Published on November 7th, 2009 | by prime0
Summary: DJ Hero evokes that magical sensation of making you feel like you’re directly involved with the creations of the music
We’ve got to ask… What’s so heroic about mixing up beats on a podium, or indeed, knocking out riffs on a stage? It’s a moot point we realize, but having said that, the latest in Activisions’s multi-million selling Hero series asks us to switch our plastic guitars, drums and mics for a plastic turntable.
Unlike Guitar Hero, DJ is obviously much more of a niche title. Its collection of music is relatively more adult – JAY-Z collides with Eminem in one particularly strong mix, while beats from 50 Cent, Dizzee Rascal and 2Pac crop up elsewhere along the way, though you do still get the odd pop mash-up at points – Rihanna meets The Killers, anyone? And there’s the obvious matter of the underground club scene being far from the family-friendly delight of Taylor Swift dancing about a firework-lit stage. Instead, DJ Hero is a game thoroughly in tune with both its audience and, thankfully, its music.
Having never DJ’d ourselves – something we’d be willing to bet is the case for 99% of you lot, too – the prospect of DJ Hero can seem slightly intimidating at first. And it is, as for the first half hour or so you’ll be left dazed and confused, wondering what each button does and how each individual component of the turntable has its own effect on the music. But then it will all click together perfectly. The crossfader, the effect it has on the mix and how it’s all displayed on the screen will suddenly make sense; the scratching mechanics will feel like second nature; you’; have that sudden realization that you know what you’re doing, and that proud sense of the music playing through your speakers feeling like your creation will suddenly wash over you.
And that’s the core difference between this and Guitar Hero. DJ evokes that magical sensation – particularly on the higher tier difficulties – of making you feel like being directly involved with the creation of the music, and that you aren’t just pushing buttons to the beat in some ‘Simon Says’ rhythm action game – even though that is ultimately what DJ Hero still is. We can’t quite put our finger on why exactly that is. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of things that need doing (rather than requiring simple one-dimensional button presses like Guitar Hero, DJ requires considerably more hand-eye-coordination to pull off its array of button taps, crossfading, sampling, scratching and rewinds), perhaps it’s the ability to lay soundbites over the top of the mix at will, or being able to rewind the track slightly to rack up more points. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll (quite surprisingly) star to feel like a ‘proper’ DJ and have an understanding and a respect, for how it all works in real life – something Guitar Hero and the like could never even hope to achieve within the world rock.
Which is why perhaps we feel slightly let down by the hardware. For the price (and DJ Hero is costly) we’d have expected the decks to put in a better performance than they do. It feels solid enough, and the turntable acts exactly as you’d expect, but the crossfader feels far too loose, often meaning that you’ll unwittingly push it too far past the centre point, thus losing your notestreak through no real fault of your own. Early reports of the sampler knob breaking after only a handful of uses don’t exactly inspire us with confidence either.
Other areas of fault lie within the game’s structure. The game lacks any sign of a career mode and with it, any sense of progression, instead forcing gig after gig upon the player with very limited reward. The vast amount of mixes (almost 100) and occasional cameo appearances from real-life DJs help alleviate the game’s repetitiveness slightly, but not quite as much as we’d have liked. And given the nature of the music (the relative lack of back catalogue and the high expense – we imagine – of creating new mixes specifically for the game) we also can’t see the DJ Hero music library filling up as thick or as fast as that of Guitar Hero’s despite the boatload of downloadable content promised in the months following the release.
And it’s because of these inherent limitations that we think DJ Hero will struggle to find its spot in the marketplace. It doesn’t have that same level of instant appeal as its older brother, and the bespoke piece of hardware means that this sub-genre is significantly less open to exploitation as the original Guitar Hero ever was.
But, if you’re looking to expand your musical prowess into the world of mixing, DJ Hero’s fantastic place to start. It deserves a large degree of success, as the show on offer here is stronger and more confident than that even of the original Guitar Hero, and one that carries a firm understanding of the music and its audience. Forgive it its shortfall and you’ll find the strongest new candidate in the rhythm action scene since Rock Band. Move over Guitar Hero… there’s a new Hero in town.