Giant Bomb Review

39 Comments

Guitar Hero 5 Review

4
  • PS3
  • X360

Neversoft delivers a bubbly, slick-looking Guitar Hero game that benefits from big production values and a more accessible feel, and suffers from some questionable choices and a track list that lacks cohesion.


Guitar Hero is back and looking better than ever.
After last year's Guitar Hero World Tour, Activision and Neversoft get back to a regular numbering scheme with Guitar Hero 5, a game that polishes up the existing formula following World Tour's shift to a full-band format. There are some notable new features and plenty of rocking to be had in GH5, but this is definitely a game more concerned with giving you what you expect from Guitar Hero than pushing any boundaries.

As the name implies, the Guitar Hero series has always put a premium on big, stadium-rattling rock songs, and despite the presence of drums and vocals, it seems like it's the fretted instruments that hold the most sway. You get 85 songs on the disc with Guitar Hero 5, and there are plenty of hard-rocking numbers in there from bands like Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, The Rolling Stones, Smashing Pumpkins, and The White Stripes, among others. There's old stuff and there's new stuff, and a respectable portion of it is quite fun to play, but there are a number of songs that don't really agree with the game's rock-star attitude, like songs from Coldplay and Vampire Weekend, and some that just feel like filler. There just doesn't seem to be any real central vision to the song list. With all the licensing and audience considerations, I don't envy the task of trying to cook up a rhythm game song list that can be all things to all people. Still, Guitar Hero 5's approach to pleasing everyone meant that I found a handful of tracks that I really enjoyed playing, and a lot of material that I had little desire to revisit.

Comparatively, the series' glammy caricatured rock-n-roll fantasy aesthetic is intact and looking better than ever in Guitar Hero 5. The visuals in World Tour suffered from a certain mechanical blandness that seemed like a byproduct of the introduction of a character creator. While there are definitely some mannequin moments in GH5, everything is brimming with detail and color and movement. The shaky camera, the excess of colored light and smoke and pyro effects, and the increasingly ridiculous venues--which include an abandoned subway station, a boson reactor, and a barge beneath the Golden Gate Bridge--give the performances a terrific visceral punch. A lot of the character animation seems song-specific, which goes a long way to connecting the characters on your screen to the song that's being played. It even works pretty well when you're playing as your console avatar in the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Who would've pegged Cobain as a big Blink-182 fan?
This comes back to bite GH5 a little bit, specifically with the inclusion of a handful of real-life rockers as playable characters. Once you've unlocked Carlos Santana, Shirley Manson from Garbage, Kurt Cobain, or Johnny Cash, they're then available as playable characters for any other song in the game. It's kind of silly and absurd to see Santana or Manson playing other instruments on songs other than their own, but there's something disconcerting about seeing a semi-realistic-looking Cash or Cobain up there, rocking out and smiling it up and just trying to put on a real good lively show for the people like any other fabricated character you might randomly assemble. I think it's partially because they're both dead, so they can't give their consent for such use of their likenesses, but also because both were basically defined as outsiders, the kinds of guys who might not take kindly to basically being used as puppets. I don't think this is the venue for a dissertation on the topic, but suffice it to say that I found some of that stuff a little off-putting. I will admit, though, that there's something resonant about seeing Johnny Cash snarl his way through Rammstein's "Du Hast."

The modes in Guitar Hero 5 are fairly predictable, though each has been tweaked in some meaningful ways. The career mode is still basically just a long list of songs that you chew your way through, though each song now has an instrument-specific challenge associated with it that can earn you new character costumes and other bonuses. These can be simple score challenges, or they can be far more specific, such as using an upstroke to hit a number of notes when playing bass. It would be nice if there were more variety to the challenges, but it's a clever way to test your skills and to get players to try instruments outside of their comfort zone.

Challenges add another layer to the action.
In what I've interpreted as a tacit acknowledgement that the proliferation of rhythm games has left many a living room with more plastic instruments than it really needs, quick play now lets you play with up to four of any instrument you've got, which is also terribly handy when either no one or everyone wants to play a particular instrument. More than any of the past few games in the series, Guitar Hero 5 seems to recognize that not everyone is looking to get 100% on Dragonforce songs on expert; some folks are just looking for a little rock-n-roll and some casual fun. This culminates in the party play mode, which takes any competitive edge off the experience, letting players jump in and out or change difficulty or instruments all on the fly. If it's competition you want, though, there are a number of modes you can play both online and off, my favorite of which is momentum, which is basically a score challenge where the difficulty level you're playing at will adjust dynamically based on how well you're doing. Guitar Hero 5 features an updated version of the GH Studio toolset, which allows you to create your own songs, share them online, and download other players' creations, though the resulting songs still sound too much like the stiff MIDI songs that they are to make this feature terribly compelling.
 
There's something about the return to a standard numbering scheme for Guitar Hero 5 that suggests to me that this is, more than anything else, a commodity, a manufactured product, albeit a very attractive and energetic one. Neversoft seems more comfortable and confident than ever with this series it has inherited, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of passion behind the craft. 
39 Comments
Posted by jarryd

sounds pretty interesting

Posted by Dudacles

Good review. I'm not gonna pick this game up, I already have GHII and GHIII, and they will probably suffice for the rest of my life. I don't even have a working guitar anymore, Rock Band/Guitar Hero interest me little these days.

Posted by Warchief

having Kurt in this game just pisses me off to no end. 

Posted by VWGTI

I'll have to pass on any and all music games for a year or more. I'm completely burnt out when it comes to them.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review!

Posted by Media_Master

now to see how the Beatles Rockband will do...

Posted by TheHBK

I agree, there seemed to be such little marketing for this game and little anticipation that it seems like it really is just a manufactured product in a sense that some sports game are, just roll out another.  Seriously, where was the coverage for this game?  I think it will do terrible and people are actually going to go grab Beatles and Van Halen more than this.

Posted by jonnyboy

I'm really exited to play this game, I actually like the song list. As much as I think it's creepy to see Cobain and Cash on screen, they were no more anti industry than Lennon. If he were still alive RB:Beatles would not be happening, fact. That said maybe it's because these look pseudo realistic and the Beatles look fairly cartoony? I don't know. Still looking forward to see how that game plays as well.

Posted by DrLove

good review, same old for the most part...

Posted by Berkie

 I bought it...its the best quality GH yet....what pissed me off though was that before they launched the game, Neversoft was bragging about being able to import World Tours songs. Turns out you can only import about half of World Tours tracks, as opposed to Rock Band 2 letting you get all except 2 songs from RB1. 
 
The best thing is that if you buy GH5 this month, you can send away for a FREE copy of GH: Van Halen! FREE!

Posted by LtColJaxson
@Warchief said:
" having Kurt in this game just pisses me off to no end.  "
They made him have some kinda super strength too... he doesn't even need a strap to hold his guitar! :P
Posted by LincoIn

Good review although I've tired out on music games in general over the last year. If I get the urge again I'll definitely give this a try.

Posted by egads

"...there are plenty of hard-rocking numbers in there from bands like Bon Jovi..."
 
That made me laugh.  Bon Jovi, "hard-rocking"?  I dont think so.

Posted by tds418

Good review. I'll pick it up when the price goes down, The Beatles: Rock Band is my highest priority music/rhythm game right now.

Posted by Feanor

Can't wait to see Beatles rock band get a 5.  Even though its the same game with only one band.

Posted by bybeach

I do not play these games.Not meaning to be a jerk, but either i learn to actually play the insturment, or not. And i do not seem to have the aptitude. i do howevewr do have some attitude, and gawd how i agree with you about johnny cash,rip. He obviously didn`t make this  decision...
Posted by HatKing

I hate the attitude that the only songs to belong in a music game are those super popular, everybody-knows-the-words rocks songs.  I get far more enjoyment playing good music and seeing stuff that I wouldn't normally see.
Posted by MagusMaleficus

You know what? I really don't give a shit that Cash and Cobain are in the game. They weren't gods; they were as human as the rest of us. If they don't like it, let their ghosts haunt the Neversoft offices until they patch them out. 
 
And I say this as a Nirvana and Johnny Cash fan.

Posted by skrutop

After seeing the gameplay videos of this and TB:RB, I don't see much reason to keep buying these games.  They both look great, but I'm burned out on the rhythm genre.

Posted by Mourne
@Feanor said:
" Can't wait to see Beatles rock band get a 5.  Even though its the same game with only one band. "
Except it isn't... except it isn't.
 
Well, I mean, you'd be right if we just completely discounted the more appealing aesthetic, better gameplay with charting for the instruments that far outdoes its competition, and completely disregarded the superior UI. Oh, and all of those touches that makes it obvious the Rock Band games are crafted by those with a genuine interest in music--an interest that doesn't outweigh their interest in money (unlike someone).

I mean, there are four Guitar Hero console games coming out this year. To me, integrity of the product is important. Put everything you have into it and make sure no one is able to rightfully say they're all right of the same thread (which, sadly, we can't say for Guitar hero).
 
Putting aside all of that, exactly the same games.
 
(Oh, and not to mention... It is The Beatles.)
Posted by LCad

Four's fair enough.  I think that the setlist has many more highlights and a smarter feel than World Tour's, but to each his own.  And A-Punk is a fun guitar chart and great song with a place in that game.

Posted by Claude

I've read some reviews that say the Wii version is the better version.

Posted by RHCPfan24
@Feanor said:
" Can't wait to see Beatles rock band get a 5.  Even though its the same game with only one band. "
Thanks for the troll comment. If you don't like the band, fair enough. No one is pushing their opinion on you. However, a game with The Beatles for people who love the band (a lot of people) is bound to get a lot of attention and press. And what they are doing with it looks fantastic. The aesthetic is beautiful, built from the ground up and fully influenced by The Beatles' work. The quantity of the songs also may be shorter, but don't forget the quality is better. 45 Beatles Songs appeals a lot more than 85 songs of mixed quality. And, on top of all this, the extra content and interesting special features they are putting in here will appeal to any fan. So, yes, it looks amazing.
 
To Ryan, solid review. I am content with your analysis and it is not pushing me to get it any time soon but I will once it has a lower price.
Posted by stinky
@bybeach: i don't know why so many people make this mistake. 
this is a game and has nothing to do with learning music theory or the craft of playing a real instrument. 
 
give it a try, its fun. 
Posted by Dethfish

Things like features and graphics keep getting better and better in GH games but the one thing I really care about, the setlist, keeps getting worse. I'll still probably end up playing this though.

Posted by giyanks22

Don't like Guitar Hero, but nice review none the less

Posted by VibratingDonkey

No more click-clacking background noise! For several days until The Beatles Rock Band arrives.

Posted by grant

It's truly disturbing that not only are they defacing the memory of Kurt Cobain, but they're disgracing Daniel Johnston and the Hi, How Are You shirt.

Posted by LCad

because kurt cobain and johnny cash are in the game that instantly means they are clearly disgracing their memories and doing it intentionally everyone involved in the creation of guitar hero 5 is essentially pissing on both musicians' respective graves good logic

Posted by Carlidus

at least it's better than world tour

Posted by agentboolen

YEA!!!!  Another rythem game, lets spend a ton of money on a game we already own just because they change the music in the game!!!!  Is it me or are these rythem games just dumb.

Posted by Mgsfreak

Video review please! Rock the shit outta those drums ryan!

Posted by JakJ

I'm done with GH. GH 1 and 2 were lots of fun, as is RB 1 and 2, but I'm just burnt out on music games and have no real desire to play them anymore. Anyone else who was playing from or near the beginning (Nov '05) feel that way?. 
 
RB: Beatles is the only music I see myself purchasing in the future. It seems like an apt way to lay this genre to rest.

Posted by ZipCrash

Track list may lack cohesion but at least we finally get something other then mainstream hits. I wasn't even planning on playing this, I'm more of a Rock Band person, but I decided I had to when I saw Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys on the track listing.

Posted by Keeng
@Mourne said:
" @Feanor said:
" Can't wait to see Beatles rock band get a 5.  Even though its the same game with only one band. "
Except it isn't... except it isn't.
 
Well, I mean, you'd be right if we just completely discounted the more appealing aesthetic, better gameplay with charting for the instruments that far outdoes its competition, and completely disregarded the superior UI. Oh, and all of those touches that makes it obvious the Rock Band games are crafted by those with a genuine interest in music--an interest that doesn't outweigh their interest in money (unlike someone).

I mean, there are four Guitar Hero console games coming out this year. To me, integrity of the product is important. Put everything you have into it and make sure no one is able to rightfully say they're all right of the same thread (which, sadly, we can't say for Guitar hero).
 
Putting aside all of that, exactly the same games.
 
(Oh, and not to mention... It is The Beatles.) "

That. The Rock Band games bring a lot more to the table than the GH games and always have. You can almost feel the level of appreciation the developers put in to the music and the gameplay. Guitar Hero will has a manufactured, artificial feel and Rock Band games really do seem like a realization of a team's ideals (regarding rock). If you don't see it, you don't see it. 
 
Also as a person who hates the inclusion of actual people in the GH games, I don't think Cobain's and Cash's appearances are defacing them in any way. It's not like they're in the game being called bitches or anything. It's weird and kinda dumb that you can put cash on drums in a Megadeth song but it's just innocent, stupid game design, not Neversoft putting the finger to music legends.
Posted by SimonM7

It seems to me that Guitar Hero tries to be its own thing 50% of the time and spends the rest looking over the shoulder of Rock Band. One half of the game pulls towards the manly men who wear black tshirts, have long hair, and spend an hour every day keeping healthy by headbanging, and the other.. looks over the shoulder of Rock Band and tries to be the every other dude kind of experience.
 
That's how you end up with a full band's worth of plastic instruments and a load of tame songs in a game called GUITAR Hero, with a roster full of 80s hard rock pastiche characters. If it weren't for the shoehorned in Johnny Cash et all, that is.
 
It's a franchise that is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY LOST in regards to what it wants to be, and in being lost it's just an insecure looking mess standing next to something confidently mainstream like Rock Band. Its band specific iterations suffer from the same half-hearted, half-arsed presentation and also pale when put next to the to-the-bone Beatles infused Rock Band game honouring that band.
 
I hate the line "they should" because I'm no games designer and don't pretend to be, but they should really embrace their guitarryness I reckon. Let Rock Band do the band thing, and concentrate on making the most badass guitar-centric game there is. Make it awesome for beginners, make it awesome for experts, and focus on riffs and solos and powerful songs that make your knickers disintergrate. I wouldn't play that game because I like my knickers firmly intergrated, ahem, but that game would better service the audience that still gravitates towards the more "hardcore" (though obiviously becoming less so by the minute) nature of Guitar Hero.
 
This mimicing of Rock Band is just useless because that game will always stay one step ahead as long as Activision try to stand with one foot firmly entangled in the long locks of HARD ROCKING DUDES IN JEANS JACKETS and one fondling the mainstream. They need to make their mind up and commit wholeheartedly to whatever they decide.

Posted by Attero

Whether Guitar Hero or Rock Band,  I don't understand how these games keep getting good reviews when it's the same repetitious gameplay in each game that comes out.

Posted by Aussiepowa

Get Tim Schafer to do the set list for the GH game FFS !
Posted by vuk49

ugh how many games can they possibly make whe have 12345 metalica airosmith  d j hero rock band  i lost track