Frets on Fire (Windows)

Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  St. Martyne (3655)
Written on  :  Sep 16, 2007
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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Who said PC gamers can’t be heroes of rock guitar?

The Good

I’ve always been a bit envious for those lucky ones who managed to get their hands on one of two Guitar Hero games. It’s not that I was too desperate to play it someday, just a feeling that I’m missing out something important and cool. So while all the people around were banging their plastic guitars upon the wall, I just recited for a thousand time, why I think those console toys are inferior to PC.

I would’ve given up all hope in the end, if not for Frets On Fire. The game starts very strong. It says that you don’t need a stupid toy guitar to enjoy it, just take your trusty keyboard and rock the world with all your might. I might be called a retrograde or a PC chauvinist, but it’s thousands times cooler to play your own keyboard than a guitar which looks like it was stolen from the nearby children garden.

Anyway, next thing that should be remembered about Frets On Fire, it’s that while it rip-offs Guitar Hero core gameplay almost bit to bit, it doesn’t have anything extra on top of it. You don’t have to buy anything, there’s no any career to pursue. Just you, your keyboard, a song and a world waiting to be impressed. You might wonder why I am writing this in a good section. Well because, I tend to agree with Indra Depari in his Guitar Hero review that everything else that is not related to guitar-riffing fun feels artificial and in the end simply distract from the game itself. So yes, we don’t need fancy Barbi-style customization on PC.

Which brings to the next point. The whole feel of the game has been changed to suit the style of PC as of gaming platform. Imagine Guitar Hero with no glamour, shiny cover, toxic bliss and cheap effects and you will get Frets On Fire. Spartan, stern, mature and completely home-brew. No one is going to entertain you, you will have to work to get something back from this game. That of course includes songs. Three songs supplied with the game won’t be enough for anyone. So after you’ve mastered all of them be prepared to embark on the epic journey of finding additional songs on the endless plains of the Internet. Depending on how fruitful your search shall be, you will either love this game or hate it. I was lucky enough and managed to find all the songs I thought about playing and lots of cool original songs written specifically for this game. Of course, the availability of easily accessible user-created content is one more thing that separates Frets On Fire from its commercial console progenitor.

Oh, and you can import Guitar Hero songs here too. Isn’t that cool?

The Bad

Well, no. It isn’t. Since I can’t imagine what a console gamer (the one having those Guitar hero discs) in his right (and even wrong) mind would want to do with this game. Which is so PC-like that it will scare of any console fan, who can’t tell a Mac from PC, in the wink of an eye. Consider this: loads upon loads of tweaking, exhaustible search for content, amateurish, home-brew quality of that content, occasional drops to the desktop.

And most importantly this console gamer kid simply won’t find that bit in keyboard’s manual which will tell him that using it in such an unusual manner won’t void it’s warranty. I don’t want to sound like a snob. But those of you enjoying your plastic guitars in front of TVs, really, shouldn’t bother.

Another thing which is not necessarily bad, is that neither Frets On Fire nor Guitar Heroes can’t even be called games. They’re just toys that might be fun for a couple of nights. But in the end, you shouldn’t spend too much time on any of them. Trust me there will always be much more interesting, rewarding and intelligent games to be experienced both on PC and console, than this mindless button-mashing.

However FoF doesn’t pretend to be something else (unlike Guitar Hero) so I don’t hold that against it in particular.

The Bottom Line

I’ve been playing a real guitar for 10 years. Without false modesty I’m safe to say that I am able to do it pretty well. So, allow me to put it this way: although most of the time you will spend feeling that you’re playing some kind of overlong QTE from, say, Shenmue, occasionally, in the flash of inspiration, you will think that you are playing a real guitar in front of 50 thousand full stadium. And in those moments you truly are a rock star.

Add to this feeling an unlimited number of songs available on the net and sheer creativity with which the input controller problem was brilliantly resolved, and you’ll see why this game might easily hook you up for almost a week straight.

Let me end this review with a short excerpt from AC/DC song [with my own humble bits]:

Hey there, all you middle men [and console kids]
Throw away your fancy clothes [and fancy toy guitars]
And while you're out there sittin' on a fence [and before your TVs]
So get off your ass and come down here [to your monitors]
'Cause rock 'n' roll ain't no riddle man [neither are your keyboards]
To me it makes good, good sense
Good sense.

We're just talkin' about the future
Forget about the past
It'll always be with us
It's never gonna die, never gonna die

Rock 'n' roll ain't noise pollution
Rock 'n' roll ain't gonna die. [not with games like Frets On Fire around]