canuckeh's Guitar Hero World Tour (Xbox 360) review

Vicariously moonwalking

Guitar Hero : World Tour : The latest installment in the inanely popular musical rhythm game, expanding the range of playable plastic instruments to include plastic drums and USB microphone singing.

Story : The in-game story is just the usual bits about cartoon musicians going from a garage to the big time. The out of game story is the one people seem be enamored with; original Guitar Hero developers Harmonix were bought out by MTV and ditched the franchise to produce Rock Band, leaving the development duties of the Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft, the team who helped create, popularize and bring down the Tony Hawk series (though the downfall may just be more due to Activision’s insistence on milking the series for every possible drop.)

And thus the music video game pissing contest was born. It resembles the same pissing contest that most sports game franchises engage in. One company pumps out a game with virtual drums, the other claims to incorporate the same drums but tack on a music creator tool. One company boasts about securing content from AC/DC and the Beatles, the other scores Jimi Hendrix and Metallica. It goes back and forth, and looks like it’ll continue to go back and forth until one of the major companies pulls an EA and just buys exclusive rights to the plastic guitar in general or something ludicrous like that. In this year’s battle between Guitar Hero : World Tour and Rock Band 2, who pisses the farthest and who just squirts out random yellow splashes?

Indeed, Guitar Hero : World Tour expands on the range of instruments by including vocals and drums. This does make me a little sad on the inside seeing as I thought the one strong point of the first three Guitar Hero games (well, the numbered Guitar Hero games) was the guitar part, and how the setlist seemed to be based on what songs were the most fun to play on guitar and guitar alone, even if it meant the drummer had all of one type of beat to maintain, but alas, the bar has been raised and I’ll just have to deal with it. I can’t tell you how the World Tour-specific drums and guitar (with its newfangled touchpad neck) handle being as I don’t exactly have the kind of scratch that lets me afford buying the latest set of instruments for every annual music game release, but I can tell you that the game really wants its guitarists to use that seem touchpad neck, based on all of the loading screen messages proclaiming how cool you’ll be if you do. No thanks.

All of the instruments, on their own, handle okay. Singers can opt to have their words presented to them in a scrolling fashion ala Rock Band or in a karaoke-esque, one-line-at-a-time approach. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the note recognition, but you’re going to need to hold on to the Xbox controller and press a button to activate star power. For drums, the one difference between this game and Rock Band is you can activate star power by hitting the blue and yellow pads simultaneously; better than waiting for a drum fill and just mashing pads and throwing your band off, but bothersome in that if your timing is off, you can ruin your score multiplier.

Keep in mind, the only reason I know this is because I read it online, as the game doesn’t let you view the drum tutorial if you’re not using the official Guitar Hero : World Tour drum set.

The only new tweak for bass players is the occasional purple line that means “strum the flipper without holding notes”. Guitarists now have to contend with translucent notes that are supposed to be played with that bizarre touch screen on the new guitar controller, but I can’t imagine having too great results on that being that I’d have to keep an eye on the controller to make sure my finger is sliding on the right part. That new feature seems to be more for show-offs than any practical purpose.

If the game has one nagging flaw, though, it’s that when you’re playing with more than one person. Namely, when one person fails, everybody fails the song. No chance to rescue your buddy with star power, and no “no fail” option as seen in Rock Band 2. So this comes off as, at best, inconvenient, and at worst, crippling when you play with not particularly skilled (or sober) friends.

World Tour’s career mode should be commended, not for what it brings to the table, but for what it doesn’t, including:

• Hiring promoters or agents for meaningless bonuses
• Halting your progression until you complete a setlist comprising of songs you’ve played already
• Requiring a set number of “fans” to progress
• Numerous extra setlists that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, except as an alternate means to grind more stars, “fans” and money needed to progress.
• In essence, none of that extra crap from Rock Band 2’s World Tour mode.

My idea of a good campaign in a music game is one that just lets me play and unlock all the songs in order of progressing difficulty, so that I can later go back and just play the songs I like. Essentially, what we originally had in the first Guitar Hero. However, World Tour insists on grouping the songs into setlists and making you play through the tracks in groups to advance. However, the issue with this playlist approach is that many of the game’s songs are of the more…lengthier variety. There’s a decided emphasis on concert anthems over singles in this game; the type of songs that would get over huge at a live event and would thus get over huge with people that imagine themselves as rock stars while playing these games (the type of people that bought the Rock Band STAGE adapter perhaps) but playing 4 or 5 of these, along with an out-of-nowhere encore song, is draining on the psyche. One particular setlist ends with a five minute guitar duel with Ted Nugent, followed by the 8+ minute Ted Nugent track Stranglehold.

Speaking of which, here’s a game that does what Guitar Hero 3 : Legends of Rock misled you into thinking it was doing; provide more than two actual legends. There are 8 iconic performers within the game, including such legends as Jimi Hendrix, Zakk Wylde and…Hayley Williams? Is anyone really willing to put the singer of Paramore next to Sting or Ozzy?

In addition, you can create your own character, and the creation tool is fairly robust in terms of appearance. In terms of animations, you’re limited to about ten preset stage movement sets. I bring this up because it seems that the previous cast of characters from Guitar Hero games are limited to the same animations. Gone are the days when Lars Umlat breathed fire or Clive Winston busted out a solo on his violin.

At the end of the day, everything about Guitar Hero : World Tour rests on the music itself. I found myself being more compelled by the oddball track picks than the headbanging anthems. Songs like Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again proved to be shockingly fun to play, moreso than the obligatory Metallica track, and I can’t imagine that bodes well for the upcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica. The highlight of the entire game is an unlockable three song set from Tool, which replaces the canned animations that normally accompany each song with a moody light show provided by a floating eyeball surrounded by scenery associated with Tool album art. It’s a hypnotic set piece that matches the tracks perfectly and makes you wish for more songs in future music games to take this kind of abstract approach to accompanying visuals. Even more satisfying is that once you unlock it, you can use the eyeball as a stage to accompany any song. So you can get that eyeball to perform La Bamba if you felt so inclined.

However, as mentioned above, your enjoyment of Guitar Hero is going to depend on your enjoyment of lengthy rock anthems from the 70s, as it seems like they outnumber the more contemporary songs. While that isn’t statistically the case, many of the more modern songs come from lesser known groups like Silversun Pickups (well, lesser known in comparison to The Doors I guess), as well as a large number of international acts like Tokio Hotel, that are popular in Europe. Likewise, 12 songs (15 if you count downloadable tracks) are already in Rock Band 2, so if you played Rock Band 2 first, your experience here will feel a bit more underwhelming. I can understand certain staples like Eye of the Tiger popping up twice, but I’d like to think that the Smashing Pumpkins have a beefy enough discography for both games to not have to feature Today. The difficulty of the songs scale at a more reasonable pace than in Guitar Hero 3, and you can swap difficulties in career mode at any time without having to start all over, a much needed improvement over the previous game. That said, unless you’re playing on Expert, the notes you play on your controller don’t always seem to match with the music you’re hearing, and even Expert will sometimes throw more notes at the player than the musician himself would actually be playing. I tend to think that this would only bother guitar players, but the track listing itself seems to be catered to that very audience…

And finally, should you feel so inclined, there’s the song editor. To actually make a song takes an incredible amount of time, patience and many, many, many tutorials. However, the fruits of your labor will not be so sweet, as the audio quality of original songs is below par and you can’t lay down vocals. A handful of the songs that you can currently download from other users are mildly interesting, and perhaps someone will become some kind of YouTube celebrity for making some kind of breakthrough hit or an obscenely challenging track for expert players, but I’d tend to think that real musicians should stick to real instruments for producing real music.

Going back to the toilet analogy, Guitar Hero: World Tour aims to out-urinate Rock Band but comes up against the wind. I’d recommend renting it if just to check out some of the more interesting songs, but whether or not to purchase it depends on your enthusiasm for the playlist as a whole, whether or not you’re playing on Expert and if you have 3 like-minded buddies to jam with. However, Rock Band 2 is the music game of choice for me now, the one that I’d rather be busting out to parties with people that never heard of Fleetwood Mac. A music game lives and dies on its setlist, and Guitar Hero : World Tour’s is more of an acquired taste, or perhaps a result of trying to please too many people at once and ultimately leaving no one satisfied.

Pros : For more giggles, get Ozzy Osbourne to sing La Bamba.

Cons : It may be too early to make an official judgment, but while the World Tour online music shop is already better than the purchasable songs from Guitar Hero 3, it’s nowhere near the level of the Rock Band store.

3 ½ stars

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