Sterile and uninspired
This fall marks the first time where we are truly swamped with full-band plastic instrument games. Each of them, ideally, should bring something unique to the table to distinguish themselves from one another.
Rock Band has its hook via DLC, and copious and regular amounts of it. Guitar Hero: World Tour has a grab bag of me-too and legitimately unique features like the music creator. And Rock Revolution distinguishes itself from the other two games by sucking, hard.
First off, there is no denying that World Tour has a fantastic selection of songs. Many of them are aped from Rock Band or Rock Band 2, of course, but that doesn't really hurt it much as you still get good value for your money if you're buying both games. That's kind of where the positives end, however.
The new features are numerous but inconsequential. Although everyone says you need the touch strip to play the strung notes on guitar, you can tap them out on regular fret buttons a la Rock Band's solos. It's as silly a feature as it is in Rock Band, but someone might find it amusing if they put on a show while rocking out to a hunk of plastic.
The music creator is a neat idea but awful in execution. More complicated than decade-old MOD tracking programs, you'll spend hours creating a song that sounds roughly on par with a piece of background music from the first Streets of Rage. MIDI may be flexible, but sound quality is not its strong suit.
Vocals are a mixed bag. The pitch tracker is a nice feature over Rock Band, but the jerkiness of the indicator feels awkward and the lack of percussive segments (tamborine or cowbell) means that the vocalist is going to be bored out of his skull during the longer guitar noodling solos. Star power is also extremely awkward to initiate and the sole indication that you've gotten it to work is that the tiny pitch ball starts glowing white.
The in-game layout has changed slightly, presumably to look more like Rock Band. During multiplayer the resemblence is uncanny. During singleplayer, the multipliers are placed awkwardly and the 'new' multiplier meter for guitar is so tiny that it's almost useless.
Feedback is the other main issue. Star power accumulates and is spent with little more than a slight glow. Crowds sway with Rock Revolution-esque unity and are mysteriously silent outside of loading screens. Even the songs themselves are mixed poorly, particularly for singleplayer. Your instrument of choice is not boosted in volume, which reduces the impact of your own solos and chords as they tend to blend in far too much to the rest of the band. If it wasn't required for them to have masters in order to cut out missed notes, I'd swear they were simply using the straight album version and slapping note charts over top.
The graphics themselves are alright. The style of the previous Guitar Hero games is gone, and all of the popular characters now sport the generic character creation look. There are plenty of options (almost too many when it comes to faces) but nothing is particularly inspired, and there are a lot of clipping problems with hair.
Arenas are amusing, although the starting shots of many of them are so blatantly chosen to highlight a given sponsor (AT&T and KFC are the two biggies), as are many of the encore animations, which start off with a pool ball bouncing against a KFC bucket.
One of the other features they're pushing over Rock Band is the inclusion of actual stars, like Corgan or Ozzy. They're as creepy (if not creepier) than Stephen Tyler and his flapping maw from GH: Aerosmith, with Corgan initially taking the cake for looking kind of like himself before transforming into a muppet with a rubber jaw as he sings Today.
The overall graphical look is very similar to the game as a whole, whether we're talking the note charts, the sound, and the feedback. It's competent yet uninspired, and for something that purports to be about rocking out it feels remarkably sterile. At no point during the experience will you ever forget that you're playing a game, and through a combination of tiny things the end experience is inferior to that of Rock Band. By aping the entire-band experience, Activision and Neversoft have not done themselves any favours, as they've made it impossible not to directly compare the games and conclude that they come out on the bottom.