It’s difficult to believe the Guitar Hero franchise dates back only to 2005. What began as a seemingly risky digital endeavor (expensive plastic guitars?), has blossomed into full-on music-game proliferation. The brand name has since gained mainstream recognition, worldwide appeal, and a thirsty-for-more type fan following.
If you don’t count the Metallica, Aerosmith, and Smash Hits departures from core installments, Activision has plugged the franchise for five major rehashes since its inception, culminating today, with the release of Guitar Hero 5.
Sep. 1, 2009
Does this latest revision strike a resonating chord with fans of living-room rock or does it continue to fall behind Harmonix and Rock Band on the music-game scene?
First, and most importantly, Guitar Hero 5 was built with totally accessibility in mind. Gone are the confusing and finicky menu screens of World Tour in favor of simple, manageable options, all leading to getting you in the game rocking out as fast as possible.
There is zero story in Guitar Hero 5. No longer do you have to sit through drawn-out and nonsensical cartoony plots. That said however, the game’s “career” mode lives on, and actually works quite well. As you’d expect, you can create a rocker, name your band, customize your logo and can even utilize your Avatar as a playable character (they look hilarious next to Judy Nails and Co.) You progress through a series of “gigs” where most songs need be completed to move on to the next. So to finish the game, not every song need be beaten. This is a welcome game tweak because, as with any music game, there are songs what you just don’t want to play. I mean some of us like Bon Jovi, but not everyone.
Beyond the career mode lives the familiar “Quickplay” option, where, thankfully, all 85 songs by 83 artists are available from the game’s onset. You want to play Weezer’s “Why Bother” right now? No problem, because you can. As with World Tour, the option to select multiple tunes to play in sequence without reaching back to the menu, returns in GH5. This time however, each song’s length is displayed and when you select multiple tunes, will give you a running count of time to-be elapsed.
The track-list in Guitar Hero 5 is definitively the most varied to date. One minute you’ll be playing Bob Dylan’s melodic and heartfelt “All Along the Watchtower” and the next you’ll get funky with “Feel Good Inc.” by the Gorillaz. The tracklist hits nearly every genre. Children of Bodom, the Finnish metal act, have their face-meltingly difficult “Done with Everything, Die for Nothing” in the game but right next to it is the radio friendly and poppy “Sex on Fire” by the Kings of Leon. Guitar Hero 5 is like my iPod on shuffle, you never know what you’re going to get, but you love (nearly) every song regardless. Moreover, in an awesomely fantastic move, Rammstein’s “Du Hast” made the cut, and is balls-out fun to play.
Additionally, Guitar Hero 5 allows you to import 152 of World Tour’s 158 (everything except Jimi Hendrix songs) downloadable songs into the game. And on top of that, 35 of the on-disc “World Tour” and 21 “Smash Hits” tracks can be imported into GH5 for a small licensing fee. When all was said and done, my Guitar Hero 5 complete song-list ballooned to over 150. Nice!
Visually, Guitar Hero 5 is stunning. Everything from the main screen, to the now wider note-chart, just bleeds aesthetic intensity. Notes raining down the digital fretboard glimmer and pop in a way they never did before. Character models, including the game’s real-life likenesses, Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, and Shirley Manson are presented in a freakishly perfect manner. Without doubt this is the best, and most appropriate looking Guitar Hero to date.
On top of Career and Quickplay gameplay options, Guitar Hero 5 added some competitive modes, some of which are actually quite fun. In “Momentum” you and your opponent start at the medium difficulty and as the song progresses, based on how well you’re doing in terms of note streaks etc, the level of difficulty will either ramp up or fall back, depending on your level of success/failure. Additionally, the “Streakers” mode pits you and your fellow rocker against one another vying to achieve the longest correct note streaks, with point values increasing with continued success.
Where Guitar Hero 5 reaches the epitome of accessibility is in its “Party Play” mode. ‚ This game-mode allows for anyone, at anytime, to join in (or drop out), without stopping or halting the song already in progress. So if you don’t want to play the intro to a certain song, you don’t have to! Join in whenever you want. Likewise, if the phone rings and you have to answer it, simply drop out, while your bandmates continue at no score cost.
World Tour’s “Music Studio”once pegged to be the next “Garageband” appears in Guitar Hero 5, but really, we haven’t seen or heard a reason to mess around with it. It’s a fun time-waster, yes, but with the Rock Band Network soon to be front and center, GHTunes will want to crawl in a corner a die.
Blast Factor: Guitar Hero 5 is a phenomenally fun music/rhythm game. The combination of stellar graphics and extremely solid game-play make the title a wholly playable and deeply enjoyable experience for both the casual living-room rockers and the seasoned fan. The setlist hits every genre, with pure-fun tunes scattered throughout. And the ability to import on-disc and downloaded tunes from World Tour and Smash Hits, though now expected, is still great. Guitar Hero 5 is by far the best Guitar Hero game yet.
Guitar Hero 5 is available today for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2 for an MSRP of $59.99 and $49.99 on Wii and PS2. Review is concerning the Xbox 360 version.