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Reunion Tour

I've killed a lot of men recently. A lot of men. And frankly, I needed a break. Running a crosshair-burned-into-the-retina eye over what was either already installed on my PC or within easy reach, my options were fairly limited. Guns, swords, magic death powers, psychic fists...Peggle? No. No more Peggle. That's the easy way out.

What's the opposite of violence? Art, perhaps. That's when I realised precisely what the cure to my bloodthirsty blues was. I haven't played Guitar Hero for quite some time. Music will sooth my serial killer's soul. (Bear with me, this will become PC-relevant after the jump).

Trouble is, my dusty Playstation 2 pumps out a haze of blocky, blurry pixelisation on my HDTV so, muttering all the way about it being a horrendous rip-off and how half the best songs aren't on it and if they think I'm buying their offensively overpriced downloadable content too they've got another thing coming and it isn't as good as Rock Band will be, I went out and bought Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360, complete with brand new guitar controller.

A brand new guitar controller with a USB plug on the end of it.

Frets on Fire (FoF), the freeware Guitar Hero clone for PC, was a brief fad late last year, and exactly the kind of thing we'd have banged on about at length on RPS if we'd existed beyond 'maybe a website would be fun' pub-chat then. If you haven't played it yet, go go go. It works with a keyboard, a gamepad, a guitar controller - anything with buttons on, basically. I stopped playing it just a couple of weeks after release however, because I'm a flake like that.

That USB plug served as a reminder of its existence (I had previously played it using a fugly Playstation 2-to-USB adaptor and the older guitar controller), however. The 360 guitar works out of the box in Windows, no drivers required, and I suspect the 360 game itself will remain in the wrapping for a while as a result.

While Frets on Fire itself hasn't, apparently, changed enormously over the last year - the whammy bar and star power raise yer axe heavenwards gimmicks remain tragically absent - what is different is the community. Getting known songs into the game last Winter involved either taking several hours to rip tracks from the PS2 discs, or using Babelfish to translate a Spanish-language FoF forum's registration page. Now? Hoo-boy.

I'm not going to tell you where I went to find gigabytes upon gigabytes of kindly FoF-formatted interactive rock, but you know the kind of hives of scum and villainy I mean, I'm sure. The point is this: I am all better now. I have played Fortunate Son. I have played Jailhouse Rock. I have played Folsom Prison Blues. I have played, improbably, Classical Gas and the theme tune to Biker Mice from Mars. I AM STRONG. More importantly, I am now ready to play Team Fortress 2 again.

Update - actually acting something like a journalist for once, I did some more reading around FoF, and turns out there's now a load of mods for it, which manage to make it far more exciting in both appearance and play than the vanilla version. I'm currently using this one , which tarts up the visuals - specifically to look more like Guitar Hero - and restores the missing hammer on/hammer off trick. FoF is much better for it. Observe:

What a lot of words to say 'hey, go play Frets on Fire again' that was. Sorry.

Bonus treat - here's me filming (and occasionally muttering in a charmless monotone at) former PC Format Games-king, and now Creative Assembly staffer, James Carey, as he demonstrates a custom Frets on Fire controller, diligently and impressively constructed by merging an old joystick and a kid's toy guitar into a functional Frankenstein.

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About the Author
Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.