There was once a time when Guitar Hero was the outright king of the music rhythm genre, when the only instrument was the fairly sleek Les Paul guitar and the thought of ever having a plastic drum set in our front rooms was unimaginable. This all changed with the release of Rock Band in May 2008, which came with drums and microphone support, revolutionising the genre and taking the crown. In order to compete with Rock Band, Neversoft (the developer of the Guitar Hero series) integrated the same instruments into their title - Guitar Hero: World Tour, released later that year. Regrettably, it didn’t match the standards set by Rock Band, though the latest release, Guitar Hero 5, may just have tipped its rival to the post and reclaimed the crown.
To put it simply, Guitar Hero 5 improves upon everything that was wrong with Guitar Hero: World Tour, with the biggest changes occurring in the game’s career mode. Possibly the most obvious change is the fact that rather than having a separate career for each instrument, the three have been integrated into just the one, allowing players to use any instrument on any of the tracks listed. Another positive element to come out of the career is how the series has returned to its old ways, with players being able to play tracks individually in the track’s specific venue, rather than as a somewhat tedious playlist of four or five, known as a gig.
Collecting stars is, as ever, the player’s priority throughout the career, as obtaining a certain amount of stars allows players to progress by unlocking new venues and tracks. Each venue contains a number of tracks and a small number of sponsored events – special listings which grant players the ability to choose the song they want to play, from a fairly wide range. One of the game’s new features, the Challenge Meter, allows players to easily boost their star total.
Each song in the career contains an optional instrument-specific or band challenge. The challenges consist of the likes of scoring a note streak, strumming in a certain direction and scoring so many points whilst in star power, amongst more. Players are rewarded with gold, platinum and diamond CD’s; depending on how well they completed the challenge, which are worth an additional one, two and three stars respectively. On top of that, players also unlock in-game features through these challenges, mostly in the form of new instruments.
Customisation has also been thoroughly improved for Guitar Hero 5, with full customisation of the game’s instruments, which is available to do with great ease in the game’s Rock Star Creator game mode. Neversoft have also bagged some big names, including the likes of ESP, Ibanez, McSwain and Daisy Rock, whose designs can be used within the game mode. As well as instruments, players can also create and customise new characters, using the range of facial options, hair, fingernails and clothing on offer. Unfortunately, there appears to be very little changes regarding character customisation from the predecessor, with the exception of arguably the game’s best new feature of Avatar support.
Since their launch in November 2008, Avatars haven’t been featured in many Xbox 360 titles, though Guitar Hero 5 uses them brilliantly. At the character selection screen, players can select their own Avatar to rock out with and the integration is done within seconds. Whilst the cute, family-friendly Avatars don’t particularly suit the rock lifestyle and look slightly on the tall side in comparison to normal, you certainly get a kick out of seeing your created character on the big stage, rather than witnessing the game’s returning regulars such as Lars Umlaut and Judy Nails…
Other characters to grace their presence in the game include real-life stars Johnny Cash, Muse singer: Matt Bellamy and the slightly controversial, Kurt Cobain; all of whom have been excellently re-created. There’s something about seeing them perform their own songs which makes the game that little bit more special.
After Guitar Hero: World Tour’s fairly disappointing track list, it was great to see Guitar Hero 5 feature so many big hits. From the likes of Kaiser Chiefs’ 'Never Miss a Beat' to Blur’s 'Song 2', and from Coldplay’s 'In My Place' to Queen and David Bowie’s 'Under Pressure', there’s something everyone will enjoy in the 85 tracks listed in the game, and how can anyone resist singing along to 'Sex on Fire' by the Kings of Leon!
Additionally, players can also import tracks from the game’s predecessor: World Tour (at a price), as well as from Guitar Hero: Smash Hits and any downloadable content the player has previously purchased. Whilst it comes with a fairly hefty file download, having the ability to import even more tracks into the game is a great option to have.
Multiplayer is where Guitar Hero 5 goes from a hit to a smash hit. With players able to shred with any combinations of instruments, the ‘bagsying’ of a certain instrument is no longer needed and no-one is left disappointed with their role in the band. Players can opt to play competitively on game modes such as Pro Faceoff and RockFest. Pro Faceoff consists of players facing off against each other in a free-for-all competition, whilst RockFest is more-or-less the same, with the addition of the game’s rules changing between each song, as voted for by the players. Regrettably, RockFest isn’t that entertaining and whilst it looked surprisingly promising, it’s let down due to the fact a lot of the rules are more annoying than useful. Players can also work together through the game’s career mode and in a brand new game mode, called Party Play.
Party Play is, as the name suggests, a great game mode for parties. The game continuously runs, playing song after song, with players being able to jump in and out with minimal interruptions. Unfortunately, the game chooses the songs for you, though this can be resolved by simply pressing Start and selecting a new song from the option on the pause menu. Nevertheless, it beats the usual waiting times evident in Quick Play.
The Guitar Hero series has never been renowned for its great multiplayer game modes online and it’s safe to say Guitar Hero 5 won’t be either. Both Pro Faceoff and RockFest game modes are available to play across the Xbox LIVE service, with Pro Faceoff being the inevitable choice for most players due to the majority of online players opting for it over RockFest. Both Pro Faceoff and RockFest have team equivalents, and the final game mode, Band v Band, isn’t a big leap up from Team Pro Faceoff. In fact, it’s more of a step down, only allowing standard bands (consisting of one guitarist, one bassist, one singer and a drummer) to faceoff between each other.
Graphically, Guitar Hero 5 is an improvement on its predecessors, despite keeping the same cartoon-rock style, with little enhancements in the character models and game lighting. The layout sees some slight changes, such as the rock indicator now positioning on the side of the fret, to some more obvious changes with the inclusion of the ‘Star Bar’, which returns after previously featuring in Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, displaying how many stars those performing have currently earned.
On the whole, Guitar Hero 5 is, without a doubt, one of the best music rhythm titles on the market at the moment. The incredible track list, new game modes and improvements over Guitar Hero: World Tour makes this a title worthy of a purchase.