E3 2009: The Five: Guitar Hero 5
The Double-Nickle Tour: Activision isn't letting Neversoft rest at all. On Sept. 1, a new chapter in the Guitar Hero franchise will hit the stage. While Guitar Hero 5 may primarily be notable for not launching with significant new hardware, it rocks out with a lot of small features that, frankly, should have been in the last game. Better late than never?
1. Let's face it: The basic interface in Guitar Hero World Tour sucked. Whether in career or quickplay, just scanning through and selecting songs was more difficult than it needed to be. Neversoft has taken criticism to heart and you can now properly select songs, all of which, as it happens, will be unlocked from moment one.
2. Speaking of things that were terrible in GHWT, let's think about Star Power. Working with the stuff was incredibly frustrating, as Star Power was pooled for the entire band, meaning one person often unwittingly hogged it all, and there was no mechanism by which to save failed players. For GH5 Star Power is divided into individual pools. When one player fails, the others can't use Star Power to bring the fool back -- but they can play really hard to nail a solid streak of notes. A meter will swing from red to green, and voil?! -- back in the game. That's even better than using Star Power to save someone.
3. The most attractive new feature in GH5 is Party Play. You can create a playlist of over 100 songs, then set it off like a pre-programmed jukebox. The music will play with no "note highways" running until at least one player joins, at which point that player will jump in wherever the music is -- no break in the tunes. Up to four players can jump in and out at any time, playing any combination of instruments. The setup would be even better with a DLC catalogue as deep as Rock Band's, but this remains one of the best simple ideas to be implemented in Neversoft's new title.
4. Various forms of head-to-head battles have brought joy to competitive players over the year, but the new options are killer. Up to four players compete in a variety of challenges that prize hitting long-note streaks. Examples are Momentum mode, which will dynamically adjust your skill setting from Beginner (where only the strum bar is used) to Expert+ (yep, that setting from Guitar Hero: Metallica is back) based on your performance; and Elimination, which will gradually drop the poorest-performing player from the competition. It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.
5. The studio returns, but Neversoft has revamped it to some extent. The guitar sounds have been re-recorded with an ear for quality, and more effects and tweaks are possible with the guitar slider. Did you use the studio much? Neither did I. But if the samples don't sound like they were recorded in a bathroom two apartments away (hey, it worked for early Misfits records, but not really anyone else), there might be reason to dive in this time.
The Crispy Forecast: Cloudy. The fixes and improvements are great, but they'll appeal mostly to players who weren't well and truly peeved by the last game. And while Party Play is almost worth the $60, Activision needs to ramp up the DLC to really make it robust.
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.
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