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Guitar Hero: Aerosmith: Playin' in Pandora's Box
Company: Activision

Aerosmith's album Get a Grip was the first CD I bought and quickly made me a fan of the group. It seems fitting then that one of my favorite groups would also find its way into one of my favorite games, Guitar Hero. While the group has already had two songs appear in previous games, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is the first "band centric" release in the Guitar Hero series and although it might seem like a spruced up re-release of Guitar Hero III, it is actually much more than that. Similar to the third game, the Aerosmith edition features a number of play modes such as Quick Play and Multiplayer, but the real heart of the game is its Career Mode, which is where the game takes a bit of a departure from the norm.

After selecting from one of the Guitar Hero characters that have appeared in past games, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith breaks into a short Flash-style animation building up to the band's debut at the Nipmuc High School in 1970. During the opening set list, you'll play as part of the opening band and perform from a selection of non-Aerosmith songs. Although Aerosmith's music is a major part of the game, there's about a 60 - 40 split between Aerosmith music and songs from other groups. All of the additional songs are brand-new to the series and, like many of the venues that appear as stages in the game, each has some sort of tie to the band. Some of the songs are from other groups, many of which at one point in their careers opened for Aerosmith. These include groups like The White Stripes, Joan Jett, Lenny Kravitz and The Clash.

After playing two songs from the opening set list, Aerosmith makes a dramatic entrance into the arena, kicking off a selection of Aerosmith classics. During the first section, you play as lead guitarist Joe Perry, though you'll eventually unlock Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford as well. Although some of the songs were still locked away in the vault, the selection of playable songs is impressive and covers nearly all of the group's most well-recognized songs, including "Sweet Emotion", "Love in an Elevator", "Livin' on the Edge" and "Dream On". At one point in the game, Run DMC makes an appearance for "Walk this Way", after which Reverend Run becomes a playable character.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, the mechanics are similar to Guitar Hero III, though with a few adjustments. Button response is a little tighter compared to GH III, which makes things like hammer-ons and pull-offs a little more responsive. The difficulty has also been reworked a bit. While it sometimes takes one or two plays before I can knock out songs, I was able to jump right into the new set list on Medium without much of an issue. While the Hard and Expert levels are still extremely challenging, they don't feel as intimidating and by the end of the evening, I found myself venturing into the two modes for longer periods of time.

After the opening venue, the game takes a "Behind the Music" style approach with each section of the game, chronicling a different part of the band's history. Of everything I saw from the game, this was the one that excited me the most and was something that I hoped would be included. Each section takes place at a different venue that plays an important part of their career, including stages from the "9 Lives" and "Just Push Play" tours, as well as the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show.

Every section is also introduced by a short vignette made up of brand-new interview footage featuring members of the band as they recollect on each stage of their career. While the group has had its fair share of drama, the game takes an upbeat approach to their career, highlighting the positive points of their careers. The interviews are really fun to watch and full of all kinds of neat info. Sometimes the features focus on specific album releases or major concerts, while others will tell the story about certain songs. During the first video, Steven Tyler mentions the story behind the song, "No Surprize", which details the groups' big break. While I can see a few players choosing to skip through these sections, they're worth a watch since they build a better connection to the songs featured in the next section.

According to RedOctane, Aerosmith took an active role in the game's development. In addition to providing master recordings for tracks featured in the game, they also went into the studio to re-record some of the songs from earlier in their career. Joe Perry also went through and re-mastered several of the lead guitar parts of the songs in order for them to work better with the gameplay.

Similar to Bret Michaels and Slash in Guitar Hero III, the entire band participated in motion capturing sessions; front man Steven Tyler even went through facial motion capturing and lip-synced all of the songs. These little details are what really help to make the game stand out. In addition to accurate representations of the band members, all of the venues are designed to be as accurate as possible to the source material. For example, Max's Kansas City, the club where Aerosmith got its first big break, was recreated using pictures and You Tube footage of the club during the 70's when the band played there.

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is slated for release on July 29 and will ship as both a standalone game as well as in a Special Edition set that comes with an Aerosmith-branded guitar controller as well as a collectable Tour Book with photos and information on the group.

While it might seem like Guitar Hero in a new sash and scarf-accented package, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is much more than that. Whether you're an Aerosmith fan, or just a fan of Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith looks like it is on track to be the series' next "big one".

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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