…a Neversoft developed second-rate Rock Band clone with a mediocre track list enhanced with a couple of legitimately interesting new wrinkles and marred by a hideous interface and poor follow-through. I mean let’s face it, ever since taking over the GH franchise from Harmonix, Neversoft has been playing catch-up and this latest step just reeks of desperation. Even if you accept the notion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery much of Guitar Hero 5’s new aesthetic borders on plagiarism. The real shame of it all is that after churning out what seems like an endless stream of half-assed GH titles in the past year based off of GH World Tour, Guitar Hero 5 had a chance to really be an innovative game. But alas, too many missed notes and not enough gold stars.
There are some things that do work well in Guitar Hero 5. The ability to play in a band with any combination of instruments rather than being limited to one of each is a really nice touch, particularly when playing pickup games online. The fact that all the songs are unlocked for quick play from the start and some other niceties like drop-in drop-out band mates and no-fail mode for party play is great fun for plastic instrument get-togethers. Adding challenges to each song in career mode is a cool concept, and the new competitive Rockfest mode has some really great scoring variations to spice up the humdrum of no-frills face-offs. To be fair, there are some really kick ass tracks included in this game and for the most part the note charting is greatly improved from the last few outings.
What Doesn’t Work
What doesn’t work is that for each nice new touch or cool feature there’s a failure to follow all the way through in the execution. Case in point, the track list. As good as some of the tracks are the set list as a whole is littered with forgettable flavor of the month pop songs and great songs to listen to that simply don’t translate. A prime example of this is Peter Frampton’s live version of Do You Feel Like We Do?, an amazing and influential song that weighs in at over fourteen minutes and has an extended lull in the middle of it. It isn’t epic to play, it’s tedious. Likewise playing the piano track on Sympathy For The Devil as lead guitarist just feels awkward. It’s not like there aren’t other great Rolling Stones songs out there, so why pick one that had to be painfully shoehorned into the format? Play online for any period of time and you’ll see people picking the same fifteen or so songs over and over, a democratic commentary on just how shallow the track list truly is.
Online career mode is cool, but the interface for inviting band members and searching for others to fill in is incredibly awkward, particularly when people start to drop out forcing you to totally reset every time. The challenges are a great idea, but some of the actual requirements are not fun, like having to accumulate wammy bar time on songs with only pitifully short sustains. There’s also only one instrument challenge per song. Why? Would it have been too much to ask for each song to have challenges for each instrument? Band vs. Band mode still requires one of each instrument for each competing team, which means it’s almost impossible to get a game, and then there’s Rockfest mode, which would be great except that people who fall behind tend to quit, and if the host quits the game crashes everyone back to the menus. Hello? Host migration anyone? No, apparently not, and the result is a great mode that’s almost unplayable online.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that Guitar Hero 5 was an opportunity for Activision and Neversoft to finally do something to help evolve the rhythm game genre, but instead it’s just another shoddily assembled cash-in game that fails in every half-hearted attempt to innovate. I mean really, even the much hyped “Band Moments” are just a shared automatic star power section that make the edge of the highway glow orange. Seriously? Orange? You mean like the orange notes on the edge of the highway that the orange glow partially obscures? Did anyone even think about these things for one solitary second? It’s enough to drive a person insane. The only way any of the new modes succeed is if you have a dedicated group of friends to play with, the kind of friends you can trust not to quit out when the going gets rough. Even then you have to wrestle with the menus, which are just half a step up from epic fail.
If I sound incredibly frustrated with Guitar Hero 5 it’s because I am. I’ve been totally smitten with rhythm games since I picked up my first plastic guitar, and the way they expose different generations of people to all kinds of new music that they wouldn’t otherwise experience is fantastic. But right now the Guitar Hero franchise is doing real damage to the genre by diluting the quality of its games in the attempt to cash in quickly on a formula that sells. It’s sad, and moreover it’s incredibly shortsighted. Memo to Activision: you’re killing the golden goose. How long do you think this can go on before people finally say enough is enough and stop buying it? Smarten up and take some time to do things the right way rather than the fastest to market way or we’re all going to suffer the consequences.