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Guitar Hero 5

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1, 1 - 4 (Local); 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Admittedly, reviewing Guitar Hero is becoming similar to reviewing Madden. While the cynic in me wants to cut and paste a past Guitar Hero review and find/ replace titles with Guitar Hero 5, I can't. For one, my editor would probably chew me out (though I've been chewed out before...), but more importantly passing over the game's improvements would be a disservice.

Music, music, music... it's the most important aspect of any Guitar Hero (besides a responsive controller) and akin to Madden's yearly roster update. After a disappointing outing with GH: Smash Hits, Guitar Hero 5 is a big recovery. This could be the newness talking, but this may be my favorite set list to date. I was happy to see a number of songs from my high school years make the list, including "Comedown" (Bush), "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana) and "What I've Got" (Sublime). I can't say I'm completely happy with all of the song choices, but I enjoyed going through a majority of the songs. As with past versions, Guitar Hero 5's tracks are a little more guitar-focused than its rival, Rock Band. Songs offer something for every part, but without the massive breaks found in some Rock Band selections.

For the first time ever (and it's about time too), a Guitar Hero game is compatible with songs from a previous game. If you have either Guitar Hero: World Tour or Smash Hits, you can enter a code and download songs from either game into Guitar Hero 5. There's a slight relicensing fee (before heading to message boards to protest/ complain those money-grubbing execs, Rock Band required a fee as well), but it is worth it for the extra songs. DLC songs are also supported and even gain extras like Band Moments in the transition.

I'll refrain from using the word "mature" to describe the game's updated look and just say it looks much older than the "cartoony" look of past games. The visuals still have all of the style of past games, but characters have the harder edge seen in GH: Metallica. The returning cast of characters features an updated look and the game's guest stars, like Johnny Cash and Shirley Manson, are detailed right down to their smaller stage mannerisms, adding a sense of authenticity and style.

Exclusive to the 360 is Avatar support. You can import your virtual representation into the game and play through any of the game's play modes. The only time the option looks odd is when you are standing next to in-game characters, though you can replace the rest of your band with random (or player-created) Avatars if it becomes an issue.


Gameplay:

Among the game's newer features is Party Play, a "quick start" mode. If you've ever played a music game with friends, you've undoubtedly wasted a few minutes fumbling around with menus and other items. Party Play kicks off at the start of the game and acts as an interactive title screen. The game cycles through random songs like a media player, so you can keep it running as background music for parties. If however, you want to jump into a song and play, you can quickly get in with a press of a button. The downside is you can't choose songs, but the randomness adds an extra hint of excitement to multiplayer games. It also saves you from awkwardly indecisive "What do you want to play?" conversations.

Another cool aspect of Party Play is its flexibility. You can use the "traditional" setup, or pop in up to four of one type of instrument. For instance, if everyone wants to play guitar, all four can pop in a guitar and play along. The same can be done for vocals and, if you have the room (and peripherals), drums. As impractical as it sounds, the mode should prove interesting at parties. Multiple instances of the same instrument is allowed in Career mode as well. Guitar Hero 5 also adds drop-in, drop-out play... finally.

Outside Career, Guitar Hero 5 offers a collection of new multiplayer games. Elimination drops the player with the lowest score, while Streaker rewards you for stringing notes together. With Do-or-Die, you'll need to take periodic time-outs if you mess up a song section and Perfectionist scores you on certain parts of the song. Finally, there's Momentum, where the goal is to rank up through the difficulties from Beginner to Expert and, as the name implies, keep up the momentum. Within a more casual party setting (you know, your parents and non-gamer friends), the new multiplayer modes may not find much rotation, but with your hardcore GH group of friends, they are great for developing bragging rights.

The Music Studio option released with World Tour has seen a major revamp, making it easier to learn. The interface is now mapped to the fret buttons, so you can get to things quicker. It's a "common sense" thing, but then again, a healthy number of Guitar Hero 5's new features seem that way once you see them in action. You can also swap out large sections of songs. If you don't want to play around in the studio, you can also play around with GHJam. Here, you pick a style and just jam along with friends or preset instruments. It's a neat feature for goofing around with friends, even if nearly everything you produce ends up sounding like a Coldplay instrumental track (take that as you will).


Difficulty:

Visual style isn't the only thing Guitar Hero 5 takes from GH: Metallica. Guitar Hero 5 follows the same basic gameplay structure of unlocking venues by collecting performance stars. As with GH: Metallica (and, by extension Smash Hits), you don't have to complete every song in the game to complete Career Mode, you only need enough to unlock the next venue on the list. After two shots at implementation, Guitar Hero 5 manages to balance things out; completing Career takes longer than it did with GH: Metallica, but it is still flexible enough that you aren't forced to play songs you don't like.

Note charts are comparable to GH: Metallica. The normal five difficulty levels are available, though even on Medium, the game will give you a challenge. This isn't to say I didn't pop off 4 - 5 star ratings, but some areas really threw me for a loop. New to songs are Bonus Challenges. Each song features a specific band or instrument requirement, like hitting a note streak with the guitar or only up strumming while on bass. Challenges are tough to get on the first try and provide motivation to re-play songs, at least if you're looking for customization options.


Game Mechanics:

Guitar Hero 5 doesn't stray too far from the basic core mechanics of past games. The note highway features a few slight tweaks, which will take some adjustment. The Rock Meter is replaced with a non-descript meter on the right side of the highway. It may be that I'm really used to looking at the meter for Star Power, but there were times I actually forgot that I even had Star Power in the tank. Other elements are condensed on either side of the highway, but the locations are more in line with the last two games, so their placement didn't throw me off as much.

Two additional features bring the core band dynamic closer to Rock Band 2 and make play accessible to a wider audience. Band Revival gives players a chance to pull floundering performers back into the game by working together. It's not an original option, but a welcome one, particularly if you've ever had a show fail within the first few seconds. When the band hits its stride together, Band Moments are unlocked. Pyro goes off, fans go nuts and your scores are tripled for a short time.

Again, my inner cynic wants to tell you that Guitar Hero 5 is more of the same and part of the continued over-saturation of the series. But I can't. Guitar Hero 5 is a minor, but significant improvement to the series. The song list is great, the new multiplayer modes are fun and the new band mechanics create a user-friendly experience. If you're convinced Guitar Hero 5 is a cash-in, nothing I say will change your mind. If not, you already know more Guitar Hero isn't a bad thing.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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