Will it work? Can it work? Do we even want DJ Hero to work? It’s fair to say that Activision’s follow-up to the mammoth Guitar Hero could be a tough sell. The rock god ideal is more universally aspirational than the superstar DJ archetype, and rock music is arguably more ingrained in the public consciousness than club tunes are. And how much fun can pretending to mix records by twiddling knobs on toy turntable be, anyway?
So before we saw the game in action, it’s fair to say that we were expecting a car crash. A horrible, gimmicky, cash-in-too-far car crash. But now that we get it, we love it, and we can’t wait to get hands-on for a proper session. So much so, in fact, that we honestly think it could be the new Guitar Hero in a couple of years’ time. Read on to find out why.
The aim is to blend two tunes together to create an almighty musical mash-up and send the onscreen clubbers into an ecstatic frenzy of laser-lit beat-lust. At the most basic level, you’ll do this by using the controller’s cross-fader to alternate which record is dominant in the mix while tapping the buttons on the turntable to match beats. So far, so GH. But the extra bells and whistles on DJ Hero’s imitation turntable open up a myriad more exciting and tactile possibilities.
While DJ Hero’s mixes come in ready-made form, reproducing them in the game looks to offer a whole lot more scope for improvisation. Perhaps reacting to repeated criticisms that GH is an exercise in Simon Says, FreeStyleGames has catered for as many of the creative elements of DJing as possible. As such, you’ll be able apply your own selection of audio filters, manually select and drop in spot samples on the fly, scratch, and even physically spin the turntable backwards to rewind and replay sections of the mix for big points.
All of these actions require the right on-screen prompts or the filling of Star Power-style meters, but the potential they add for personalising your performances absolutely puts Guitar Hero to shame. Imagine meticulously building up an infectious beat pattern, bringing the crowd to the brink of madness with increasing distortion and sample effects, then slapping down a big fat beat with precision timing and knowing that the mix is uniquely your own. That’s the feeling DJH is going for. It might be more complex than hitting buttons and strumming a bar, but it could turn out to be massively more rewarding.
When many GH players first heard about DJ Hero, their initial reaction was a disgusted yelp of “Urgh. Bleepy music”. But simplistic attitudes towards dance music aside those doubters needn’t have worried. DJ Hero is about mixing music tracks together, not producing electronica, and the overall spread of sounds could be one of the most eclectically crowd-pleasing we’ve yet seen in a music game. David Bowie rubs shoulders with Nirvana, Blondie, Gorillaz, 50 Cent and Marvin Gaye, and it’s a long time since any of them sounded this fresh.
If you’ve ever heard DJ Shadow’s seminal Entroducing album you’ll have an idea of what to expect – indeed, Mr. Shadow has provided five mixes himself. Massively disparate dance, rock, hip hop and instrumental tunes are sliced, diced and rearranged to make complimentary new sounds that the original artists never even imagined. So while you might turn up your nose at some of the artists on the play list – our Gwen Stefani detector triggered a code red at first – the form in which you’ll be ‘playing’ them will be unrecognisable. And brilliant, from what we’ve heard so far.