Guitar Hero 5 Xbox 360, PS3, Wii Review

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Approaching the release of Guitar Hero 5 (which is more like Guitar Hero 11 by now, probably), it was difficult to feel any sort of excitement for the ageing series. Bobby Kotick had made good on his word to exploit the franchise to a point at which I, a once outspoken Guitar Hero fanatic, couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. Worse still; DJ Hero, Band Hero, and whatever-else-hero were soon to appear on the scene, stealing any real thunder the supposed fifth instalment may have had. Just when I believed that the rot had finally set in once and for all, I’m proven completely wrong. Guitar Hero 5 is excellent.

Kudos to Neversoft for not falling into the ‘Tony Hawk’ routine. Instead of re-releasing the last game with more songs, they’ve identified the frustrations and gripes that gamers had with Guitar Hero World Tour (and its bitter rival that I’m attempting not to mention) and made a great deal of effort to change them for the better. Of course the core game is still played the same, scrolling blobs, star power and combo meters, but it’s the surrounding functionality that has had a massive overhaul, and Guitar Hero 5 shines because of it.

This begins even before you’ve had chance to press the start button. Taking into consideration the nature of Guitar Hero’s evolved form, Neversoft have introduced ‘Party Play’. This is a drop-in, drop-out mode that allows players to pick up an instrument, hit the yellow button, and start playing away at whatever song happens to be active at the time. As this is all done in the opening splash screen it means no signing-in, no messing around with characters or band leaders, just a press of a button and a selection of difficulty and away you go. It’s extraordinarily simple, providing players with an opportunity to just play the game, no strings attached. The songs are on a random shuffle, which can be overwritten via the mode’s pause menu, but should you tire of playing you can simply drop out and let someone else play, and the tracks continue the entire time.

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Why it’s taken this long for a developer to implement this kind of system is bizarre. It makes so much sense, and makes playing the game with friends so much easier, as well as providing an easy pick-up-and-play element to solo play. The random tracks couldn’t work however had Neversoft not gone and made the second massive, but incredibly sensible change to the game. From the second the disc enters the console, every track in Guitar Hero 5 is available to play. Amazing isn’t it? It’s taken nearly five years, but finally every track on the 85 song playlist can be played in quick-play mode, and as part of the party play mode, without having to unlock a single thing.

You may be sitting there thinking ‘why doesn’t he just use the cheats like everyone else’, but that’s not the point. For once, you can buy a Guitar Hero game and not have to spend precious minutes searching GameFAQs for a series of buttons you then have to manually input just to play a bunch of songs you’ve paid close to eighty quid for. The fact of the matter is, this should’ve been done a long time ago – even more so than Party Play – but at least it’s here now, and that’s what matters.

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Given that you don’t have to unlock anything (track-wise), career mode has once again had a bit of a makeover. Whilst still taking place over a series of different venues, each featuring a variety of songs to play, everything is now a lot more relaxed. It only takes a handful of stars (gained by completing songs) to unlock the next venue, which speeds up progression through career mode, becoming altogether more satisfying. As an incentive to continue the career, there are now a series of medals that can be obtained on each track by performing a specific objective, such as a certain number of hi-hat hits or guitar-based hammer-ons etc. These unlock all sorts of stuff, from new characters, to all manner of goodies for use in create-a-rockstar.

While we’re on the subject, I should point out that despite the create-a-rockstar being updated with an immensely robust set of customisation tools, it’ll fall on deaf ears for a lot of players. This is mainly due to Guitar Hero 5 featuring avatar support, which although sounding a bit gimmicky and tacked on, is actually highly amusing. At least, it is if you’ve made your avatar look like Peter Molyneux dressed in some eyebrow raising leather garb. It’s a shame really, as the in-game character creator really is very well made, but for some reason having your avatar sing along to Peter Frampton brings a sort of smirk-inducing quality to the mix.

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For all its excellent additions however, Guitar Hero 5 does still fall short in a few areas. While Neversoft have shown much improvement over their initial foray into the genre, there are still examples of tracks that feature unnatural movement patterns for the melody in question. These won’t really effect players who’ve only ever known Guitar Hero and nothing else, but for those with an understanding of music and guitar, it’s a jarring oversight. There’s also the continuing issue of available DLC.

Anyone who’s visited the Rock Band (there we go) store will be well aware of the huge amount of full albums, novelty tracks and masses of songs in general that are available for download. Guitar Hero is still the victim of rubbish ‘song packs’ which look pretty pathetic considering the alternative. And though the opportunity to import songs from your Guitar Hero World Tour disc is a welcome one, being charged for the privilege when it’s not even the complete set list is a bit of a kick in the teeth, especially for fans of Modest Mouse and Paramore. They know who they are.

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There’s also the changes to the online multiplayer to take into account. While the game now supports up to four instruments at a time, there’s not a hugely obvious amount been done to alter the online experience. The GH Studio also makes a return, and features a much needed alteration to the interface, as well as randomly generated tracks to jam to, but when you consider the lengths that Harmonix are going to with Rock Band Network, it all seems a bit of an uphill struggle.

Despite these few annoyances, Guitar Hero 5 is still an excellent example of a band-based rhythm action game done right. This is a true evolution of the Guitar Hero phenomenon, simple but devastatingly effective changes that really bring the best out of the genre. You really can’t find a better package to play on your own, or with friends. Where does Guitar Hero go from here? I’m too busy watching Kurt Cobain perform Stevie Wonder songs to care.

9/10

by

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Version tested: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii

Developer: Neversoft

Publisher: Activision

Genre: Rhythm Action

Players: 1-4