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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Review- DJ Hero [Xbox 360]

Publisher: Activision
Developer: FreeStyleGames
Released: 29th October 2009
Other Formats: PS2, PS3, Wii

Like most gamers, upon the announcement of DJ Hero, I shook my head, went about my daily business, and laughed at the mere mention of the game. Well, how wrong could I have been!? It's difficult to think of a game recently that has really had be so enveloped in its up-taking. From my first scratch on the plastic turntable, to my first successful and tricky cross-fade at the left of the controller, every portion of the game has taken me by storm, literally.

It's not that the soundtrack had me particularly rushing out to go pick up the game, because most of it is dross and way out of sync to my musical tastes, although it has to be said that some mixes are superb and hugely playable! From Black Eyed Peas and Jackson 5, to Eminem, via David Guetta, it's all here- dance to hip hop, R n' B to pop. Some tunes are actually insanely catchy once replayed, yearning for the five gold stars, that actually the original track listings that had you wincing, will (after a sustained period of time), have you bobbing your head to its rhythmic beats and ear-deafening bass.

Like Guitar Hero that came before it, playing DJ Hero for the first time is a fantastic experience. The turntable in fact is so well designed and easy to use that it will immediately become apparent what is required to really get the most out of the game. The 'note highway' is justified in being uniquely similar to its instrumental counterpart, although now the cross-fader acts as a switch between the two tracks within each mix- a line will mark where this needs to be adjusted (resulting in an endlessly satisfying silence as one track resonates!) Difficult to handle at first, the slider is one of DJ Hero's most entertaining skill aspects to hone for its sheer simplistic nature that is rewarding to pull off yet tremendously difficult to master. Of course, when one thinks of being a DJ, the record scratch always comes to mind- this is a large part of the game also, with the revolving turntable (also host to the three coloured buttons), having to be 'scratched' where a continuous line joins the highway. More forgiving on Medium difficulty (where the deck can be scratched either way), the game gets much more difficult through 'Hard' and the outrageous 'Expert' modes- where the turntable will need to be scratched in specific directions! The 'Euphoria' button acts as Guitar Hero's equivalent 'Star Power', where the multiplier doubles for a short amount of time for the best scores to be achieved, although the addition of a 'rewind' mechanic (through a anti-clockwise turn of the decks), also has the same impact, playing the same piece of the track back again for dramatic score bonuses. It's when you really become accustomed to the DJ controller that the game comes into its own, where every scratch, slide, and rewind blend into a superior experience than what can be given by its full band counterpart. As much as I enjoy Rock Band and Guitar Hero, nothing has connected with me quite so much as getting to grips with the controller, where I retry thumping track after track for a high score- often resulting in lost hours of time and aching fingers to boot.

Progression through the career unlocks further venues and set-lists through the granting of stars (a total of 5 per track). The recent band games have instead opted for an 'all is unlocked' approached from the very beginning of each of their new titles, which I feel is a huge misstep. Not only do players instead get to experience all that the licensed tracks have to give, but the overbearing sense of skill progression is also extremely better off. The developers seem to have taken notice of many flaws of other rhythm-action titles, where severe difficulty spikes hinder the overall experience- instead, FreeStyleGames give a more suited playing field for players to accustom themselves to the controller, from the first scratch to 'Expert' difficulty, a smooth transition.

In other aspects of the game, the presentation is top-notch and seething with quality. From the clean and clear ability to flick through un-fussy menus, to the strobe lighting effects and graphical package of the on-stage DJ set, everything just seems to coalesce into a complete, and exceptional whole. In addition to the wealth of modes, from its single player career, to competitive and cooperative online and offline modes (including a 'DJ vs. DJ' mode), DJ Hero also gives players the option to plug in a guitar for mixes that enable the riff between DJ and guitar (a total of 10 songs), or a microphone for your non-scoring pleasure.

My final verdict comes as no surprise, DJ Hero is undoubtedly worthy of a buy. At £30, I'm certainly not complaining- in fact, it stands far above and beyond what I was expecting for the price. I'd heard good things, but nothing can truly match the feeling when you first put the game into the drive and unravel all that the game has to offer.

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