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Critical Reception: Activision's Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the Guitar Hero II semi-sequel Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, a release that critics describe as "a quick-and-dirty cash-in" that should nevertheless be "as fun as eve
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the Guitar Hero II semi-sequel Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, a release that critics describe as "a quick-and-dirty cash-in" that should nevertheless be "as fun as ever" for series fans. Described by some as a stopgap release of sorts between Guitar Hero II and the upcoming Guitar Hero III, Rocks the 80s appeals to series fan requests with a reskinned Guitar Hero II that features a tracklist consisting entirely of music from the 1980s. This approach does not appear to be resonating particularly well with critics, however. Despite Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II receiving near-universal acclaim, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s only manages to pull in an average review score ratio of 74 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. IGN's Chris Roper scores Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s at 7.2 out of 10, despite penning a largely negative review. "Think you can ever get enough of Guitar Hero?" he asks. "We don't, so long as RedOctane and company keep kicking out killer track lists." "Unfortunately," Roper continues, "that's not exactly the case with Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s." Roper explains that much of the music from the 1980s is not especially conducive to Guitar Hero's gameplay. "While the previous two titles had multiple decades' worth of music to select from, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s was stuck dead in the center of the music fad that everyone hates to love," he says. "In the '80s, guitar solos, interesting passages and the like were hard to find, at least in the mainstream hits that games like this need to be based on." The result? "More than half of the songs found here are flat-out boring to play, and once you've gotten through them, you'll very likely never go back." Roper argues that the underlying gameplay is still fun at its core, but given the quality of previous Guitar Hero installments, Rocks the 80s doesn't measure up. "Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s is certainly a disappointing release in one of the most fun and refreshing franchises we've seen anytime lately," he concludes. "It's fun, but it doesn't hold a candle to the previous two releases." GameSpot's Alex Navarro also notes disappointment throughout his 7-out-of-10 review. "You knew this day would come," he begins on a bitter note, "the day when Guitar Hero went the way of other popular rhythm game franchises, releasing pseudo-sequels and expansions that are really just batches of new songs with little to nothing in the way of gameplay or feature upgrades." Navarro takes greatest issue with Rocks the 80s' price. "There's a good chunk of significant '80s hits on here, as well as a few inspired, lesser-known choices," he admits, "but at a price tag of $50, 30 mostly solid songs doesn't sound like such a great deal." Otherwise, Navarro describes Rocks the 80s' tracklist as a solid mix of both "big-time hits," and a number of songs "that might not be immediately familiar but are a lot of fun to play." "Ultimately, Rocks the 80s is for Guitar Hero diehards only," Navarro warns. "There are some excellent songs in here, to be sure, and the gameplay is as fun as ever. But with such a decisive lack of content compared with other GH releases, not to mention the slightly insane price tag, Rocks the 80s feels like a quick-and-dirty cash-in." Garnett Lee at 1UP weighs in with a score of 7.5 out of 10. Like IGN's reviewer Chris Roper, Lee feels that Rocks the 80s suffers the most for its inconsistent songlist. "One minute, you're jamming to Poison -- the next, you're trying to figure out if you can just use the remote to flip when Scandal comes on," he writes. "You can take a bucket of '80s rock, fling it against the wall, and come up with a better song selection." "The disappointment hits all the harder when you get deeper into the game, because when Rocks the 80s does click on some of the songs, you get a glimpse of how epic it could've been," Lee continues. "All that rock from the heyday of the Sunset Strip suits Guitar Hero to a T. The crunching power chords make you feel like a badass and help build up your rock meter. And then the searing solos, with their long runs of hammer-ons, push you right to the breaking point before hitting the next chorus and a chance to recharge." Lee explains that the strength of Guitar Hero's gameplay allows Rocks the 80s to rise above its shortcomings, however. "All the rest of the game elements work well," he says. "This is basically Guitar Hero II with a new set of songs. That means you get all of its improvements, from practice mode to cooperative two-player jams with one person on lead and the other on bass or rhythm guitar." "It does mix in enough good tunes that PS2 guitar owners will want it in their library -- just when the price comes down a hair," Lee advises. "Even scalpers don't get face-value price for the encore." The criticism leveled at Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s stands in stark contrast to the praise lavished upon earlier entries in the series, but reviewers seem hesitant to pan it outright. Though it's likely to be a disappointment to many players, Rocks the 80s could be a worthwhile investment for series fans, assuming that its weak tracklist is not a concern. Otherwise, many critics advise to wait on a price drop for what is essentially an expansion pack of questionable merit.

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