Good fun, but lacking that special something
When Guitar Hero 5 works right, it's a great experience. When it doesn't, well, you better buckle up for some frustration.
Guitar Hero 5, as you may have heard, is a rhythm game. Surely enough rhythm games have been released by now for people to have certain expectations about them. For example, a clean, decipherable user interface, good song selection, nice graphics, and the ability to hit the notes on the screen. Of these four examples, Guitar Hero 5 fails at three of them: the UI, the note-tracking, and the graphics.
The UI, both while playing songs and in the menus, is cluttered and hard to navigate. I can't count how many times I failed out of a song because I had no idea where to look to see how well I was doing. It's hard to tell even from audio cues, as the game seems to still play notes that you didn't hit, so that's not an indication, either. As for visual cues, playing the drums showcases an especially egregious example. It's almost impossible to tell that a note has been accurately hit, especially the kick pedal. All of this adds up until you want to throw your drums across the room.
Maybe Rock Band 2 has spoiled me in this regard with its autocalibration, but the calibration system needs work. I spent a good hour trying to calibrate the lag and still couldn't come to a decision on what was best.. It shouldn't be that damn hard, especially for a game that touts itself as being so user-friendly.
Finally, for as technically proficient as the graphics are, GH5's art style is horrendous. Apart from the unlockable characters such as Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain, the stock character models--as well as any random or user generated ones--are ghastly, showing a propensity for caricature and cartoonishness.
All this being said, there is still much to recommend the game. Not everyone will have the hangups that I did with the art style or the calibration, and that being the case, the game is damn fun. The ability this go-round to double, triple, or quadruple up on any given instrument is, in a word, bad-ass. No more trying to hunt down or convince somebody to do the singing. Also, there are some nice touches to the note-tracking as well. On guitar, some songs will have you sustain a single note, as if it were a chord, while you have to play other notes to the side of it. This caught me off guard at first, but once I got the hang of it, it made those moments something to look forward to.
The song selection here is pretty all-encompassing. Most genres you can think of are represented here. Good old-fashioned rock and roll abounds, such as Tom Petty, Iron Maiden, and Bon Jovi, but artists such as Brand New, Wolfmother, Arctic Monkeys, and Gorillaz bring plenty of vigor to the table as well. As with any rhythm game, there are some stinkers in the track list, but since you can supplement it with all manner of DLC, that's not too much of a problem.
When it works right, Guitar Hero 5 is a hell of a lot of fun. That much hasn't changed. But it's still plagued by some technical problems that keep it from achieving the greatness of its forbears, and honestly, its competition.