Since it’s inception in 2005 Guitar Hero has become a household name, appearing in movies, television, and causing the creation of a number of music sim clones trying to cash in on it’s success. Neversoft changed the franchise from guitar-centric to supporting an entire band with the release of Guitar Hero: World Tour in 2008, but many thought that it was an inferior experience compared to that of music sim rival Rock Band. Is the Guitar Hero franchise done for, or can it be saved? Guitar Hero 5, the newest addition, might just be exactly what the doctor ordered.
There are no surprises gameplay-wise this time around. Players will still find themselves strumming, humming, or drumming in an effort to score as highly as possible while the song scrolls by on the screen. So what makes this game such an improvement over World Tour?
One of the first brand new additions to the series players will come across is the ability to play the same instrument as someone else. How many times have you and a friend been playing and both wanted to jam out on the bass, or wreak some havoc on the drums? Well now you can have multiple players on the same instruments, hell, you can have a whole band full of singers or guitarists if you so wish. This is a very simple addition that makes all the difference, and you have to wonder why this couldn’t have been possible in World Tour.
This year’s career mode is also very different than that of previous installments. Money, tours, and story have all been eliminated which I must say is a questionable decision by Neversoft. This time around you’ll progress venue-by-venue choosing from a set-list of about 4 or 5 songs each (even more can be unlocked by completing these songs) and gaining stars which are required to unlock the next venue. For each song there is a special instrument-specific challenge which will allow you to obtain up to 8 stars rather than just 5. These challenges range from nailing the “fames” in David Bowie’s Fame to hitting as many hammer-ons and pull-offs in Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do? so it stays fresh for the duration of your time in this mode. This new career mode style gives us much more freedom in exchange for the absence of earlier features. Players don’t have to play every song to beat the game and can switch both difficulty and their instrument at any point during the career. Started out as a guitarist on hard? You just might finish the game as a vocalist on easy.
There are a few new modes for online play but none of which are outstanding. Momentum is the stand out mode of all the additions and in it players start off on medium difficulty which will rise or fall depending on the performance of the player.
The track list in Guitar Hero 5 spans a great number of different genres that should please just about everybody. Because of the new way career mode is implemented, players can easily skip the songs they can’t stand and just stick to the ones they know and love and still easily get to the end. If you don’t like what the in-game track list offers then you’re in luck. On Xbox Live you can download (for free) the ability to play any of World Tour‘s downloadable tracks, and for 280 Microsoft points most of World Tour‘s original track list can be downloaded as well.
The character creation and customization in Guitar Hero 5 is absolutely incredible. Neversoft had a great customization formula for their Tony Hawk series before it went down the wrong path, but they seem to have found themselves here. Jaws, eyebrows, bodies, clothes, hair, lips, ears, clothes, shoes, instruments, everything you can imagine can be customized to great detail. If all that wasn’t enough for you then how about shredding with your avatar? 360 owners will be able to use their avatars on-stage, and although their cartoonish appearance may appear very mutant-like when they are on-stage alongside the Guitar Hero characters this is a very cool feature.
Finally there’s the GHStudio, which is, like many features this time around, miles ahead of what it was in World Tour. Unfortunately, the studio may be very overwhelming to those who don’t have a lot of time to spend learning the features or those who aren’t familiar with the process of writing music. If you don’t want to take the time to compose your own tunes then you can go online and browse through thousands of user-submitted songs for hours and hours. These songs can include anything from Dr. Wily’s theme from Mega Man 2 to the Power Rangers theme and can be played by anyone for free.
Many believe (myself included) that the music sim genre is dying very quickly due to an overabundance of games that offer exactly or nearly the same gameplay as the previous one did. This genre has caught on with the masses very well and naturally the companies behind them are going to push them as hard as possible, perhaps push them a bit too much. The Guitar Hero series has a plethora of games and it is only going to get more, however if you only want one but aren’t sure which one to go with, go with Guitar Hero 5 which from me will net a 4 out of 5.