The Guitar Hero series has been a very popular one over the past few years and I've played it since the very first one came out on the PS2. Last year it was Neversoft’s first try at continuing the series and they didn’t do too bad. With the popularity of Rock Band, it was inevitable that the one to start the popularity of musical instrument games on the consoles would also move into offering a full band experience. So a year later, Neversoft is back with Guitar Hero World Tour and this time the drums and mic are along for the ride.
The gameplay’s basically the same as past games and Rock Band so I’ll go over it briefly. Notes come down a fret line and it’s your job to match the pattern and strum the bar for the guitar or hit the right pad for the drums. The more notes you get correct the higher the score. Miss too many and you will fail the song. With singing, you have to match the pitch in order to get points. Unlike Rock Band, the timing needed for Guitar Hero World Tour and past games is a little bit more generous. So, you can be a little bit off and be OK as the game will still register it as a success whereas Rock Band forces you to be a little more accurate. I tend to gravitate towards the Guitar Hero style of registering hits as it does make it a little more fun when it's more forgiving. There are some new features though and compared to Rock Band there are some major differences.
I do like the set list of Guitar Hero World Tour perhaps a little but more than Rock Band 2's default set list. But, like all music this is all a matter of personal preference. The one caveat though is that since this is the first one in the series to feature the full band setup, no songs from the previous Guitar Hero game with the exception of Metallica's Death Magnetic will transfer over. This leaves the set list to be a little limiting compared to Rock Band initially until more DLC is issued. Seeing as how you can port Rock Band 1 songs as well as DLC over to Rock Band 2, the amount of sales does pale in comparison to Harmonix's game and there are some songs that transcend both titles. Even so, there are some differences that you might enjoy and I for one found the set list to be pretty good. But, there is the song creator where you can download a multitude of use and company creations or create your own that will help a little bit before more official songs come out.
If you are into just quick playing, one nice thing you can do is setup a sequence of up to six songs to play. This makes it more streamlined than in Rock Band when playing multiple songs. No longer are you taking out of the game and asked to choose another song as this will help speed up play if you plan on playing a few of them in a row. It's a nice feature for those that just want to play a few songs and call it quits. Going into the "story mode", you'll be playing various gigs and an encore. If completed you can move onto other gigs and usually have a few to choose from so you aren't stuck at one available. The gigs are pretty basic and there aren't any little side items you can achieve like in Rock Band. I didn't have any problems with it but for future games, I do like to see a little more interactivity with the story mode.
The user interface does need some work and there's one example I will give you that I hope will change in future games. Unlike Rock Band, you have to set the difficulty level before you play the songs. That means you can't alter how hard the game is between songs. This can be pretty frustrating for players who aren't proficient on all the songs at a certain level. What this does is force you to choose a difficulty one below what you are comfortable at so that you aren't the one holding back your band mates if you fail. I don't know why Neversoft decided to go this route but it's caused more headaches in testing with players of various levels than it needed to be.
For the guitar there are some additions to the gameplay in this year’s version. On the harder difficulty levels, there will be sections of sequential long notes. It starts out with one long note and while that’s still active, a second one will come down. With two in play, a third long note will also scroll down so you eventually end up holding three long notes. Also, there's an area where you can use t he touch slider but I'll touch more on that in a minute. If you are playing bass, there’s a change for you as well. There's an addition of the strum without a fret button. It will come down the note line as a straight purple line just like a bass drum line and in essence acts like a sixth note. While nothing really Earth shattering, it is nice for the bass to get a little different gameplay tweak unlike in Rock Band 2.
One nice thing that Neversoft did was do a countdown of when the song starts if you come out of pausing the game. I don't know how many times in Rock Band where I had to pause it, come back and be off the notes I was suppose to be holding. With Guitar Hero World Tour, you do see the notes screen as you left it and it counts down from 5 giving time to get ready. It's a small but really nice touch instead of just throwing you back into the game at full speed which is what Rock Band does.
The Guitar Hero style is pretty much the same as it was compared to 3 so expect your usual cast of characters and in the same look that you are used to. Creation of a player though is more robust than Rock Band's allowing you plenty of more options. For starters you can adjust the head shape and various parts of the head such as the eyes and chin to suite your liking. Tattoos and face paint can be created by overlapping different layers and change the color. You can even adjust the types of animations for introductions, winning, and losing. It's in this area where you can spend the money you earn in the game to buy clothing and instruments to decorate your rock star. You can even design your own instruments which is really cool. Whereas I felt the Rock Band's band member creator was limiting, the one in Guitar Hero World Tour stands out well and has enough options to make unique looking people.
Of course the move to the full band mode is the big feature of Guitar Hero World Tour. World Tour includes a set of wireless drums and a wired mic as well this time around if you buy the complete kit. The mic is your standard USB mic and it remains the one peripheral that isn’t wireless. I’ll go into more detail about the drums in a bit. The mic is your average mic and like Rock Band you'll need to have a controller handy to control if you are singing. I'd love to see a mic with built in controls but I guess we'll have to see that in a third party controller or maybe in the next iteration of the series.
As far as instruments go, I found the guitar to be one of my favorite ones out of the various guitars included in past games. Before the Guitar Hero World Tour guitar, I would use the Rock Band guitar exclusively. I don’t know what it is about the Guitar Hero World Tour guitar but it just feels pretty good in my hand this time around. The buttons exhibit very good feedback and has a good throw to them. I like how it can unlock in two by sliding out the neck which was in the Les Paul of Guitar Hero III. New to the controller is the addition of the star power bar. The long button will activate star power by a push so you don't have to tilt the controller to do it. You can still do that of course but for those that used to press the select button this is a great addition. You are able to activate star power without taking yourself out of rhythm as much as you would by tilting it.
The unique feature of the guitar though is the touch slider bar near the bottom of the neck. During certain sections you’ll see notes linked together with a purple line. When this happens you can just put a finger on the slider which is broken up into the five color scheme depending on the area and just slide your finger back and forth to hit the notes without sliding. The thing is though it’s hard to gauge where your finger is and where it’s going to start out. For those that play in the higher levels who want the best accuracy out there, the slider feature is definitely not for you. But, when I didn’t care about getting 100% but just doing well, I had fun using the slider to slide through the string of notes. You can turn off the slider if you wish so you don’t accidentally hit it but like I said, I thought it was a fun and different way to play. Another feature is you could hold the fret buttons and tap the slider bar to play a note rather than strumming. Also, sliding on the touch slider bar during long notes will also generate a whammy like effect. I think the slider won’t be as popular as Neversoft hoped it would be as I’ve read a wide range of reactions to it but I thought it was fun and something I’d use consistently when playing Guitar Hero World Tour.
When I first saw the drums, I was very impressed with the design. The extra drum pad over Rock Band two allowed for two cymbals and three pad setup. It looked a lot cooler than the Rock Band drum set. I wished that the foot pedal attached to a part of the drum stand though. The bottom of the pedal contains a rubber coating that can keep it in place on carpet but smooth surfaces can cause it to slide around. For those that are concerned about the durability of the foot pedal, it is plastic and might exhibit the same issues as the Rock Band 1 foot pedal but only time will tell. It doesn’t sit as high though so you don’t have to go up and press down as much to use the pedal which is nice. The main three pads of the drum are quiet but the two cymbals are very loud. Seeing as they sit high and aren't attached to a large base but with two extending rods, I wasn't surprised about this. For those that like quiet drums, the Guitar Hero World Tour drums will be a little disappointing. As with Rock Band 2, the drums are velocity sensitive so if you do hit it harder it will register a louder sound. As with my experience on Rock Band 2, I found this feature to be something that I didn't notice at all. Perhaps I'm too into trying to get the right notes hit but I never did see much benefit of this and the only time I could really hear the difference was when I was in training mode. My drum set did exhibit some issues that seem to be rampant among other Guitar Hero World Tour customers. The red pad and orange cymbal are very inconsistent in registering a hit. I could hit it with all my might or with a soft tap and there’s a good chance the hit won’t register. I thought I was playing bad but I observed closely and saw I hit the same spot on the red pad with the exact same force and there were times nothing happened. Plugging the Rock Band drum set in, I was able to complete the same songs with a much higher accuracy level. Activision has issued software to try and fix this but you need a USB to midi cable which isn’t inexpensive. This isn’t the first game in the series and it’s disheartening to see quality issues appearing still.
Activation of star power is also different in Guitar Hero World Tour for the drums and singer compared to Rock Band. Since the singer doesn’t have the tambourine or cowbell functionality, you can activate star power anytime by hitting the top of the mic. An easier technique is pressing one of the color buttons on the Xbox 360 controller. I have no problems with how this works but when you get to the drums, a problem arises. Now, I understand Neversoft’s decision to find a way to let the drummer activate star power at anytime and I applaud them for doing so but the method to do this does have some issues. To activate star power if you’re the drummer, you have to hit both cymbals at the same time. Sounds easy but the drum sections, especially at the harder levels allow for very little open areas to let you do this. You can try to sneak in a double cymbal hit between beats but it’s tough and for those that aren’t semi-proficient with the instrument you can easily interrupt your flow by doing this causing you to miss notes. I did find that if there’s one cymbal in play, I can hit the other and activate star power with this note pattern without the game saying that I missed the note. Still, the method isn’t optimal and I think there needs to be another way to do this. If you are using Rock Band drums, just hit the two center pads to achieve the effect. The freedom to activate star power at anytime is something I do like over Rock Band but Guitar Hero World Tour eliminates a small gameplay feature for the singer to do this and the drummer’s technique can be tough to do on harder levels.
Speaking of star power, the one thing I really dislike about Guitar Hero World Tour is that when you are playing in a band, everyone shares one star power meter. Everyone can build it up but the first person to activate it will get the benefits. Unlike Rock Band where each band member had their own star power meter, the single star power meter in Guitar Hero World Tour can cause some frustration at times. You’ll get the star power hog in many games where he or she will activate it every time the meter is at the minimum level. This makes for those that are about to fail their part of the song to sometimes have no way to save themselves. I understand the design decision to try to unify this option to make it more of a band collaborative feature but the results are not very good. Even though the person using the star power won’t use it all if it’s built up high, it’s still annoying when you do play with that one person who uses it all the time. On a positive note, you can now acquire star power even when activated just like in Rock Band by playing the marked notes successfully. Now, the usage of star power isn't as limiting as in Guitar Heroes of the past and you can do a nice continual buildup of it during use on some sections of some songs.
Playing online, I found the experience to be a mixed bag. I didn't have any bad experiences due to lag but the options available to playing online isn't that clear. I tried playing in full band modes but I never got to play with less than a full setup. This comes to really be a hassle when doing a band vs band mode where you have to have eight people. Now, maybe I'm doing something wrong and there's nothing in the manual I could find but I didn't see a way to start a game without having all four or eight band members in the game. You're just put in a queue of matching people and have no option but to wait. Once you do find players to play with, you are again forced to play at a difficulty level predetermined before you get into the songs. I've had a few games where the guys maybe great players but one a song or two they are still practicing or just can't get. If they would have the ability to choose a difficulty level a little less than what they had defaulted we wouldn't have failed the song quickly. At the end, you are just given a general score and not even any breakdown of how the other band members did which is a little disappointing. I do like that it randomly choose a person to choose a song to play so not one player is hogging the selection of the setlist. It was also easier and quicker to get into games with other guitar players playing those types of gameplay modes but having all four players in a game is where it's at and the interface to do it is confusing and needs work.
Something unique to Guitar Hero World Tour is the music maker and here I thought the intentions were good but the final product leaves much to be desired. There are no vocals allowed of course so there’s one strike against it. The music created by the editor sound more like MIDI music and come nowhere close to actual songs. Still there are a lot of options to tweak how it sounds and using the instruments to create songs. It's when you get into some more tweaking and fine tuning where you find some interface issues making it a little more confusing and difficult. If you spend a good amount of time though to work through some of the nuances, you can generate a decent melody albeit without vocals and sounding a little computery. You’ll find a lot of original content to download and play online and you can share your creations easily with others. As you probably guess, the folks monitoring the songs are already taking down works that sound like copyrighted material so you won’t be able to create tribute to works that are by other artists. Still, I applaud Neversoft for putting out a music creator even at it’s basic stage in terms of music sounds and I hope we see it evolve more in future games as well as appearing in games from other companies.
Now, is Guitar Hero World Tour worth it if you own Rock Band 1 or 2? I have to say no for the full set but maybe for the game itself. If you already have Rock Band instruments, you won't miss out on the extra drum pad or the slider bar and all the instruments are compatible on the 360 version. The small additional elements and different songs are OK but there are other issues at hand that really make the game seem incomplete compared to the Harmonix games. While band play is there, it's not as polished as Rock Band's. The music creator is an OK feature but a little limiting. It is a lot to ask for shelling out $180 or so for a brand new set but dropping $50 for the game if you already have drums and a mic isn't too bad. Based on name alone, Guitar Hero World Tour will probably sell well but I think Neversoft's offering is a little behind of Harmonix's even though it came out later. Perhaps they can tidy some things up in next year's version and fix some of the hardware issues that seam to be plaguing a few owners out there. For now, I say pick it up if you really love the style and are a fan of the series. If you already own Rock Band instruments, it wouldn't be bad to add just the game for different music and some minor gameplay changes. I am looking at next year's version to be a lot more solid though with Neversoft's year of experience in doing a full band style game.