Review: Better drums, better guitars, better vocals, but fewer songs and worse career mode.
Rock Band stole some of Guitar Hero's thunder last year with a full four-piece rock band video game, but neither competition, nor the seemingly limiting name of Guitar Hero has stopped the series from attempting a comeback tour to dominate the drums and vocals, too. Guitar Hero World Tour succeeds in many ways, with superior drums (when they work), a slider bar on the guitar neck, and the create-a-song mode that no one else has. It doesn't outperform Rock Band in terms of its performance gameplay and playlist setup, which is the most important part of a music game. But, one thing's for sure. Even though this game feels like the same experience as years past, it's just as addicting, especially in groups.
The reason that Guitar Hero's drums are superior is because of the two triangular cymbal pads that hang over top of the three circular drum pads. This raked setup clearly defines the electric-style drum set, unlike the standard Rock Band drum kit, which is just four circular, non-descript pads. With Rock Band, you don't get a sense of which pad represents the high-hat and cymbal. It's not a question in Guitar Hero. And, it's more than just an authentic look. The raked drum set adds depth with a sixth drum button, whereas Rock Band has five. Just a touch more challenge for expert drummers in the long run.
Activating star power and playing accent notes are when the drums are most fun. Hitting both the high-hat and the crash cymbal at the same time activates star power. This button mechanic is much better than Rock Band's drum fill approach that interrupted a song and had that annoying must-hit end note that would mess up your ability to jump back into the rhythm. Accent notes allow you to score more points by hitting them harder. Both star power and accents encourage smacking the drums hard with the provided sticks, which any drummer will tell you is the greatest part of being able to play the drums.
Occasionally, the drums fail to register a hit, resetting your note streak to zero and robbing you of the precious score multiplier. This is especially irritating when trying to activate the star power by hitting both the cymbals and finding out it doesn't take the first time. While the game spots you one note when you do activate the star power, if the hit doesn't register the first time, you're usually left with no score multiplier and a x2 multiplier upon star power activation. Very different from going from x4 to x8. Sometimes it's better to just not use the star power at all.
Other than missing beats every now and again, the drum set is well constructed. The pads are quieter than the first Rock Band kit and the drums connect to the console wirelessly. The only wires and two short two-inch wires to the cymbals that you don't even see and a bass pedal wire that travels to the main drum kit control panel. To prevent the pedal from moving all around, the bottom contains both Velcro for carpets and non-slip pads for hard floors; truly a pedal for all surfaces. The only way the drums fail to impress is in navigating the menus. Unlike Rock Band's drums, Guitar Hero has you move through the pre-game screens with the D-Pad on the center control panel. There are more than enough pads to drum-stick your way through menus, but alas, the hard to see in the dark D-Pad is the only way.
The microphone is, unfortunately, not wireless. Neither was the standard Rock Band mic. But, while the vocal hardware hasn't improved, the software has thanks to a new lyric presentation option. In addition to the standard scrolling text seen in Rock Band, there's an option for static lyrics. Nothing else differs in terms of vocal gameplay, but the non-moving lyrics option is much preferred and much appreciated.
New to the guitar controller is a touch-sensitive slider bar. It's further up the neck where Rock Band's five smaller frets were located and because it's flat, finding it without looking can be difficult. However, there are some interesting effects if you get used to it. Semi-transparent notes are played by moving your fingers up and down the touch-sensitive bar, as a purple line connects them as you slide. It's also possible to use the slide bar instead of the strum bar or to vibrate the notes instead of the whammy bar. The effect feels like you're picking at the upper fret portion of the guitar strings like a true classic rocker.
Aside from the latest progress in Rock ?N Roll controllers, Guitar Hero World Tour takes smaller leaps. There's more to creating custom rockers and the animations before each song will having you saying ?sweet,? but a lot of the game's comic book style theme is recycled. The most significant visual touches made to this year's iteration seem to be in the way of product placements. From the conveniently placed KFC bucket at the beginning party gig to the giant Sprint billboard that obnoxiously reads ?OMG 3G Speed!? in the stadium towards the end, the product-placement benefits don't seem to be passed on to consumers. The game is still $60 and the bundle (the game, drums, a mic and one guitar) costs $190.
The extra profit probably went to licensing celebrity rockers like Ozzy Osbourne, Sting and Zakk Wyle. Being able to jam with all three of them at once while playing New Year's Eve on the roof of One Time Square is a thrill. You might even say surreal. It gets a little too surreal when Ozzy starts singing other people's songs. Hearing Van Halen's ?Hot for Teacher? and System of a Down's ?B.Y.O.B.? from the ?Prince of Darkness? takes away from the celebrity aspect and this feature should be kept to the singer's respective songs.
The 86 master recordings on the World Tour disc should be inducted into the Guitar Hero half of frame. The Steve Miller Band's ?The Joker?, The Eagles' ?Hotel California? and Michael Jackson's ?Beat It? expand the playlist in a way that novice karaoke singers are finally included. That was the biggest downfall in Rock Band; it was tough to find someone want to sing a Nine Inch Nails song at a party. Guitar Hero isn't without its own song-related mistakes, though. It's inferior to Rock Band 2 in that the playlist setup is clunky and uninformative; the career mode doesn't you have vying for the ears of an endless number of fans around the world; and the star-rating of a performance doesn't appear on the screen in real time to show you that hopeful goal you're working toward. More than anything else, though, is the fact that for $5, your Rock Band 1 songs can be ported to Rock Band 2's playlist. That's about 200 songs and one wise move on the part of its publisher, MTV.
For its part, Guitar Hero World Tour added a music studio where you can create your own songs (minus the vocals, sadly) and GHTunes where you can publish your work and download other user-created mixes. The music studio isn't very user friendly on the console and copyright restrictions apply to what you publish, but a couple of worthwhile songs make the new feature a keeper. The Russian soundtrack that belongs to Tetris is a must-play and the Zelda theme is a hit, too.