Guitar Hero World Tour
Ok, Neversoft, you can take your hands off of Guitar Hero now. This is your third crack at the franchise, and you're not getting any better at it. In fact, you're getting worse. Guitar Hero: World Tour expands the Guitar Hero series into a full-fledged band game, just like Rock Band. However, unlike Rock Band, the title does not have Harmonix behind it, and the difference is clear and immediate. I apologize in advance to anyone who feels I make too many comparisons to Rock Band during the course of this review. It's simply that Harmonix has created a game that is better in so many ways that is the definitive barometer of quality for all band-based music games. And I can tell you right now, Guitar Hero: World Tour does not rise to meet the competition. You have been warned.
It seems pretty clear that the developers at Neversoft did take a look at Rock Band before designing their own band game, but they took away the wrong lessons. For example, the career mode is no longer sequential, as it was in all the previous Guitar Hero games. Or, at least, it doesn't seem to be sequential. The sets are thrown up on a gig bulletin board, and you can choose the ones you want to play. However, unlike Rock Band, there's no real ultimate goal, except to play a bunch of songs. Heck, even the older Guitar Hero entries offered more momentum than World Tour does. While you're ostensibly meant to be rising to the top, the venue selection makes no sense. One minute you're in a ratty biker bar, the next you're in Hong Kong. How did that happen? There are no challenges beyond simply getting through the set, and you only earn money, not fans. And get this, some of the gigs, such as the all-Tool set, you have to pay for with the money you've earned. That's fine if you love Tool, but what if you only like one song in the set? Either you shell it out or you don't get it.
As far as the gameplay goes, Neversoft still is unable to replicate the tight timing windows that Harmonix has perfected. Half the time, I feel like I'm simply button mashing, and that's not good. Even worse, the game at times skips or adds notes. I understand that on Easy and even Medium you will have to skip notes in order to make the game playable. But on Hard or even Expert, to add or subtract notes is unforgivable. It really makes you feel like you're playing a game, and not a music simulator. On the other hand, there are a few new additions that do enhance the gameplay. The first is a new type of note. It's semi-transparent and there's a purple line that connects them. You can play these like hammer ons and pull offs, without strumming. They were made to work with the new guitar made for the game, but more about that later. There's also a new mechanic for held notes. When playing a held note, you may have to hit more notes while still holding down the first. That one is actually pretty neat, but will probably hurt your hand on the higher difficulties. When you play bass, there are also open note strums. These appear as a purple bar across the screen. Personally, having played so many games where you always have to have your finger on a note, it felt awkward to play the open bass notes, but I'm sure I could get the hang of it with enough practice.
The vocals seem to be far too sensitive. The microphone recorded every single tiny noise, even when I would adjust my grip on it. I tried singing on Medium and I was still only able to get three phrases in a row. That's right, on Medium I couldn't even get a four times multiplier. I can't imagine how tough it must be on the higher difficulties. This is especially a problem when playing in Band mode, because there's very little indication when someone is failing. This is an especially bad problem because when you're playing with other people, if any one person fails, everyone fails immediately. There's no grace period, no chance to save the game using Star Power, nothing. The failure of one is the failure of all. And unlike Rock Band 2, there's not a "No Fail" mode. So you better make sure that you're playing with people who you know are good.
Guitar Hero World Tour also offers other firsts. There's a music creator, where you can make your own songs. You can even upload them to a database where other players can download them and integrate them into the game. Not in the career mode, mind you, but in quickplay. The song creator allows you to work on several tracks to put together a complete playable tune (no vocals this time around). While I like the idea in general, the final products sound canned. Of course, it would be worth it to play excellent fan-made versions of classics not yet found in the series, such as "Back In Black," "November Rain," "Black Dog," or even "Jailhouse Rock." Oh, but wait, Activision has said that they will be combing through all the submissions and will be removing any that are too similar to pre-existing, copy written material. In other words, the most attractive aspect of the song creator was wiped away before the game was even released.
Guitar Hero World Tour does offer online play, which hasn't changed much from the modes offered in Guitar Hero III. There's still Face Off, Pro Face Off, and Co-Op. They've expanded it for bass and drums as well (again, vocals seem to get the shaft). Then there's Band Play, where you join up with other players online to form a band, and Band Battle, where you get together with other people to form a band and play against another band. There's no longer an option to host your own match. Instead the game simply matches you with another player looking to play the same type of game. I tried several different configurations and was only able to find one player to play guitar Co-Op with. I'm guessing everyone else has already gone back to playing Rock Band 2.
Then there are the new instruments. Red Octane has always been great at improving their instruments, perfecting the formula they created with the original Guitar Hero. World Tour is the first time the company diverges from their tried and true configuration, with mixed results. The guitar looks a lot like the controllers of old, with the distinctive colored buttons at the end of the fret board. But you'll immediately notice a new section lower down on the board. These are touch sensitive pads. They're made to allow you to play the semi transparent notes I mentioned earlier. They work as a slide, letting you move your finger up and down the pad without removing it to press a different button. Alternatively, you can use it to tap for those crazy Van Halen or Randy Rhoads solos. The problem with these are almost immediately evident, as they're actually inlaid into the fretboard. Unlike the smaller Rock Band buttons you can use for solos, where you can at least see what color each button is by looking down at the guitar. Not so with this instrument. A section of the screen lights up to let you know which button you're pressing, but it's not nearly as intuitive as it should be. And getting from the main buttons to the slide board and back again almost always assures you're going to break your streak. Blah. Other than that, the other main different is that the Start and Select buttons are now located on the pickup, instead of the knobs, which seems like a good idea at first, but then you realize that the buttons are now even more inaccessible and awkwardly placed than they were before. To be fair, when played normally, the guitar still handles like a dream, even better than the excellent Les Paul from GHIII. I would certainly recommend it over any of the previous controllers. Just leave the bells and whistles out of it.
The other big addition is a drum set, Red Octane's first stab at a controller that isn't a guitar. To their credit, the drum set feels really sturdy. Unlike Rock Band's four pad layout, this set has 3 face pads and two cymbals. Each one is its own input, so you have five buttons instead of four (if you play with a Rock Band drum set, the game will compensate by only offering four). The pads feel great, with excellent bounce. The placement of the cymbals could be a little less intrusive, and I would have preferred if they have actually been a full circle instead of the partial cymbals that Red Octane had gone for. On the whole, though, I really liked the drums. Something to note, however: While my drums worked perfectly out of the box, a majority of drums released to date have been too sensitive. I've heard many reports of drums breaking combos due to registering extra hits. Activision has addressed the issue and said they will be releasing a drum tuning program so you can adjust the sensitivity of your pads. Mac users are currently out of luck, however, as the program is only for Windows. The microphone is, well, a microphone. The game will accept any USB microphone if you don't have the GH-branded one.
If Guitar Hero: World Tour does anything right, it's in the graphics department. If you recall my review of Guitar Hero III, one of my biggest complaints was that the characters looked grotesque. Thankfully, World Tour has corrected this, with far better character renderings and a much smoother overall look. Judy Nails returns, but the old characters are old hat. World Tour now allows you to create your own characters. This is the one area where Guitar Hero stands a head taller than Rock Band. The customization options are wide and varied. You can make your character look just the way you want it, and if you take full advantage of the creator, it's highly unlikely you'll ever see another character that looks like it. You can adjust almost all the facial features, the height, weight, and clothing of your character. You can also change the look of your various instruments in satisfying and often hilarious ways. The venues look like typical Guitar Hero venues, still a little too cartoony for my taste, but definitely a cut above GHIII.
Guitar Hero: World Tour boasts the most impressive artist roster yet - Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, The Eagles, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Smashing Pumpkins, and more. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the options before you. On the other hand, there is junk like the Steve Miller Band and Sublime (that's right, I said it, go get your pitchforks and torches), but on the whole, the set list is varied and enjoyable. Annoyingly, however, the audio mix is disturbingly flat. There are no dynamics, and it's often hard to hear the instrument you're playing. Activating Star Power helps this slightly, but it also adds an echo effect not present in the original recordings. It's frustrating to hear so many great songs in such a drab setting.
Guitar Hero used to be a pitch perfect game. Neversoft has not been able to replicate the level of critical success as Harmonix has, however, and World Tour is another disappointment. Gameplay issues, audio issues, and instrument issues plague this latest release. Perhaps if this were the only band game on the market, we wouldn't notice all the issues. But with Rock Band 2 knocking it out of the park, World Tour only looks worse by comparison. Rock Band makes you feel like you're playing music. Guitar Hero makes you feel like you're playing a game. And that makes all the difference in the world. It's still worth playing through once, just to have the experience of playing "Hot For Teacher" and "Mr. Crowley," not to mention "Purple Haze," but the whole time, you'll be yearning for a better overall presentation. Rent It.