Guitar Hero 5 Review
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Guitar Hero 5 is another near-perfect solo for Neversoft and Activision. There are plenty of small tweaks that ensure the game is worth a look, but ultimately, we feel the franchise is long overdue for a complete overhaul.
- The new Party Play mode that lets you jump right in and play
- The 85 tracks that are available right out of the box
- Playing a Gorillaz track as Johnny Cash
- The lack of any major, compelling new features
- The feeling the series needs a major overhaul to keep it fresh
The videogame music genre has been doing the rounds for several years, and if it first felt like a passing fad, the inordinate amount of titles, and their related success, is more than enough evidence to prove that they’re not going anywhere. Love them or hate them, they are popular with both casual and hardcore gamer (we aren’t fans of these terms; instead let’s distinguish them as occasional and frequent gamers). In 2009 we’ve already seen the release of Guitar Hero World Tour, Metallica and Smash Hits installments, along with the recent The Beatles: Rock Band. Later this year we’ll see Van Halen make its Guitar Hero debut along with DJ Hero, and other music games.
Chances are if you play games, occasionally or frequently, you’ve played a music game. By this philosophy, Guitar Hero 5 doesn’t really offer any groundbreaking additions to the genre, so even if you haven’t had a chance to play it, you will know what to expect. At this stage of music games, advancements are slight, but GH5’s new offerings, slight as they may be, are certainly welcome additions. The visuals have shifted up a gear, with improved lip-synching and animations, players have access to an eclectic 85-song track list, and general improvements to the music creation tools have also been applied. All of these aspects merely provide a gentle step forward, but if Neversoft offers any giant leaps, it’s in the game's accessibility.
Right when you launch GH5, after the typical intro animation sequence, you’ll receive what we believe is one of the biggest advancements to the game, the Party Play feature. The title screen has a randomly rotating virtual jukebox (all songs from the game, obviously). With a simple click of a button you can jump right into the song being played in the background. In a matter of seconds you can setup your instrument and difficulty settings. What makes this feature such a welcome addition is that it’s completely multiplayer friendly. Friends can jump in and join you anytime, with any instrument, and with any difficulty. Once the song is over, you can keep playing through random songs, skip tracks, have a friend join or drop out, or quit to the title screen. The Party Play feature speaks for itself, it’s a terrific complement to a small party with friends; leave GH5 running in the background, and when the conversation gets dull and you hear a good tune come on, simply click a button and you and your friends are living your Guitar Hero dreams.
Every song is available from the beginning, meaning no more playing through career mode to unlock tracks. We feel rather indifferent about this feature. On one hand, it would be great to have about half the songs require some feat accomplished, but it’s also nice to play whatever song you want right from the get go. There is a healthy career mode that unlocks different venues and playable characters. There are also different competitive multiplayer modes, both locally and online. When playing cooperatively, each player will get their own Star Power meter, meaning GH5 scrapped World Tour’s collective star pool. You also won’t have to worry if a friend can’t keep up; when someone fails, the rest of the band just has to please the crowd long enough to ‘resurrect’ said banished companion. This helps keep the party rolling if you are playing with people relatively unfamiliar with the series.
The song selection in GH5 is pretty widespread. You’ll find everything from Vampire Weekend, Stevie Wonder, The Killers, Weezer, Nirvana, Sublime, Garbage, and Bob Dylan. Some of our favorite tracks included Space Hog’s “In the Meantime,” “Plug in Baby” from Muse, and The White Stripes “Blue Orchid.” As in past Guitar Hero games, there’s a host of unlockable and playable real-life music ‘heroes’ – both living and dead. You can play as Matt Bellamy of Muse, and the late Kurt Cobain and Johnny Cash. Some fans of the deceased music legends may consider having four Cobain’s or Cash’s on stage performing a Coldplay song as blasphemy, but if you just remember you are playing a videogame, there’s a lot of entertainment in seeing rock stars performing as the ultimate cover band.
Also new to this latest entry is the Challenge feature during Career mode. You can receive a maximum of five stars depending on your performance of each song. Beyond these, you can obtain an extra three stars by completing Challenge in each song; these challenges are instrument-specific, meaning you’ll be asked to get as many points possible in Star Mode, land the correct number of kick-drum hits, or perform the perfect solo. Several challenges require more than one player, again placing firm emphasis on the game’s multiplayer component.
Guitar Hero 5 doesn’t break any new grounds in the music game genre. In fact, if you compare the presentation to The Beatles: Rock Band, it certainly falls short. Regardless, Neversoft knows its fan base, and with GH5, it reminds us again why we enjoy music games. While it's unlikely you'll be clocking up 40+ hours on the single player campaign, that doesn't deter GH5 from being undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best multiplayer party games on the market. Overall, though, we feel the series would benefit from a substantial overhaul for the inevitable Guitar Hero 6.