GOONL!NE Review: Guitar Hero 5

GH5boxDeveloper: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision
Also On: Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Release Date: Friday September 11th 2009
Age Rating: BBFC PG

Unless you’ve been living under a gaming rock for the past few years, you will no doubt have played, seen or at least heard of the Guitar Hero games. That’s unsurprising really, considering there are roughly 13 different versions available on various home and handheld consoles, not counting upcoming games or the versions available on mobile phones. That’s a fairly substantial amount of games when you consider the series only made its debut on the PS2 in 2005, so you could understand why some fans may feel aggrieved at yet another new version coming out. They will no doubt be asking what’s so different about this version, besides the set list, that will be worth paying out £40 when they may already own several other games from earlier in the franchise. The answer to that question is that there is quite a lot different about this version, and if you’re used to playing the game with friends you will certainly notice those changes. Are the changes worth your money though?

GH5-1As the title suggests, Guitar Hero 5 is the fifth main game in the franchise to be released. The series started off simply as a guitar game with a basic career, having you progress through various tiers to unlock all the songs, most of which were performed by cover artists instead of the real music. As the series grew in popularity with the fans, so the artists started taking notice as well. More and more bands gave their permission for the master tracks of their songs to appear in the game, as well as digital versions of themselves, such as Slash and Tom Morello appearing in Guitar Hero 3. With the release of Guitar Hero: World Tour the game moved away from just being a guitar game, adding in a whole band of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, bringing the game alongside the Rock Band series. As the series progressed more features were added in each game, such as the Guitar Battles in Guitar Hero 3 and the ability to create your own songs in World Tour. This brings us nicely to Guitar Hero 5 which hopes to refine the series once more, making it even easier for everyone to just pick it up and play.

One of the main improvements Neversoft has tried to make here is in respect to accessibility, and how easy it is to just jump into the music. This is obvious from the moment the game starts up, as instead of going to a title screen with menu options, the game instantly starts playing a random song like a virtual jukebox, called the Party Play mode. At any point during the song you can press a button, select your difficulty, and start playing along with the music. You don’t need to get through any menus here, just press a button and you’re straight into the action. If you need to take a break, simply pause the game and drop out. Hell, you can simply put your guitar or drum sticks down if you choose, as there is no scoring or failing of songs here. The music will keep playing and you can jump back into it whenever you’re ready. It’s a mode designed for when you’ve got a group of friends around. Simply plug in whatever instruments you have available and start the game off. As soon as a song comes on that someone likes they can pick up the instrument and play along. Fancy putting the guitar down and switching to vocals to belt out “Sex on Fire”? Simply drop out with the guitar and drop in with the microphone. It’s that simple and it really gives you the drop-in drop-out style gameplay you want when you have people over. It’s the ultimate mode for a group of friends to play, an excellent feature and one that highlights just how accessible they want they game to be.

GH5-2Another new, and very good feature, is the ability for any band member to pick any instrument they want. In the past if you had 4 people together you may find yourselves arguing over who gets stuck as the bass player or who has to sing, but not in Guitar Hero 5. If all 4 of you want to be lead guitarists, then you can. Just pick the instruments you all want to play and off you go. Again, this is another simple yet excellent feature that really helps the game, especially as many long time Guitar Hero players will have a few guitars lying around so they can finally all be put to use at the same time, something they probably never thought possible. Any combination of instruments is possible so no matter what instruments you own there will always be ways they can be used together.

Another multiplayer addition this year is a mode called Rock Fest. Here, up to 4 players locally and up to 8 online can play through a variety of game modes, such as Elimination, Momentum, Do or Die, Perfectionist and Streakers. Each mode has different ways of scoring, with Momentum increasing the difficulty as you hit 20 notes in a row, or Elimination forcing the player with the lowest score in each section of the song out of the game. They’re all fun modes to play and add variety and longevity to a game that already has a long life span thanks to the multiplayer side of things.

GH5-3The career mode on offer here has taken a leaf out of the book of Guitar Hero: Metallica. Instead of working through a simple set list, you have to unlock each venue, and therefore the next set of songs, by obtaining a certain number of stars. Doing it this way gives you the option to bypass songs if you don’t like them, or perhaps find them too difficult. Simply go for another song and try to get as many songs as possible. It also means the better players will go through the venues quicker as they find themselves earning up to 8 stars per song, with up to 5 stars for the song score, as well as 3 additional stars for completing bonus objectives, though these bonus objectives are instrument specific so you may find you can’t complete them if you only stick to the one instrument.

The quick play mode also borrows from the previous games, as unlike the early versions of the Guitar Hero games, here the entire set list is available right from the start, allowing you to jump straight in and play your favourite songs without having to plow through the career mode first. This is something I always look favourably on, as sometimes you just want to play a couple of songs, and if you need to unlock your favourite songs beforehand it can be a real annoyance.

GH5-4One minor, but very cool new feature is the ability to use your Xbox 360 avatar in the game. I’ve never felt the Avatars have been used properly ever since they were introduced, and this is the first game I’ve played where they’ve been put to real use. Your Avatar will come out on stage and rock out with the best of them, and even though it makes no difference to the gameplay whatsoever, it really is a cool thing to watch.

Unfortunately, one area where Guitar Hero 5 is a let down is in the set list. This is a purely subjective area of course, and many people may well love the set list, but for me this is probably the weakest set list I’ve seen in any of the main games in either the Guitar Hero or Rock Band franchises. It’s perhaps understandable given how many music games have gone before this that so many of the big rock tunes have already been used elsewhere, but I feel this is the one area a music game simple has to get right. It doesn’t matter about the feature set, what game modes there are or how accessible it all is. If the set list is not good enough, people will soon get bored playing it. There are some excellent songs in there, such as Santana’s “No One to Depend On”, Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes to Midnight” and Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?”, but I just feel the set list is a little too diverse, and some people may find they don’t enjoy parts of it. The set list is however one of the biggest available, with a total of 85 songs in the game, all of which are master tracks featuring the real artists.

It has to be said though, the complaints about the set list can be off-set if you’re an owner of either Guitar Hero: World Tour or Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. For the first time in the Guitar Hero franchise, virtually all the downloadable content from Guitar Hero: World Tour will work with Guitar Hero 5, with 152 of the 158 tracks available for World Tour working on Guitar Hero 5. Not only that, but for a small fee you can import 35 songs from World Tour and 21 songs from Smash Hits. If you’re an owner of either of those games, and perhaps have invested some money into getting some of the downloadable songs, this will be just what you wanted to hear as it really extends the life of the game and makes the set list hugely more interesting. It also gives new players to the franchise a reason to go out and pick those games up cheaply.

GH5-5Graphically the game is easily the best looking in the Guitar Hero series so far, possibly in the music genre as a whole. While it may not be a graphical masterpiece like Gears of War 2, the game shines with a polish that hasn’t always been there in the past. Some of the musicians who lend their likeness to the game, including the late Kurt Cobain, look eerily accurate.

So, with some excellent new features but a less than stellar set list, is Guitar Hero 5 worth your money? It’s the question I asked in the opening paragraph, and all things considered, I would have to say yes, it is worth your money. A lot of the new features, such as the Party Play mode are aimed at groups of players rather than individuals, so if you find that you only play Guitar Hero on your own, you may not find too much new here. If you do play with friends on a regular basis however, you will really appreciate some of the new features available here, such as the ability to have more than one person playing a particular instrument. Yes, the set list isn’t the best we’ve seen, but if you can look past that, or if you have the previous games mentioned and lots of DLC to import, then you’ll find a music game chock-full of features that will appeal to old hands and newcomers to the series alike. Is it better than Rock Band 2 or The Beatles: Rock Band? My own opinion is that it falls ever so slightly short, purely because of the set list. The feature set on offer here is exceptional, and if you play music games with friends on a regular basis, then you really should make this game part of your collection.

GH5-6Final thoughts: Guitar Hero 5 has without a doubt the best feature set in any of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games to date, and the ability to import tunes from previous games is a welcome addition. Unfortunately however, the relatively poor set list that comes with the game stops it from being the best game in the genre so far.

Gameplay – 9: The core gameplay remains pretty much untouched since the series was released, and that’s a good thing. The Guitar Hero games have proven to be immensely popular over the years and that’s purely down to how fun they are to play. The new gameplay modes just make it even easier to get your rock on.

Graphics – 8: The best looking game in the series so far, without doubt. The real life musicians who are in the game all look scarily accurate, especially Kurt Cobain.

Sound – 7: While all the songs are master recordings and therefore sound exactly as they should, I’m scoring this as a 7 purely because I feel the set list could be a lot better.

Presentation – 8: Accessibility was obviously a big target area this year and it’s obvious straight away, from the way it jumps right into Party Play when you start the game. Everything has been tweaked to make accessing the game so much easier.

Overall – 8: The best game in the series since Guitar Hero 3, GH5 offers so many new features and gameplay modes that it will no doubt prove appealing to a lot of players. If you can look past the less-than-stellar set list, you’ll find an excellent music game that’s full of features that will no doubt become standard fare in the genre for years to come.