Following a highly successful solo career spanning three gigs over three years, five if you count the Rock the 80s and Aerosmith expansions, the team at Neversoft are getting a full band together for Guitar Hero World Tour, the latest installment in the music rhythm franchise. Just like Rock Band, the guitar-shaped controller is joined by drum and microphone peripherals for percussion and vocal parts. In fact, the two games are practically interchangeable. So is Guitar Hero World Tour a band worth joining, or does it play second fiddle to the sophomore Rock Band?
The complete band kit for Guitar Hero World Tour comes with a copy of the game, a guitar controller, a drum controller and a USB microphone. If you currently own a comparable set of controllers from a previous Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, you can forego the expensive package and simply purchase the game, though you would be missing out on one of the highlights of World Tour: it’s drum kit.
I fell in love with the Guitar Her World Tour drum kit the first time I laid eyes on it several months ago, and in action it does not disappoint. It’s superior to the Rock Band drums in several ways. First, the drums have five pads instead of four, two of which are raised up and shaped like cymbals. The three main pads are much larger than the Rock Band pads, making it easier to perform drum rolls, and they’re cushioned better to absorb drum strikes. One of the downsides to the drum kit is the kick pedal, which is made of plastic as opposed to the metal-reinforced pedal accompanied with the Rock Band 2 drum kit. The other downside is a little more serious. Several consumers have reported experiencing issues with drum pad sensitivity. We too experienced such an issue, though ours was minor in comparison.
The new guitar controller sports a larger, more realistic body shape. Strum and whammy bars are considerably longer, and there’s a new touch sensitive pad along the neck of the guitar just below the fret buttons that allows you to perform specifically marked solos without having to strum. It’s a unique feature, though one I never felt compelled to use since the buttons work just as well, not to mention I often missed notes moving from the fret buttons to the touch pad and back. Last but not least, there’s a new star-power button located just below the strum bar, providing an alternative to activating star power without having to tilt the controller.
Guitar Hero World Tour builds on the existing gameplay from previous Guitar Hero games. The Career Mode is split into single instruments careers for guitar, bass, drums and vocals, as well as a band career, which requires between two to four instruments. The Career Mode is not that different from previous Guitar Hero installments, broken up into set lists of three to seven songs that you have to successfully play through in order to unlock new gigs. Every now and then you’ll be joined on stage by rock legends like Billy Corgan, Ozzy Osbourne, Sting, Jimi Hendrix and Ted Nugent, but you won’t be dueling against these artists, as you did in Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, instead simply rocking out alongside them.
Other returning modes include Practice and Quickplay, though there’s a bit of a nagging issue with Quickplay. Initially, only songs from the first few set lists are available in Quickplay. You have to unlock songs in Career Mode to gain access to them. Not exactly news to Guitar Hero fans. However, if you play through a career as a solo drummer and then invite your friends over to rock out in Quickplay as a band, you still won’t have access to more songs. If you want to play the full set list as a band in Quickplay, you first have to complete the Career Mode as a band, and vice versa for solo. This can all be bypassed with a simple code that unlocks the entire set list but for those not privy to the code, it might come as a disappointing revelation.
The usual assortment of offline head-to-head multiplayer modes is available, including Face-Off, Pro Face-Off and Battle. You can also jump online to play with other players either together as an online band or competing in the Band vs. Band mode, which supports up to 8 players. Oddly, we found it a little more complicated than expected to form and ultimately start a competition online between bands.
One of the new software innovations in Guitar Hero World Tour is the Music Studio that lets you compose, record, edit and share your own music online. It’s a neat idea in theory but it’s way too intricate for the average user. There’s at least an hours worth of tutorials to sit through just to learn how to use the recording studio. And those who put in the time to create a decent rock anthem or ballad will find that songs put together in the Music Studio simply don’t sound very good coming out.
The set list that comes with Guitar Hero World Tour features 86 songs, the most of any Guitar Hero game to date, and every last one of them is a master recording. Whether you’re into classic rock, pop rock, heavy metal or punk rock, there’s something for everyone. You’ll find “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen and “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters; “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz and “About A Girl” from Nirvana; live versions of Sting’s “Demolitoin Man”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix; and a few foreign language songs to boot. There’s even a few tracks for the non-rockers out there like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” A number of songs are shared between World Tour and Rock Band 2 but with 86 total tracks, you can’t really complain. That being said, Activision will have to embrace downloadable content with a little more fervor if it wishes to keep up with Rock Band’s growing catalogue of music.
The cartoonishly proportioned characters from the previous Guitar Hero games return in World Tour, alongside character models based on famous musicians in the game like Ozzy Osbourne and Jimi Hendrix. Gamers can also use the new Create-a-Rocker feature to make their own unique rock star. The character creation system allows players to affect their avatar’s face, hairstyle, clothes, tattoos, makeup, and more. Character animations could be a little more fluid. The drumming animations make the drummer look like one of those animatronic gorillas banging on the drums at Chuck E. Cheese’s. There are several new venues in the game including virtual recreations of real-life hot spots such as Ozzfest, the House of Blues, Sunset Strip and Times Square. The commercial opportunities don’t stop there. There are all kinds of in-game advertising in Guitar Hero World Tour beyond the usual instrument makers.
It’s not unexpected to see Guitar Hero World Tour go through some growing pains as it makes the leap to the full band experience. The hardware, while noticeably more realistic than comparable sets, has been affected by technical problems in its initial run, and the software, while solid in its way, could benefit from some of the ambition seen in the hardware, particularly with respect to the Career Mode. Still, that shouldn’t stop fans from getting the band together and putting on a kick-ass rock show.