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Guitar Hero World Tour review (Xbox 360) November 6, 2008

Posted by Mike in Console, Games, gaming, Reviews.

In a turnaround akin to Russell Brand being made a Freeman of Torquay, Activision has eschewed (gesundheit) last year’s inter-game peripheral wars with Harmonix, and embraced the Rock Band drum kit to such an extent that Guitar Hero World Tour not only supports the rival instrument, but even changes the number of gameplay lanes from five to four to accommodate it. The Rock Band guitar is also compatible. Let’s put this front and centre – it’s a really welcome move. Peace at last!

That’s if you really want to use inferior peripherals, of course. The new batch of Red Octane’s finest is a clear step above any previously released. The guitar has a touchpad to help you pull off those tricky solos, and a specific button to activate Star Power to help those who got distracted when they had to tilt the neck up. The drum kit has three drum pads and two cymbal pads above them, is velocity sensitive, and remarkably sturdy. If you don’t already have the Rock Band drum set, or are crazy (and single) enough to have the disposable income to fork out on extra kit, the GHWT Full Band package is the one to get.

The Guitar Hero brand now has so many levels of players – casual, hardcore, insane metalheads – that making all of them happy is becoming nigh-on impossible. However, developer Neversoft has made a good fist of this thorny problem. Progression through the guitar career mode is much less prone to the irritating difficulty spikes that littered GH3. The note charts are almost unrecognisably better, with chord progressions that feel ‘right’, and less ridiculous finger-stretching. Perhaps the Hard career (the step below Expert, and my personal comfort zone) is a little too easy, but then again, maybe I’ve just been playing these games for so many iterations now that I’m straddling two different difficulty levels. Certainly Expert is a serious challenge, where you’re basically playing every single note in the song, whereas even Jeremy Beadle would have a shot at completing the lowest difficulty setting. I’ve always been one for championing proper recreations of the songs themselves in music games, rather than arbitrarily making things ‘videogame hard’ for the sake of it, and GHWT ticks that particular box.

Finger-shredding solos have been made easier by the addition of the touch-pad, but even those using older guitar models will be happy. Semi-transparent notes, connected together by purple ‘ropes’, can be played simply by tapping the fret buttons rather than having to strum them as well, and this new type of note is used in many of the more challenging solos. It’s fantastic. With the new system, that bit in GH3’s Knights of Cydonia would have been passable at higher difficulties without having to grow octopus limbs.

The career mode has been changed from a simple list of songs into organised setlists, where you play one song after another without having to return to the menus. Initially this seems like a serious departure, but soon it becomes clear that it’s effectively the same structure as before, only with more choice over which set of songs to tackle next. While the tracklist isn’t as mainstream as the likes of Rock Band overall (and it remains to be seen whether downloadable content will be structured better than before), the thrill of discovering a new guitar or drum line you love is as intact as ever – before this, I never knew that pumping the likes of Billy Idol or Wings through my speakers could possibly bring a smile to my face.

Successful gig performances earn cash, which in turn is put into buying the right to play new concerts, picking up an assortment of unlockables for your instruments, or further pimping out your mad axeman in the detailed character creator. I did object to having to pay to play a set of Tool songs at one point, though. Surely they should have paid me for having to shit out such painful, piles-inducing crap on my guitar, particularly since the set took place in front of a giant moving eye backdrop that could only have been the result of the work experience kid channelling Giger’s hitherto unknown kaleidoscope fetish.

Thankfully, the rest of the arenas in the game are numerous, well designed and full of character, particularly during the Encores, when there’s a bit of graphical pizzazz to introduce the last song of a set. Jets do a flyby over the Aircraft Carrier stage; the Ferris Wheel topples off its hinges and rolls past the crowd in the funfair level – it’s lovely stuff. Even the boss battles are acceptable this time around. There are no silly power-ups in these duels against music legends to ruin them – you only have to survive until the end of the specially-written songs without the crowd meter going all the way over to your opponent’s side. The career mode ends with a pleasing supergroup gig in a very recognisable location. Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ozzy Osbourne’s in-game avatar crooning La Bamba.

The only problem with the single player career is that it’s really nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s a safe, polished extension of the previous games, and unfortunately this stretches to the Band Career, which has exactly the same structure as the single player. This means that there are none of the flourishes of Rock Band (such as picking up fans for your band, or random setlists), and while each individual track obviously has the enhanced enjoyment factor of being performed by more people – and this will be revelatory for those who haven’t yet experienced that particular pleasure – essentially the Band Career is ‘just’ co-op Guitar Hero. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that at all, but it’s only a step in a particular direction, rather than a giant, risky leap into making the Band modes different in any way, and as such it’s relatively disappointing.

The Music Studio, the game’s big innovation, is likely to divide opinion. The variety of guitar sounds, drum styles, arpeggiators and effects available is impressive (extra presets are available to unlock by visiting www.line6.com/gh which also shows you how to play certain famous licks), but since navigation is carried out using the instrument you’re playing, it’s all very fiddly. Neversoft clearly knows this – there’s a whole mass of tutorials to plough through. While there is the ability to jam with three other people, it’s almost impossible to create anything in real-time other than an unlistenable dirge, and although there are a variety of scales to play with, the lack of buttons on the guitar controller tells in the end if you want to make anything other than a basic tune. You really need to jump over to the GHEdit suite, which allows you to fiddle with individual notes and step-record, layering your tune up track by track. While this is time-consuming, the results are far better than anything you will come up with in the main studio itself.

Tunes can be uploaded to the it’s-a-describing-name GHTunes for others to play and rate, and there are already shining examples of what can be done with a lot of dedication. It’s a treasure trove of videogames music at present, with passable fan renditions of the Mario and Zelda themes (the odd bum note rankles, thanks to the creators sticking with the limited scales they selected, rather than changing them for one particular note), and my personal favourite – a nigh-on perfect rendition of the music from Bubble Bubble. Ah, the memories! How this mode fares down the line is entirely up to the music making community, but early signs are good, and files sizes for download are tiny. It’s a shame that copyright concerns led to user songs being capped at 3 minutes and 1,200 notes per instrument. For the sake of GHTunes, I hope that Activision isn’t too strict with the deletion button for recreated classics despite the company’s obvious legal obligations.

Guitar Hero World Tour is a consistently excellent entry in the series. While not as revolutionary as it promised to be, except in the quality of its peripherals, there is enough content to satisfy any music fan – or creator – until the next instalment arrives. Any game that lets you play the Bubble Bobble theme, or a thrash-metal Mario suite, is worth your time and money, and if Neversoft can continue to improve year-on-year as it has done here, competition in the music genre will remain healthy for some years to come.



1. Bogdan Radu - November 13, 2008

great post, thanks!

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