The battle of bands has officially come full circle. With Rock Band 2 on the market for around a month, it’s time for Guitar Hero World Tour to step up to the plate. Does the latest Guitar Hero live up to the hype, or does it fall short?
Guitar Hero World Tour is a great game, there is no question about that. It offers all the great things you would expect from a music game, and a great number of things you wouldn’t — such as a music creator. It does the most important thing well, and that is “be fun to play.” The note charts in Guitar Hero are spot on, offering a good level of challenge on expert without being overwhelming on the easier difficulties. They even added another difficulty level called beginner and it scales back a little farther from easy. So if you are just starting off with music games in general, you can get used to the feel of it easier than ever. In terms of just jumping and playing a song, and having that song just feel right, Guitar Hero World Tour is better than any other music game on the market. At the end of the day playability is the most important aspect of a music game, but it’s not the only aspect, as there a ton of other feature that gamers expect from a game like this, such as a great track list, a solid career mode, and great multiplayer. Some of these the game has, but on a few it falls short of the mark.
The first thing a lot people are going to care about is the track list, and while much of this is a matter of musical taste, the track list in the game is very diverse and offers something for everyone, no matter what your musical inclinations. (I was personally most excited to see Bullet for My Valentine make their way into the game.) Whether you like Willie Nelson or Tool, there is something in there for you, and with download content there are sure to be a lot of songs that will get you excited to play for some time to come. Much like Rock Band, World Tour features a DLC store, and we can only hope that they will keep the store updated with a near-Rock Band frequency. (As of writing, there have been three sets of DLC released: an REM pack, a classic rock pack, and the carried over Metallica album.)
While they have experience on the DLC front, you can tell that this is Neversoft’s first venture into a game designed to be played with a complete band because there are some issues. For example, when playing with your whole band whenever you get star power it goes into the star power bank. However, when one member of the band uses star power it offers no benefit to the other members of the band, so if you are on the verge of failing out and someone else uses your last bit of star power, you’re done for. Unlike Rock Band, one person failing isn’t a minor inconvenience which can be rectified by activating star power; if a single bandmate fails, it’s game over for the entire band. This is frustrating enough on its own, but it can also be a little tough to tell if a member of your band is failing because your note track doesn’t blink or anything to warn you of the impending doom. When you are playing as a band, it feels more like every man for himself rather then a group venture, and that’s just not right.
In spite of some of the problems in band mode they really did a great job with the customization aspect of the game. As you would expect your rocker can be customized with clothes, hair styles and facial features. They let you tinker with every last detail from the color of your eyes to the size of your chin. The one thing I did not expect was the level of customization included for your instruments. Instead of just going into a store and buying a new guitar or drum set, you can design them however you want, with all kinds of color schemes and graphics and truly make them your own.
It’s unfortunate, but while the character customization is fantastic, a huge area that Guitar Hero World Tour falls short in is the career mode. In the career, you look at a bulletin board with a bunch of places looking for performers, and you pick one and play it. Most of these options are short three or four song sets with an encore. It’s not necessarily a bad way to set up the career mode, but with Rock Band 2 offering the ability to hire staff, earn planes and buses and all of that, this method of just playing sets and unlocking songs just feels kind of dated. With the great set list and their superior note tracking, it seems like such a waste to have such a lack-luster and played out career mode. It’s not that the career mode isn’t fun to play, because it still is, but I expected a little more innovation out of Neversoft.
It is still fun to get your buddies together and jump into quick play and play a few songs. Now, rather than picking only one song in quick play, World Tour allows players to choose up to six to keep the music constantly flowing. With the stellar track list, I had a ton of fun having people over and rocking out. Just keep in mind that your career mode with multiple people is separate from your solo career, so any progress you make while playing with friends will not help your solo progress, so your best bet is to just unlock all the songs when you’re alone and select the quick play mode to play with friends.
The online multiplayer in the game isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done. There are several modes available such as Face Off and Pro Face Off, as well as band versus band play. In Face Off each person plays part of the song, switching back in forth, while in Pro Face Off each person plays the song in its entirety. They are both staples of Guitar Hero multiplayer. While they are certainly fun modes to play, it would have been nice to see a few new modes online. There is also to option to do a band quick play with random people or with your friends, and playing the career mode online is a welcomed addition.
While the game doesn’t offer too much innovation via the career mode, that’s not to say there is nothing here that is new and fresh. For bassists they added a purple bar that comes across the screen and is played by only strumming without hitting any of the frets; it doesn’t really make things much harder, but since some bass songs can get pretty boring it’s nice to have a 6th type of note to worry about. For guitar there are stretches of notes linked together by a purple line, and whenever you see these you can slide up the touch pad and play without strumming. It’s kind of like a long hammer on set, but if you miss one it doesn’t break the whole chain.
The biggest innovation in this game, and most likely the biggest innovation to music games since Guitar Hero entered the picture, is the addition of a music creator. While it’s not as deep as a PC program for professionals, there is still a lot you can do here, and you can lay down tracks for all of the major instruments except vocals. I assume that due to copyright issues vocals had to get the axe, but it’s alright, because there is still plenty to do in there. You can first jump into the studio and record yourself messing around and laying down some tracks. Then you can take that track into GH Mix and tinker and fine tune it to perfection. I’m no musical genius, but I was able to lay down some decent songs on the drums and guitar, and with the tutorials it wasn’t overly hard for me to figure out how to do so. It’s not something that will interest everyone who buys the game, but for people who always wanted to make some music but can’t play a real instrument this just might be for you.
Another great feature that comes with the addition of the music creator is the ability to share your creations online. You will not see your favorite song from Rock Band or anything because no copy written material is allowed. However, getting to see some of the amazing tracks people have come with using these relatively simple tools is very impressive. I was particularly impressed by a version of the Super Mario theme I heard on there; sounded a lot like the real song. There are already a ton of songs on GH Tunes, and there will be lots more to come so you will never run out of new stuff to play.
In terms of visuals the game looks very good. It has that Guitar Hero style of characters, which you may love or hate, but everything looks nice. The venues look great as well. Playing in Times Square on New Years Eve is particularly awesome, and Times Square is well represented in virtual form.
Sound, of course, is awesome; it’s a music game by some of the experts in the genre, so you really shouldn’t expect anything less. Audio quality is top notch, and now there are no more cover tracks meaning it all sounds wonderful. They even included live mixes of some songs, and while I was a little skeptical about playing a live track over a studio one, it came out great. In fact, the live tracks are some of the more entertaining songs in the game to play.
A huge aspect of any music game is the hardware, and this is where Guitar Hero and RedOctane dominate. The drums feel incredibly good compared to the default Rock Band pads. The experience is made much more authentic by the dedicated cymbal pads. Each piece functions as an individual part of the set, so your red pad is always a snare, blue and green are always toms, and yellow and orange are always cymbals. The whole game feels a lot better this way because it actually feels more like you are really playing the drums. The guitar also feels very good. One major innovation added to the guitar is the tap pads. However, I did not like using these because I would lose track of where my hand was; since it’s a tap pad and not buttons, there is no physical feedback. Still, them being there doesn’t hurt the guitar. If you like it, great! If not, don’t use it, because it’s still a damn good guitar. The microphone is a standard USB microphone, very similar to other ones out there. Unfortunately the mic remains wired, which is annoying considering everything else is wireless. Even if you own a set of fake plastic instruments from the Rock Band series, if you’re a dedicated music gamer I recommend getting the World Tour bundle because the new stuff is awesome in comparison.
Overall, Guitar Hero World Tour falls short in a few areas. It is a great game and lot of fun to play, but there are just some things that need work. A lackluster career mode brings the game down quite a bit, but thankfully there is plenty here to make up for it, such as a great track list and the newly added music creator. The hardware is amazing to say the least, and if you love these types of games you should definitely go out and purchase the bundle.