Guitar Hero World Tour Solus

Such is the power of their brand, the easiest and most financially lucrative thing for Activision and Neversoft to have done would’ve been to produce Guitar Hero IV. Just churn out another disk with the standard plastic controller and watch as it outsold its competitors in Europe once again. Hardcore gamers and reviewers might have complained but the general public would’ve continued to lap it up, choosing the cheaper more familiar brand every time.

Instead Neversoft has moved Guitar Hero into the multi-instrument territory. In doing so they’re now directly competing with Harmonix’s Rock Band on price, instruments, downloadable content and the overall experience. Can they possibly take on a game that’s already two versions down the line? Have they overestimated the demand for the full band experience?

Well, they’re certainly up for the challenge. Guitar Hero World Tour features the, now standard, four instruments: guitar, bass, drums and vocals. There’s the usual online modes and a complete music creation suite. By not faffing about with timed console exclusivity deals they’ve also managed to hit the UK ahead of the most recent version of their rival’s software.

As the game, on 360, works perfectly well with both older Guitar Hero controllers and the full range of Rock Band kit I’m going to concentrate on reviewing the solus (disk only) edition of the title here.

Playing the guitar in this new version of the game remains mostly unchanged. As you’d expect it’s still a case of following the directions on screen to strum and hit the coloured buttons in time with the music. One new addition, though, is what I jokingly call the “slurp your drink” sections. These portions of the tune include specially marked notes which you can play by dragging your finger along the new guitar peripheral’s “touch sensitive” slider bar (located towards the bottom of the fret board). It’s pretty hard to use this area accurately and like me you’ll probably end up tapping the usual buttons instead. No strumming is required during these segments so you can happily take a swig of any beverage you have to hand.

Many players of Rock Band moaned about the lack of features geared towards bass playing. Guitar Hero World Tour caters for the four-stringed fanatics by not only giving them a bass career mode but also introducing a new gameplay element. Bass tracks often include an “open string” note, indicated by a glowing horizontal line, which is played by strumming without pressing any of the fret buttons. It adds a surprising level of authenticity to the experience and it would be interesting to see it incorporated into the lead guitar parts as well.

Although Guitar Hero’s drum kit features two raised cymbals, making a total of five drum pads, the game adjusts to show four main inputs when the Rock Band set is plugged in. Rather than using freestyle solo sections, star power is triggered by hitting the two cymbal pads together. Just as in the rival title, playing the drums in Guitar Hero World Tour is arguably the most difficult, but potentially most rewarding part of the game.

Singing involves following the (now industry standard) pitch track which is, in this instance, depicted using a glowing ball and tunnel system. You can choose between either static or scrolling lyrics. Two new features attempt to keep singers interested during long instrumentals. There are sections where you can talk and shout to the crowd, which builds up your energy, as well as freestyle portions where points are awarded for how well you improvise. Star power is earned from every phrase in vocal mode. It’s triggered either by tapping the microphone or pressing a button on the controller.

So that’s how all the different instrument modes work. What’s the game actually like? Well, it really shines when you play it in quick play mode, particularly as a band with friends and family. Here, you can pick and choose from any of the tracks that you’ve unlocked and there are some real gems on offer.

Brilliant standout tunes like Band on the Run, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Eye of the Tiger and Livin’ on a Prayer successfully open up the title to a wider audience. These, coupled together with the new “beginner” mode (which provides a greatly simplified, easier way to play) make this the most appealing Guitar Hero so far for those previously turned off by the game’s hard rock roots. While World Tour provides plenty that the whole family can sing and play, fans of heavier, more metallic rock may well be disappointed by the songs on offer.

In the career mode Guitar Hero really struggles. Initially things look promising. Instead of the very linear way previous titles have worked you can choose from a selection of set lists in order to reach your ultimate goal. Each one consists of a collection of songs, often bundled together thematically or by style, which unlock a special encore track once completed. As you finish each gig the game adds a couple more, so you usually have a choice about which group of songs you can tackle next.

The problem is that when you’re playing through the game in career mode there is just too much dross filling the gaps between the outstanding tracks. Many songs just aren’t fun to play in certain modes. The vocal career, in particular, features far too many tunes that are heavy on guitar solos meaning that you’ll either spend most of your time sitting doing nothing or be forced to warble through random freestyle sections. As tracks don’t seem to be exclusive to one particular career, you’ll play these same songs again and again, in different combinations, if you run through the game with all four instruments.

In fact, as the band career mode follows exactly the same format you might end up working your way through the same songs, in almost identical fashion, five separate times! No effort has been made to create a special “World Tour” mode to spice up band play. It’s just the same pick and play of set lists. Yawn.

The layout of the screen, in band mode, isn’t perfect either. Everyone’s performance meter is located in the top left hand corner. It’s not the easiest area to keep an eye on when you’re playing. You’ll need to, though, because if one person in your band fails the song, the whole band fails.

Despite these annoyances, playing as a band is still an awful lot of fun. If you’ve not already sampled the Rock Band experience, this game mode will blow you and your friends away.

One of the most surprising survivors from the Guitar Hero III feature list is the inclusion of famous rock personalities in the game. I have to say that I thought the appearance of Slash in Guitar Hero III was just a gimmick but I did get a genuine buzz in Guitar Hero World Tour when guys like Billy Corgan, Jimmy Hendrix and Sting took the stage. Sometimes you’re battling against them to win their respect. Other times you’re playing alongside them. Occasionally they’ll even take the place of your character for the duration of the song.

You gain the ability to unlock and play as most of them. It’s quite funny to see Ozzy Osbourne singing along to Eye of the Tiger but it does spoil the illusion a little. I’d love to see more characters from bands included in future. Playing alongside the actual musicians who performed the songs could be a real unique selling point of this franchise.

If you don’t fancy playing as a famous rocker or one of the usual Guitar Hero crew, the game features a typically comprehensive character creator. You can even put together your own instruments, changing elements such as the fretboard, control knobs and pickups. After years working on the Tony Hawk games this is one area that Neversoft are really experienced in. The customisation options totally blow their competitors out of the water.

Guitar Hero World Tour features the usual strong multiplayer elements that we’ve come to expect from Neversoft’s take on the franchise. There are individual and group co-operative and competitive online modes. Getting together a full four-piece for the “Battle of the Bands” mode might prove tricky for some people but it’s a nice option to have available.

I’ve gone this far in the review without even mentioning Guitar Hero’s music studio. It feels very much like a standalone application (and something that would probably be more at home on the PC) but nevertheless manages to give console owners an impressive set of tools for creating and editing their own tunes. You can use whichever peripherals you have to hand to build up several guitar parts, bass, drums and even a keyboard track.

A keyboard is, perhaps, the one thing that’s missing from the package. The five keys on the standard guitar controller just don’t provide the range, and simplicity of input, of even a single octave of ivories. Perhaps a patch might appear later on down the road to either allow a USB music keyboard to be used or advantage to be taken of the MIDI port on the official Guitar Hero drums.

If you just want to knock up a quick sequence for fun, though, it’s actually really simple to do. I managed to put together a little ditty in about ten minutes, just using the standard chord palettes in the mixing mode. Although the results are a little tinny, and vocals aren’t allowed to be included, there have already been some impressive tracks made by the community.

Of course, just because you can create your own music and download tunes created by other people, don’t think that Activision are suddenly going to stop flogging you DLC. To properly complete with Rock Band they need to provide a constantly growing catalogue of singles and albums. To their credit, it looks like they’re planning to support the title properly this time. There’s already more activity on the download front then there was, at this point, for the previous two games.

It’s just a shame that the material we’ve paid for in the past, in Guitar Hero II and III, hasn’t been re-licensed for this new version. Having access to some of the tracks on the previous disks would’ve been great as well, even if just the guitar parts were available. Sony have managed to draw up a deal to enable content from their PS2 Singstar disks to work with the PS3 game. Rock Band allowed you to port over most of the songs from their first release. Why can’t Guitar Hero do something similar? Even “guitar only” tracks would be better than nothing.

Overall Guitar Hero World Tour is a solid, if not spectacular game. It’s a title that shines as a party experience but ultimately disappoints with its single player modes. In my personal opinion it’s not yet a Rock Band beater but although I found a lot of the tracks quite dull I’d still recommend picking up a copy of the disk, especially as your musical tastes might well vary from mine.

This is not the old hard rocking, button mashing Guitar Hero that we’re familiar with (the much easier achievements instantly tell you that) but it is an impressive attempt to move the franchise forward. If Neversoft can build on their innovations, flesh out the band tour mode and look at identifying tracks that are fun for the full range of instruments then the next version of Guitar Hero has the potential to be the best band game around.

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One Response to “Guitar Hero World Tour Solus”

  1. Excellent review. Big one too 🙂

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