There's a preconceived notion that '80s music is all about one-hit-wonders and bubblegum pop. But "We Got the Beat," "Turning Japanese," and "I Ran (So Far Away)" are the only tunes in Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s likely to be spun at a retro prom. The rest ricochet between punk, thrash, radio rock, and hair metal, following the same something-for-everyone song-selection ethos that helped make the series a smash hit.
But in spite of some excellent, offbeat choices (like X's "Los Angeles" and Dead Kennedys' "Police Truck") the track list feels full of double-dips. Devoted Guitar Hero shredders have already rocked tracks by The Police, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden. And Krokus' cover of "Ballroom Blitz" is a cheap workaround of the game's self-imposed '80s-only rule. The larger issue is how little new content went into this expansion. The venues, menus, and characters are recycled from Guitar Hero II, with cursory bits of nostalgia slapped on top. Some of the additions are clever, like the tombstone stage prop etched with the letters PMRC. But these efforts don't do much to differentiate the game from other games. In fact, the preponderance of rock poster art makes the game feel like Guitar Hero 90s Rocks the 80s. Prior entries gave players a slew of playable songs by indie artists after they conquered the game. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s must have blown its bonus-track budget on hairspray and Spandex.
Beyond the game: The Guitar Hero series has long been a collaboration between music-game maker Harmonix and peripheral manufacturer Red Octane. The two have split: Harmonix moved on to make Rock Band with EA, while Red Octane has allied with Activision to continue making Guitar Hero games. This game is the last to involve both parties. Hence the last-album-prior-to-breakup vibe.
Worth playing for: As a guitar-god simulator, this follow-up tickles all the right pleasure sensors. Strumming power chords, executing hammer-ons, and nailing difficult solos still feels good.
Frustration sets in when: Guitar Hero II's "Free Bird" is a tough act to follow. As a final encore, Extreme's virtuoso but extremely cheesy "Play With Me" doesn't seem worth the lighter fluid.
Final judgment: With no additional songs and a steep price tag, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s is a disappointment of The Spaghetti Incident? proportions.