Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (PS2) – Review

Rocks the 80s - CoverOnce Guitar Hero II came out, Activision suggested that they would continue to develop the series, not only into Guitar Hero III, but also as genre-specific expansions. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is the first of these expansions, and while it delivers the strong gameplay that the series still has, it feels like a quick modification of the existing Guitar Hero II engine with the addition of several tracks from the 1980s, doing minimal work to improve the appearance, and yet still end up charging a new game price for it. Additionally, the shorter set list, while containing some notable 80s entries, is lacking in punch and really doesn’t help to make the game a must-have at the moment.

Gameplay: A

There’s almost nothing to say here: the same gameplay as from Guitar Hero II exists in 80s, including the various tweaks to hammer-downs and pull-offs and multiplayer mode. If you’ve not played a Guitar Hero game before, you use the controller (which you will have to buy separately if you don’t have one as there’s no guitar-game bundle with 80s as with the other games) to hit notes (both on the fretboard and by strumming) as they come at you. There’s also sustained notes, chords (two or more frets you have to hit at the same time), Star Power sections, and the other usual tricks to the game. There’s only 30 songs total in the game, leading to 6 different sets (instead of 8 from Guitar Hero II). The game includes the same co-operative and competitve play modes from Guitar Hero II, as well as the practice modes to help you through the harder songs.

The difficulty, I feel, falls a bit lower than Guitar Hero II; I breezed through Medium without nary a problem (I didn’t have to retry any song, and 4- or 5-starred each on the first shot), with this lower difficulty filtering up through the higher difficulty levels. It’s still harder than Guitar Hero, and has the usual progression, with Easy using only the first 3 frets, Medium using 4, Hard using 5 and requiring some hammer-ons and pull-offs, and Expert challenging every aspect of your plaing.

You can still earn in-game cash to unlock a couple characters, guitars, and finishes, but there’s no additional songs or videos to unlock.

Value / Replayability: D

While the game is just as good, playwise, as its predecessors, the game gets several dings for basically being an expansion pack priced as a full-size game. Thirty songs is barely enough to keep you busy for a couple days for one single go at a career, and while you can go back and work your way through Expert and play against friends, it’s hard to even begin to justify the $50 price tag. I also ding this game for being only for the PlayStation 2. There’s no reason that there isn’t a 360 version, or at least allowing the songs part of downloadable contents. If there are further Guitar Hero add-ons, they will hopefully learn from this mistake.

Rocks the 80s - ScreenshotGraphics: B+

As another example of how the game takes a minimalistic approach to refining the Guitar Hero 2 formula, there’s only small changes to the various arenas to 80s-ify them, but this appears to be mostly just reskinning the textures and not so much changing any architecture. It would have been nice to see rather revamped arenas or even one or two 80s-themed ones (I’m thinking at least once in Miami-style colors). The characters all have 80s outfits as well, and this seems to be the only area graphically where they spent time to make the game different from Guitar Hero II. Even the title and menu screens are reused from the base game, just recolored.

Audio: B+

The song selection is a little questionable here. There are some necessary 80s songs such as “I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls, or “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors, and some of the harder songs, including “Play With Me” by Extreme or “Electric Eye” by Judas Priest are definitely good 80s songs, but of the 30 songs, maybe 10 are instantly recognizable, another 10 or 15 are ones you may have heard on the radio at one point (note, I’m in my 30s, I’ve lived the 80s), and the rest are forgettable. While there’s some master songs here, most are covers, and even worse, they seem to use the so-called radio edit, simply fading out at the end of the song instead of actually ending the song (none of the previous songs in either previous game had this type of edit). Additionally, there are some bad vocals in these covers. I don’t remember any bad vocals previously, but some are too easy to tell, “Radar Love” stands out to me.

Overall: B

The basic gameplay of Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is as perfect as the previous games, but there are issues with this game looking and feeling like a simple expansion pack and yet being sold as a full game. The song list, while suitable for the 80s, is not very strong and just lacks the punch that the other two Guitar Hero games had. I would definitely put this either as a rental, since you can breeze through the short set list quickly, or look for used copies. It’s a good addition to the series, but it would be a bad mistake to pay full price for it.

One Response

  1. I’m really enjoying it myself. I love the songs. I’m 35 and while this stuff wasn’t my first choice of music to listen to back when I was in middle and senior high, it’s very fun and brings back memories of watching Headbanger’s Ball and I’m a huge 80s New Wave fan and I’ve played I Ran, Turning Japanese and Syncronicity II more times than I’d care to admit (I’ve five-starred all of them on hard).

    I don’t think you can really ding the game for being too easy on Medium. All the GH games are easy on Medium. Normally I get a GH game, play it through on Medium and get pissed at myself for not getting my money’s worth. This time I started on Hard and it’s tough.

    I got stuck on the second tier (the Limozeen track) until I remembered you wouldn’t get the boot while star power was activated so I used it to squeak through the guitar solo I couldn’t do at all. haha

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