Just before I start this review, I need to clarify that I reviewed this game with the instruments from the Rock Band kit so I was unable to give the new Guitar Hero: World Tour instruments a decent go. Right, now that's out of the way, let's get rocking!
Rhythm games appeared to be the new black not so long ago. Now, rhythm games in which you can play as a band are the new rhythm games. It's an evolution that should have been obvious from the offset. But now, just like before, we have a flood of rhythm games heading our way and already in our living rooms, cluttering them up with plastic guitars and drums. Rock Band was released this Spring and with Rock Band 2 on its way at the end of November for us Europeans, it looks to be a great time for the inner rock star. Activision and Neversoft have released their fourth instalment in the Guitar Hero series, this time with a whole band in tow. But does it compare to their rivals at Harmonix, after the Harmonix and Activision split not so long ago?
It is really, really quite hard to play Guitar Hero: World Tour and think of Rock Band (even more so when using Rock Band instruments to do it.) There are cross-over tracks, similar gameplay elements and the similarities in the concept of the game. You can't help but think, while rocking out with friends to the point of neighbours knocking on your door telling you to be quiet, that it's all been done before. You've had this amazing experience before and you're not used to the different skin. It is pretty much Rock Band in a new skin with some fancy features, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it's just quite disappointing really.
The idea of the game is to hit coloured notes in time to the song on screen. How well you do determines the score at the end and the amount of money you can gain from the gigs. The inclusion of drums and vocals add a new element to the Guitar Hero franchise, complementing the already great guitar gameplay. Drums involve you whacking the plastic peripheral on the pads in time as well as stomping on the bass pedal. I'm not very good at drums, but it is by far the most fun instrument to play. Vocals involve you singing the lyrics into a microphone as they come up on screen. The game measures the pitch of your singing to earn you points and this is where my first problem with the game comes in. The vocal track that shows the pitch, lyrics etc. is a lot harder to follow than the Rock Band one. With Rock Band, the arrow was so much easier to read and see where it was. There are many a time whilst singing where I had no clue where my little icon was on the screen. This, as well as my poor singing, made it a lot less fun to sing. I enjoyed the vocals in Rock Band, but in Guitar Hero: World Tour they just feel a bit last minute if anything.
As with previous rhythm game titles, the Career mode makes you play through a selection of songs on each instrument to earn money. As with the latter instalments, you still have to play through each instrument separately and it's all very linear and not too exciting. Boss battles are back, however they are a lot better than in GH3 as the stupid "battle" element, consisting of the annoying power ups, has been removed from the boss battles leaving you with just a sort of ‘tug of war’ type battle. Some rock legends have managed to make their way into the game as well. These include Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins), Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Hayley Williams (Paramore) as well as the legend Jimi Hendrix, revived from the dead to rock out to Purple Haze. The music selection is pretty good ranging from your typical Guitar Hero tracks such as Hot For Teacher by Van Halen, to rather obscure choices (but ones I agree with because I love quite a few of the tracks) including Float On by Modest Mouse and Obstacle 1 by Interpol. There are songs to suit everyone on this setlist, although the Rock Band 2 setlist has me more excited personally.
Neversoft haven't done much to make it stand out from Rock Band, but what they have done is pretty damn good. The new features in GH: WT are a welcome addition in my eyes. First of all, I need to talk about the character creation system. It is ridiculously diverse. In Rock Band, the options were pretty limited as to how your character looked. However, in a matter of minutes in World Tour, I managed to make my character look a spitting image of Elvis Costello. You're able to change the facial structure, eye positioning, nose shape, body structure as well as customise the hair and clothes. It's like having your own rock star Barbie doll that you manufacture from scratch. You can then customise every single one of their instruments to how you want them to look, making your character that much more personal. It is a great feature that actually makes it possible to put yourself in the game, be it a version of you that looks like a caricature drawn by someone on Southbank in London.
Another cool new feature is the Music Studio. As I said in my Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts preview, my creative skills are shockingly bad, so when faced with the music studio in the game, I was dumbfounded. It most definitely needs some perseverance to actually get to grips with it properly to be able to create something that sounds half-way decent. It's not very simple either, unfortunately, and even with the help of the tutorials I was still struggling to actually do anything good. One big problem is you need to do all the editing and mixing and jamming on the guitar, making it a lot harder to navigate the menus. However, one great addition that spawns from the Music Studio is GHTunes. This is where users can submit the songs they have created in the Music Studio so that other players can download them at their will and play those songs in their game. GHTunes features a rating system so it is easy to find the best tracks on there, and there are a surprising lot which shows some people were able to grasp the Music Studio. Myself, on the other hand, felt like a fish out of water.
There is one new addition that I personally love. I tend to always be the bass player in Rock Band 2 (either that or vocalist) and it's generally not that interesting. However, Neversoft have made playing bass a heck of a lot more fun. The addition of the open note, which consists of strumming the strum bar without holding down any fret buttons, makes the bass playing even more realistic and at times challenging.
Online, again, is not much different from previous Guitar Hero games. Featuring the 1 on 1 guitar duels, which now stretch to drums and bass as well, there are some new additions. Band quickplay allows you to just play through a setlist and Band vs. Band pits you against other bands. Getting into an online match is way too fiddly and just gets completely confusing at times.
The game looks a lot better than previous instalments. Past Guitar Hero games tend to be way too cartoony, but World Tour has toned down the cartoony style, however, it still makes the characters look quite quirky. The venues are crazily designed, perhaps by an architect who hadn't had a grip on reality for a while. It's the sort of thing you'd find if Tim Burton and Mr. Blobby had illegitimate children which then exploded in a colourful yet twisted fashion. The menus are very disorganised and it's hard to find where you're trying to get to. Like I said before, the tracklist makes or breaks a rhythm game. The setlist does have its pretty poor ones, but at the other end of the spectrum it has Rebel Yell, B.Y.O.B, Purple Haze and Hot For Teacher et al. The sound quality is, of course, top notch
My main gripe with Guitar Hero: World Tour is that it's too similar to Rock Band. The features are too minimal to be a major leap forward and the setlist, in comparison with Rock Band 2, is a lot poorer in my opinion. I guess it's all down to which setlist you prefer in the end. The setlist is the only major feature separating the two games and that all comes down to personal taste. Guitar Hero: World Tour is basically Rock Band in a new packaging and the features aren't enough to make it stand above Rock Band. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but there's just a better game in the form of Rock Band already on the market and that is much more worthy of your money.