Friday, December 12, 2008

I Want to Rock 'N Roll All Night, And Have a Really Nice Time

A Guitar Hero:World Tour Review.

When Harmonix broke away from Activision to create RockBand, the task fell to Red Octane and Neversoft to continue the Guitar Hero franchise. Their first effort, Guitar Hero 3, was basically more of the same. Progressing through the career and unlocking songs is all well-to-do, but fans of the series couldn't help but shake the sense that the rock-simulator game was getting a bit long in the tooth. Special guest appearances by Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of Guns 'n Roses fame (and even Satan himself) only helped to pad the meandering path that Guitar Hero seemed to be taking.

Thankfully, the release of RockBand inspired Red Octane to kick the Guitar Hero franchise up a notch. Included with the newest outing is a wireless drum set and a microphone, changing Guitar Hero to sort of a "Band Hero" (doesn't have the same ring, though). By completely overhauling the traditional Guitar Hero trappings, Red Octance have breathed life back into the series.

The first thing you'll notice about Guitar Hero: World Tour is that the clumsy, cartoon-y graphics have been eschewed in favor of a more stylized interface. The actual in-game HUD is a lot cleaner, as well. Your Rock Meter and Star Power gauges no longer take up a large portion of the screen; they are instead relegated to a small part of the interface, but they never seem out of the way or unclear. Gone too is the giant flashing indicator that appears when you start note-streaks. It is replaced by a smaller, yet still visible, text line that appears over the note track and quickly dissipates. The new Guitar Hero is a lot cleaner, and it benefits greatly from it.

The characters, too, have gotten quite the make-over. The drummers are no longer rhythm-robots, owing in great part to the excellent motion-capture by professional drummers Travis Barker, Chad Smith and Stewart Copeland. The guitarist struts around stage with abandon, and the bassist does moves other than standing there, plucking strings. The singer gets probably the biggest changes; he (or she) will swing the mic stand around, make faces at the camera, and sometimes let the other band members join in some lyric-belting. All the changes make the on-screen rock-avatars (or rockvatars) seem more like a real band, and less like some bored actors going through the motions.

The set list has seen a significant upgrade as well. Where previous Guitar Heroes pandered to the Metal and Rock genres, World Tour expands its repertoire. You can still find your Rock and Metal selections, but the list includes songs from a wide variety of musical samplings. Blink-182, Coldplay and Paramore all have their spots on the list, additions that will surely please those looking for something a bit different. A welcome addition to the song list is the ability to create sets in Quickplay; you can load up six songs at one time and play through them in a steady progression.

Where Guitar Hero makes it's biggest changes, however, is the instruments included in the bundle. The new guitar is larger and more solidly-built, adding things like a longer whammy-bar and a star power button right beside the strum bar. In addition to these features, the new guitar features a slider button on the neck, below the regular fret buttons. With the slider, your can do some pretty neat licks, gliding your fingers across the pad. Unfortunately, the game doesn't give a lot of advanced indication as to when it's going to change from fret buttons to the slider bar, so you'll have to be quick with your fingers.

The drum set included with the game is also very well done. Bearing more resemblance to an actual drum kit, with the symbols residing above the other pads, actual drummers should feel more at home with the set than they would with RockBand's. (Fittingly, the request for elevated symbols was unanimous amongst the musicians brought in to help Red Octane develop the set) The only problem with the pads is that they are velocity-sensitive. It doesn't happen often, but you'll sometimes go for a bit without the snare or symbol hits registering.

The mic included with the bundle is your standard karaoke mic; nothing too fancy, but it gets the job done.

Overall, the new Guitar Hero takes the "press colored buttons to make sounds" formula and advances it to the next logical step. Even though Guitar Hero has a built in music creator, one must wonder where else this franchise can go before the plastic instrument fatigue sets in. Like all other wildly successful innovations, both Guitar Hero and RockBand will have to evolve their game if they wish to stay fresh and competitive.

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