The star system has also been upgraded. You can still earn the standard five-star rating but acing a song perfectly will gain you a sixth, while each song has three more possible stars tied to a challenge. These challenges are instrument specific—for example, you can only attempt a bass challenge if you’re playing bass, and others require a band effort of at least two people playing. They can involve anything from achieving a high score to alt-strumming, or even hitting every tap note in a song. Some challenges even let you choose from a limited list of songs, so if you need a really high score you can select a song with a ton of chords and a virtuosic solo.
Earning just the lowest rank in these challenges usually unlocks some new goodies but to earn all three extra stars you have to earn the highest rank. This can be a problem when the score requirement is stratospheric, practically requiring full band play on expert, but in any case the challenges are a welcome mix-up of the standard career mode and they should offer plenty of replay value for Score Hero forum frequenters.
All of the modes have general gameplay tweaks that make GH5 the most enjoyable entry in quite a while. For starters, four people can play any combination of instruments so yes, if you own the equipment you can have four people on guitar, bass, drums or vocals at any given time, or any combination of the three. No one gets stuck playing a boring baseline this time. The perplexing “one person fails, everyone fails” mechanic from World Tour is gone and not missed; instead all remaining players must rock well enough to win back the crowd and reinstate their fallen bandmate. Each person has their own star power meter too, doing away with the odd communal star power pool that doled out tiny sips of energy to each player. Instead, to encourage band coordination most songs have “Band Moments,” which are brief sequences of fiery notes that confer a bonus score multiplier if every band member nails the sequence. You can also change your difficulty at any time, even during a career song, which does require that you restart the song but at least you don’t have to quit and double back through three menus.
I didn’t play around with the GHtunes song creator much but its menus are much easier to negotiate, the sound quality is slightly better and on the whole it feels less like a stripped down dev tool and more like a full mode.
In terms of individual instruments, I didn’t receive the full band kit to review and had to fall back on my trusty World Tour controllers but I can elaborate on how the gameplay’s been improved. For the guitar the tap solos make a return but they aren’t as abrupt or arbitrary; they make a lot more sense this time are don’t feel like a gimmick.
The drums are still markedly harder on any difficulty than the drums in the Rock Band series, especially with that orange cymbal showing up from easy onward, but overall they felt a lot less temperamental than they did in World Tour. You still have to hit both cymbals simultaneously to engage star power, which I think is awkward. It breaks your rhythm especially in difficult songs, making you much more likely to miss and kill your multiplier when the whole point of star power is to double your multiplier beyond normal. I prefer Rock Band’s drum fill method, which may seem too scripted but it gives you a chance to freestyle a bit and lets you keep rhythm.
I still have issues with the vocals. GH5 lets you choose from static, scrolling or karaoke lyrics and introduces vocal star power—granted you have to be holding a Wii remote to activate it—but even on easy the voice recognition is pretty fickle. I’m either a very, very bad singer or once again Guitar Hero is much harder and more stringent than Rock Band, a series where vocals never gave me a problem on anything but hard and expert difficulties.
Even with the mix of improvements and lagging leftover issues from World Tour, GH5 has a much stronger list of music than its predecessor. Boasting 85 songs by 83 artists, you get “Lithium” and “Smells Like Teen Sprit” from Nirvana, “Kryptonite” from 3 Doors Down, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” from Duran Duran, which is a different master recording than the one in Rock Band 2. The Keiser Chiefs return to the series with “Never Miss a Beat” and Muse is back with “Plug In Baby” and frontman Matt Bellamy as a playable character. There’s some funk with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “Play that Funky Music” by Wild Cherry.
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