrong. There was a little bit of soul missing, something that I still can't really put my finger on today. The track list was good, but on the higher difficulties the charting of the songs was just way off. There were far too many notes. It seemed like a difficulty increase just for the sake of making the experience longer. And the boss battles.....how I fucking loathed the boss battles. They were hard, irritating and they took me out of the game. I didn't need some shitty tacked on story, I just wanted to rock out. Again, DLC came out at a drip....drip.....drip rate....and I found myself playing it for the sake of playing. I needed something else....and it wasn't Neversoft and Guitar Hero that gave it to me. It was former Guitar Hero developers Harmonix. That's another story, but when Guitar Hero world tour was announced, and it was doing just what the recently released Rock Band pioneered, releasing with a drum kit, Mike and support for Guitar and Bass, I thought this was the shot in the arm that Guitar Hero needed. I was to be proven very disappointed.
Guitar Hero: World Tour.
This was when the affair between me and Guitar Hero ended. Something unfortunate had happened between GH3 and the release of this game......Rock Band. Rock band had got out of the gate first with the whole band experience, and when this game was released it did just seem to smell a bit of "ooooh...me too....me too......I can do the band thing".....and so it did. Sporting arguably THE WORST tracklist in a Guitar Hero game so far, I just went through the motions. The love, the spirit and the urge to play the game had gone. My heart had been taken by another. I tried in desperation to make it work....i'd invite others to play, i'd sit and literally force myself to go through the modes, but even with an alarming rendition of Ozzy as a character in the game it couldn't bring me to love it. Reluctantly, with a heavy heart and a sense of loss, I traded the game in. Guitar Hero was no longer on my radar.
I'd purposely dodged the other releases....apart from "Rock the 80's" which after playing through a couple of times was again traded in. Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Val Halen, Metallica....I wasn't interested in any of them. Guitar Hero 5 came and went, with the absolutely fucking dumb idea to let anyone play any instrument they wanted.....4 guitars, 4 drummers.....yeah...that sounded fun. I kept my ear to the ground and at times I felt almost glee that Guitar Hero was dropping...not only in sales but also in fan rebellion....people were starting to dislike it. My new woman, Rock Band, was all I needed. She gave me a new game in Rock Band 2, the constant release of new songs every week meant I always had something new to play, and when Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock was announced, with their new "changing fascia" guitar I felt justified in my decision to end the relationship, even more so when we hooked up a couple of times at a friends to play the newer versions.....Guitar Hero just didn't cut it any more.
So. The end of an era. I was pretty sad when I heard the news that Activision had cancelled the game. I know it sounds stupid, but yesterday I did actually feel that someone I knew had died. I guess it's just down to the memories. I've spent so much time playing the game, so many late nights spend with friends, a few beers and rocking out until the wee hours. It's not surprising that in a way i'm slightly torn.....but, the writing was on the cards. The instant uptake of the game, the popularity it gathers with the first few releases, it was obvious that Activision would see it as a money making gold mine. But the constant, tireless whoring out of the game was never going to give it justice. Games create a following because they are good games, and the time that you spend with them is a very enjoyable experience. The Guitar Hero phenomenon was just that....one of those games that comes along every so often and overtakes everything.....Pokemon, World of Warcraft, Call of duty.....sometimes a game leaps out of the world of the nerd and becomes something that's on everyone's lips. Just as Playstation became synonymous with gaming in the late 90's, Guitar Hero also rose to the giddy heights of becoming an everyday term for people interested in games everywhere.
Apparently the door hasn't been completely shut. I can imagine in a couple of years time, maybe released on the next batch of consoles, that the grave of Guitar Hero will be robbed, the corpse re-animated and brought back to life.
I can't help but think however.........let this one rest in peace.
R.I.P Guitar Hero. 2005-2011