E3 Preview: Guitar Hero: World Tour

When Harmonix split from Activision to create Rock Band and the publisher handed the Guitar Hero reigns over to Neversoft, there was a lot of consternation. Could these developers, best known for the Tony Hawk games, really take the world’s leading rhythm franchise and keep it relevant now that the masterminds behind it had moved on? As the gaming world watched, Neversoft presented Guitar Hero 3, which was quickly deemed a worthy offering to the series. While it wasn’t perfect, the game was quite good for a first outing, and the team promised to only get better as time went on. Now, we prepare to welcome Guitar Hero: World Tour into the world, and it looks like the developers are ready to deliver on their lofty promises.

Obviously, the biggest difference between this game and previous entrants is that it’s no longer just about the guitar. Activision and Neversoft saw how wildly successful Rock Band became with the introduction of drums and a microphone, so the Guitar Hero franchise will be jumping on the bandwagon as well. To that end, World Tour will introduce a sweet new drum set that attempts to make the experience a little more “real.” Don’t think Activision is resting on their laurels when it comes to the guitar though, as the latest version packs the most innovation since the introduction of five colored buttons and a strum bar.

In fact, the guitar is a good place to start, since it’s seen some major overhauls in the past year. First off, it’s no longer a Gibson model (due to an ongoing lawsuit with the guitar manufacturer), but rather a more general and generic axe. It still has a nice aesthetic to it though, so don’t worry about getting some homely, unshapely guitar just because it doesn’t have the Gibson name on it. As for functionality, the team has introduced a new Star Power button near the strum bar, as well as a touch-sensitive neck which will allow for sick slides, wild finger-tapping solos, and a ton of creative freedom in the music creation mode (more on that in a bit). The new neck is really the standout feature, allowing for more complex (and ultimately rewarding) solos and note runs, making the series’ already notoriously difficult songs all the more taxing on Expert difficulty.

While the guitar is much-improved, the drums are brand new territory altogether, and Activision is looking to get it right the first time around when it comes to these babies. Featuring three super-quiet, velocity-sensitive silicon rubber pads as well as two adjustable cymbals and a kick pedal, the kit is looking to distinguish itself from the competition right off the bat. Also included in the back of the set are a number of ports, one for a high hat attachment, another to support a second bass pedal (so you can double kick your way through those really tough tracks), as well as a MIDI jack that will allow you to plug in an actual electronic drum set and rock out with a professional kit if you are so inclined. The set offers both form and functionality in one set, and even if you already own another drum kit, it’s going to be real hard to pass up this set of plastic and rubber.

As for the music, Activision is promising 85 original master recordings to comprise the new set list for World Tour, featuring greats such as The Doors, The Eagles, and Van Halen. While they weren’t ready to reveal the full track listing yet, we can confirm the existence of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” because we saw it being performed live at the press conference. And after watching the Neversoft team tackle it on Expert, we can safely say that those who were hoping this game would be easier than the teeth-gnashingly difficult Guitar Hero 3 should go ahead and schedule an appointment with their dentists, as this one is probably even harder. Remember the wall of notes from Guitar Hero 2’s “Jordan?” Yeah, this is just about as bad. Regardless of difficulty, though, the fact remains that the Guitar Hero franchise will once again be delivering a top-notch set list full of acts you’ve been dying to emulate in your living room.

If you’re the type who’s tired of playing everyone else’s songs and would rather make music of your own, World Tour introduces what can best be described as a breathlessly comprehensive music creation studio which will basically allow you to take all your wildest visions and make them come true. We watched as the design team picked out notes, scales, and rhythms and laid down tracks to serve as the building blocks of a song. It’s safe to say that this mode is extensive enough that you can replicate just about any actual song already out there in Guitar Hero format, as well as let your own visions take root to create brand new masterpieces. Also, for anyone who wants to dabble with this mode without going into full-blown creation, the game features tons of guitar and drum samples that you can control simply by tapping a spot on the guitar neck or hitting a drumhead.

We mentioned above how the touch neck on the guitar will serve a major role in music creation, and its implementation allows you to really create unique works. Holding the guitar level and touching the neck will give you various notes and chords, while tilting it up or down will change the octaves. You can also jump into the studio menus and give your guitar, bass or drums a number of different effects and styles, allowing you to absolutely nail the exact sound you were going for.

In a way, it would be easy to get upset at Activision and Neversoft for creating a game featuring what is essentially a whole new suite of instruments and asking me to fork over another $200 to play, but that’s not the point. We constantly knock game franchises for refusing to innovate and trying to cash in on the same ideas over and over again (see any sports series published by EA), and then demand we get something different. That is exactly what World Tour has to offer. With a new and improved guitar and a drum set that rivals anything else out there, the team has not only stepped up to Rock Band’s precedent, but possibly even nudged the bar a bit higher still. While it’s still much too soon to pass judgment on which franchise is going to win this round, Guitar Hero wants everyone to remember that it was the first to bring rhythm gaming to the mainstream and it remains the current top-seller, and it surely won’t go down without a fight.

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