The last few Guitar Hero titles have left me angry.
In fact, I’ve felt so strongly about these games that if Guitar Hero 5 doesn’t fix some fundamental problems, it will be the last installment in the series that I review.
Jump inside to read the review, and find out if I’ll be signing up for Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
Perhaps you’ve never played a rhythm game. Not sure which rock you’ve been residing under, but I’ll give you a brief rundown of how these games work.
Strap on a plastic musical instrument. A song plays and notes stream down a ‘highway’ towards the bottom of the screen. When they reach the bottom, it’s your job to hit a button at the appropriate time. Hit a bunch of notes accurately, you get a high score. Get the timing wrong, hit the wrong button, or miss the note entirely, and you don’t get points. Miss enough notes, and it’s game over.
In the past I’ve taken some criticism from Guitar Hero fanboys for my reviews, but in my defense, I’m reviewing the games on a PS3, using optical audio, and I DESPISE the Fisher Price ‘My First Drum Kit’ that Red Octane includes with World Tour. If you like the drum set, you’re playing on a different console, or your audio setup is different, your mileage may vary. I can only write about what I experience.
In case you’re new to the site (or the podcasts), allow me to recap the problems I’ve had with the Guitar Hero games (as opposed to EA’s Rock Band franchise).
1. The lag calibration system is broken. This means that players that are using audio/video setups that introduce a lot of delay (most pronounced when using optical audio options) have a difficult time getting the game to play properly.
2. The drum kit included with Guitar Hero World Tour is problematic at best, and utterly unusable at worst.
3. Support for third-party music controllers (especially the superb ION drum kit) has been lacking. If you weren’t using ‘official’ GH gear, there were a few things you couldn’t complete, and in some cases parts of the game that wouldn’t work at all.
4. Hammer-ons and Pull-offs haven’t worked properly since Guitar Hero II. Not a big deal on lower difficulty settings, this is HUGE when playing on Hard or Expert.
5. Game menus have been confusing, convoluted, and mislabeled.
6. Vocal tracking has been… inaccurate. I’m being kind.
7. Star Power activation on drums is simply a bad design choice, and activating it on Vocals is a crapshoot.
Looking at that list, let’s tackle each one in turn.
The lag calibration has been reworked, to my immense relief. Rather than having notes fall in a flat 2D plane, with a click track, to adjust your audio/video lag, the new system places you in the isometric view JUST LIKE YOU WERE PLAYING THE GAME, and does away with some of the misleading audio cues during video calibration. This translates to a tool that accurately measures how YOU play the game, and the delay inherent in your home theater system.
I know what my lag settings should be, I play enough rhythm games that I’ve memorized them, and Guitar Hero 5 nailed the settings on the first try.
A big thumbs up for fixing that annoyance.
The ‘official’ drum kit is still a piece of crap (send hate mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org) but any of the stock Rock Band kits work fine, and it appears this time around the notes charts for alternative drum kits were given serious consideration. Most surprising, the ION drum set is fully supported, and is an absolute joy to use with the game.
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are FINALLY working properly (I’ve been told this was a difficulty exclusive to the PS3) and the game menus have been streamlined.
Likewise, Vocal tracking has been completely overhauled, and it works like you’d expect.
Star Power activation for Drums and Vocals are STILL borked, but you know what? I think they’ve fixed enough this time around that I’m not going to complain about those two annoyances.
Guitar Hero 5 also presents some new gameplay features that make the title stand out, like the ability to use ANY combination of instruments for a band. Feel like having four drummers? You can do that. Want to have three vocalists and a guitarist? You can do that too.
When my friends come over to play Rock Band, we frequent argue over who gets to play drums, who sings, and who is stuck playing guitar and bass. This is not an issue with GH5 (provided you have enough plastic gear to go around).
GH5 is also noticeably less ‘cartoony’ this time around. Animations look more life-like, there’s less goofy ‘metal’ imagery, and even the tutorials have ditched the voiceovers that sounded like a stoned surfer dude. It’s almost like the franchise grew up just a little bit. While you may have preferred the melodramatics, I welcome the new direction.
Also gone are the story mode cinematics. Honestly, I won’t miss the poorly animated stereotypes muttering in Simlish.
Other new features include Party Mode, Drop In/Drop Out play, and Bonus Challenges.
Party Mode acts like a juke box. You can listen to songs play randomly, and when/if the mood strikes you, you can grab an instrument and start playing the song on the fly. You can also stop playing at any time, and the song will continue.
Bonus Challenges are three additional ‘stars’ that can be earned on any song during Career mode. They are instrument specific, or in some cases require a band to work together. This increases replayability, and gives you something to shoot for.
On a down note, although you CAN import your DLC tracks from GHWT for free, the disk-based songs from that game will cost you about $3 to move to GH5… and it’s not ALL the songs on the World Tour disk. It’s not even HALF of them. Only 35 songs can be moved, and most disappointing for me, the Tool songs aren’t included.
With the fixes Neversoft has made to the game, the new features, and an above average set list (Love and Rockets, Dire Straits, King Krimson, Spacehog…) I have to give this game… can’t believe I’m saying this… a BUY IT.
While it won’t completely replace Rock Band 2 in my gaming schedule (I have WAY too much invested in DLC), it’s easily just as good, and in some ways it’s even better.
Guess I’ll be reviewing GH: Van Halen.