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Guitar Hero 5 Hits the Stage

Are you ready to rock? I SAID ARE YOU READY TO ROCK!?!


This guy is definitely ready to rock.
This guy is definitely ready to rock.
With its September 1 release date, it's a little surprising just how close Guitar Hero 5 is, mostly because it doesn't seem like Activision has really talked that much about the game beyond its track list. The importance of the track list to a rhythm game like Guitar Hero cannot be overstated, but if new songs were all that Guitar Hero 5 had to offer, I might be worried about the series. After seeing the game at an Activision event last week, I don't think GH5 will do anything for those suffering from rhythm game-fatigue, but it's got a pretty solid track list, as well as a few unique features up its sleeve.

My hands-on time with the game didn't tell me much about the game that I hadn't already gleaned back at E3. From the colorful rocker caricatures up on stage to the brain-blistering challenges offered by the higher difficulty levels, this was still Neversoft's Guitar Hero. Last year's World Tour brought the full-band setup to Guitar Hero, and this year the focus is making the game as accessible as possible, whether this means seamless jump-in-jump-out multiplayer, difficulty that adjusts to your skill on the fly, or the ability to play with any combination of instruments you please.

So no real surprises there, but the big news coming out of last week's event concerned what Activision is calling "franchise compatibility." What this means in simple terms is that most songs that you've downloaded to play in Guitar Hero World Tour will work in Guitar Hero 5--152 of the 158 DLC songs for World Tour currently work in GH5, and it sounds like that number is going up. Additionally, you'll be able to copy a number of songs off the Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero: Smash Hits discs and play them in Guitar Hero 5 for what Activision is saying will be a "nominal" fee.

Have a four-way guitar battle if you want! There's no one to stop you!
Have a four-way guitar battle if you want! There's no one to stop you!
No specific details were given about which songs you'd be able to copy, though it was mentioned that you'd need a 20-digit Unique Owner ID that's included with World Tour and Smash Hits to perform the disc-copy function. I suspect this is a move to prevent those with used copies or rented copies from taking advantage of this feature. All this franchise compatibility will extend to Band Hero when that comes out later this year, though Activision reps weren't forthcoming with further details about that game.

Making your DLC compatible between versions and letting users copy songs off the disc from a previous version of your game are both moves straight out of the Rock Band playbook, though they're still very pro-consumer moves that I cannot fault Activision for including in GH5. The interesting twist here is that, when Guitar Hero 5 is released, there will also be a patch for World Tour that will introduce some of the new features from GH5. As altruistic as this might seem, keep in mind that Activision will likely start releasing new DLC songs that include hooks for those new features, so it only makes sense to make them work with the older game as well.

The franchise compatibility features will work in the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii versions, though the Wii will be sporting a few unique features of its own. Developed by Vicarious Visions, GH5 on the Wii will have all the shared features of the other two versions, as well as Mii support and a robust online mode that sidesteps game-specific friend codes and will allow up to eight Wiis to connect online and play. GH5 will also have support for direct access to SDHC cards, which means that you'll be able to store all that DLC and all those songs ripped out of World Tour and Smash Hits on a single, big-ass SD card.

Listen all of y'all it's a... yeah.
Listen all of y'all it's a... yeah.
Beyond all the technical stuff, developer Vicarious Visions was showing off the new Roadie Battle mode that's exclusive to the Wii. This mode lets you connect your DS to your Wii wirelessly, download a bunch of roadie-themed minigames onto your DS, and then team up with a guitar-wielding player against another team of guitar-and-DS players. While your teammate is shredding it up on the guitar, you'll be tapping and scribbling and blowing into your DS to launch attacks against the opposing guitarist and undo any damage the other roadie might be inflicting on your guitarist. There's nothing rhythmic about it, but there's a simple strategy to the frantic action.

Those familiar with the Guitar Hero On Tour games for the DS might find some of the minigame stuff in the Roadie Battle a little familiar, and with good reason, as Vicarious Visions developed those games as well. It's hard to say if Roadie Battle will be enough of a novelty to really matter, but I don't see the harm in expanding the ways people can interact with your game. Despite certain technical handicaps, the audience for the Wii seems ideal for Guitar Hero, and it seems smart of Vicarious Visions to go out of its way to take advantage of what the system has to offer.

The other big surprise from the Guitar Hero 5 event was the news that, when it launches, it will be available either bundled with a guitar controller, or disc-only, without the option for a full-band setup. Between The Beatles: Rock Band, Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero, DJ Hero, and Tony Hawk: RIDE, there are a lot of big game boxes filling up shelves this year, so it's a move that makes a certain amount of sense from a retail perspective.

All in all Guitar Hero 5 is shaping up to be an assured, if not entirely surprising, entry in the series. Be sure to check out my video interviews with Neversoft's Brian Bright and Vicarious Visions CEO Karthik Bala for more details, plus a glimpse of the event itself.