It's cheap, it's glam, it's pretty much just a new setlist for those who loved the 80s rock. But it's not anything special...Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s
is what I'm talking about, of course. The reason I'm saying it's cheap is because here in Norway, it only costs 350 NKR, or 500 NKR if you buy a set with the game and a guitar. To give you a clue, most new console games here costs 500 NKR in themselves (sometimes even 600 NKR), and the previous GH game sets with guitars, when new, had the cost of 800 NKR. Just telling you this because apparently, the price was significantely closer to a normal game in the US market. ;)
So, it's significantely cheaper (in Norway), and thus, you pretty much know from the start that there really won't be anything new in here, apart from the songs, of course. And nothing new includes no new sets or guitars or stuff, they're just reusing the stages etc. from GH2, putting in a few superficial changes so you won't forget this is the 80s. That, and a couple of new messages during the loading screen. Yep, this is an expansion, all right.
So, basically, what you want to know is: How does the setlist hold up? Well, on the good hand, there's no musical atrocity like "Killing in the Name of". Big, big plus right there. There is less of the really heavy metal around. There's also no list of unknown bands with songs to unlock, which may seem a bit bad at first. Of course, I didn't like more than a few of the bonus songs in either of the previous games ("Red Lottery" in particular offending my ears until I almost kicked my PS2 for not stopping it.), but the few I liked - "Even Rats" and "Push Push, Lady Lightning" comes to mind here - I also liked very, very much.
And that sort of illustrates the other side of the coin in general. While there aren't any complete bombs, there really aren't any top songs either. For example., "18 and life" by Skid Row is a good power ballad. A very good power ballad, in fact. But it's just not a great
power ballad, the same way "Carry on Wayward Son" is.
And while it's expected that you'll have less variety in the previous games (it's a theme expansion, after all, even if the theme is a decade), it still doesn't bode well when you're on some song on the 3rd setlist that you have a feeling that you played a few times in the 1st and 2nd set as well...
Perhaps worse is the combination of less variety and also a setlist that is only well-known to the really hardcore 80s rockers. Now, it's not that Twisted Sister's "I wanna rock" is really any worse or better than "We're not gonna take it", musically speaking. But if there are less songs that stands out as reckognisable, then I think it's getting more important that they are at least reckognised, and giving more than the said hardcore 80s fans something to get nostalgic about. "We're not gonna take it" is more than a rock song, it's rock history. That's why it should have been in this game.
As for the gameplay difficulty, I happily skipped both Easy and Medium, and can't tell you a thing about those. This time around, there seems to be a bit of a bigger gap between Hard and Expert, compared to GH2. Which I think is a good thing, because the latter could be a bit too tough for new players on Hard ("Woman", I'm looking at you.). Still, when you get to the later sets on Expert, you'll have to be ready for, amongst other things, some three-string chord combos that can be a bit diabolical. It's not going to be the same skill test GH2 was, but then again, you can hardly get much more difficult than some of the stuff in that game without putting on more fret buttons.
Another small difference is that there is less of a problem with the relative volumes changing, the way they'd often do in GH2. It's not entirely gone, though, and I would have expected at least that.
In the end, though, it's the lack of the top songs that really does it in for this game. It simply is too forgettable when the variety in the setlist lessens so much, and without anything really new at all in the gameplay to compensate. It sort of falls in between the two chairs of the party-friendly GH1, and the skill-testing GH2. I played it for a week, and while I enjoyed myself, it didn't really leave an impact, and then I plain forgot about it for a while. And the next time my fingers itched for some rock, I played GH1 and 2 instead.
But hey, at least I got it quite cheap.