The Guitar Hero franchise has been a leader in the virtual music genre since 2005, but the series has undeniably lost some of its luster over the years. Activision has oversaturated the store shelves with sequels and releases, leaving both fans and critics feeling a little jaded. We've seen this phenomenon before with proven properties like Electronic Arts' Madden football-game series, where a yearly release cycle and a dearth of notable improvements watered down what was once an extraordinary gaming experience. Guitar Hero, it seemed, was heading down that same lucrative yet unfulfilling road. Thankfully, with the latest installation of the seminal series, NeverSoft proves that the beloved hard-rocking franchise still has quite a bit of life left in it.
Because Guitar Hero has been around a long time, I was starting to get a little tired of its formula. I think it says a lot that games like GH5 and Beatles Rock Band had barely registered on my radar; truth be told, I was way more excited about DJ Hero because it offers up something different and new. But after seeing GH5 in action, I have to say that I'm not quite ready to give up my plastic instruments yet. With a wide selection of tracks and some awesome new features, GH5 just ensured that my neighbors are going to be pissed off at me for the next couple of months.
Welcome to the Party
Guitar Hero 5's core gameplay is essentially the same as you remember it: same note highway, same frets, same chords, and same Star Power feature. The note charts have benefited from some interesting tweaks such as extended sustains that allow players to leap from chord to chord on a moment's notice a bit more easily, but it remains pretty much the same experience that you've rocked out to in the last four installments. That's not a bad thing, of course: Guitar Hero is still as easy to pick up and play as it's ever been, especially thanks to a few interesting new gameplay mechanics like Party Play.
I found Party Play to be a very simple yet cool improvement to the basic Guitar Hero formula. Selecting Party Play randomizes the game's setlist, and allows any player to jump in or out of a song at any time. It's very handy if one of your band mates has to take off in the middle of a show, or shows up late. Players can switch difficulty setting--as well as instruments--on the fly, and now that one or more players can play the same instrument, you can even have four guitarists or four drummers, if you're so inclined. While Party Play may seem like a small addition, it's a fun option that works well for more spontaneous players.
GH Tunes from World Tour is also back in full effect, with a slightly streamlined interface for players to create their own jams in GH Mix. I really appreciated the wealth of new features, such as the ability to place your own Star Power segments in specific moments in the song, as well as the ability to extend the length of creations (up to 10 minutes!). The customizable loops, effects, and backing tracks are also very nice touches, and really add to what is already a rich experience.
More to Love
Speaking of customization, players are urged to pick and choose the rock star experience that best suits their musical tastes. With 85 incredibly diverse new tracks featuring everything from classic oldies like the Rolling Stones and Queen to more contemporary bands such as Gorillaz and White Stripes, finding something for everyone in Guitar Hero 5's playlist is almost guaranteed. I also loved the presence of some unexpected acts such as Elton John and Stevie Wonder. The option to load songs from previous Guitar Hero installments also adds to Guitar Hero 5's staying power; and if you add in the user-generated content found in GH Tunes, you're not likely to run out of music anytime soon.
Guitar Hero's Rock Star Creator is back in full force, and it looks fantastic. Guitar Hero 5 is undoubtedly the best-looking of the series, with both incredibly colorful characters and equally impressive venues. The ability to play as your Xbox Avatars is a neat addition, too, but it doesn't add a lot to the overall experience.
Finally, while plenty of Guitar Hero favorites have returned (Clive Winston, Casey Lynch, Judy Nails), one can't deny that the charm and personality found in earlier Guitar Hero installations is somewhat absent (Guitar Hero 5 relies largely on celebrity appearances to maintain its rocker cred). Although the amount of customization is truly staggering, the plastic instrument revolution is now somewhat played out (no pun intended), and you just don't get the same amount of intimacy, appeal, or innovation found in the first two Guitar Heroes. Well, that, and virtual Kurt Cobain is just a strange concept through and through.
A Musical Battlefield
All in all, the $60 Guitar Hero 5 is a truly solid title with plenty to see, do, and most important, rock out to. Brandishing some stellar new Competitive Play concepts (Do or Die, Momentum) and some very creative new stages to play on, Guitar Hero 5 stays true to its franchise roots and rocks just about as hard as anyone could expect it to. Because of its astounding variety and its tried-and-true formula, finding fault with Guitar Hero 5 is pretty much an exercise in nitpicking.
GamePro Score: 4.5/5.0
System: Xbox 360
ESRB rating: T(Teen)
List price: $60
This story, "Guitar Hero 5" was originally published by GamePro.