Reviewed: October 26, 2008
Released: October 26, 2008
It's the moment hardcore rockers have been waiting for...the release of Guitar Hero World Tour, back on the PS2 where it all began. Since its debut in November of 2006 the Guitar Hero series has sold more than 23 million units worldwide and cashed $1.6 billion in retail sales. By comparison, the "Halo" trilogy of games has sold around 20 million copies worldwide since its Xbox debut in 2001. Admittedly, the Halo franchise is exclusive to Xbox, Xbox 360, and PC, but the numbers are impressive nonetheless.
When Rock Band arrived last November Guitar Hero rockers were divided. Some defended their guitar-only game while others (like me) jumped ship in favor of the more complete rock and roll band experience and a much more diverse music library that has being growing steadily for the past year. Not to be outdone, Neversoft and Activision got to work retooling Guitar Hero into a full band experience as well, and World Tour is the results of those efforts. Now you’ll be rocking out with up to four players including lead and bass guitar, drummer, and vocalist – essentially the same configuration as Rock Band and the recently released Rock Band 2. The lines have been drawn in the sand. Which side will you be on when it comes time to pick which package of instruments will dominate your game room this holiday season and the year to come?
Before we dive into the gameplay we should probably discuss the new instruments. After all, there is a lot more in this latest bundle than just a plastic guitar. First off, everything is wireless with the exception of the microphone, although the PS2 requires that you plug in USB receivers for each instrument. The guitar has been redesigned with standard frets up top and a touch-pad fret bar down near the base of the neck – similar to the extra bank of frets on the Rock Band guitar – and they serve the same function; finger-tap solos without the need to strum. The touch pad had a good sensitivity and a nice separation of notes so you don’t mix things up, but it can be tricky to accurately shift to this touch pad in mid-song. I do not like the new strum bar on this model guitar. There is way too much dead zone before a note actually registers, at least compared to all the other guitars I've used in the past 2-3 years. I was missing way too many notes before I figured out I really had to jam down on the strum bar. It's also very "clicky" so you hear the plastic over the music on the quieter songs.
While the overall size of the guitar is much smaller than the Rock Band guitars and even many third-party instruments, the guitar has a substantial and solid weight to it, so you will definitely want to attach the shoulder strap unless you play sitting down. There is also a new pad behind the strum bar in perfect position for your wrist to make contact and invoke Star Power without having to tip the guitar. The Start button is a much smaller button on the edge of this wrist bar. A knob serves as your D-pad. The microphone is pretty standard, also with a nice weight to it. The vocalist will need to use a controller to navigate menus and make selections.
Of course the real star of the instrument package is the kick-ass set of drums that are designed with three beat pads down low and two cymbals elevated behind the pads, creating a much smaller and more realistic looking set of drums than Rock Band has – unless you go out and purchase the Rock Band cymbal add-on, but even then, that is just doubling up the colors and isn’t really adding anything to the gameplay.
The drums have soft rubber pads that are much quieter than the original Rock Band drums, although the amount of stick-on-rubber noise is about the same if you have the new drums in Rock Band 2. But the World Tour drums offer something totally original – velocity sensitivity, so that the force with which you strike the drum pads is measured, creating a softer or louder note within the game.
The new pad configuration also allows for a much more realistic performance experience when crossing over to reach a left pad with your right arm or vice versa. These are the same techniques and movements professional drummers use, and if you can master the World Tour drums you are probably ready for a real drum kit.
After the cheesy opening movie that features the same urban-style animation as Legends of Rock we get to the main menu where you can start your Career, Quickplay any songs you have already unlocked in career mode, create and customized a musician or an entire band, challenge another rocker to a head-to-head face off, or immerse yourself in the fully equipped Music Studio where you can start laying down your own tracks, remix them, and create your own extended libary of music.
But before you can play in any of the modes you need a rocker. All of your favorite characters are back from the past games as well as a few new faces plus the ability to create up to 20 custom rockers of your own. The character creation process is as rich and powerful as what you'd expect from a Tony Hawk game, guaranteeing that no two rockers will ever look alike. Your stats are profile specific, so you can change characters and continue to level-up with fresh faces on the stage.
The Career mode is where most will start and here you can go solo or play as a band with 2-4 other players. Regardless of which way you play, the presentation of the game is still the same and sadly, quite uninspired and even a bit boring. You basically have this 3D wall with a series of bulletin boards and each board has sheets of paper tacked to it representing various gigs. Each gig comes with 3-5 songs followed by an encore. Some gigs have guest rockers that show up and challenge you in single player mode or just join you in multiplayer. I have to admit, they totally nailed Ozzy, both in his look, his movements, and his perfect lip synch, but seeing him sing Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" and hearing David Lee Roth's voice coming out of his mouth was weird.
As you make your way from sheet to sheet and board to board you will unlock more gigs and more boards and you are always free to hit the Create Your Own Gig board if you don't like anything available, but you will ultimately have to play the designated songs to unlock them and others. Each musician in the band is scored separately based on their performance and awarded various amounts of cash based on that score. Cash is not only used to purchase clothing and accessories from the store, it also dictates your rise through 50 skill levels. Your skill level sticks with you, even when you switch instruments, which is a good thing since I only got to level 15 on my lead guitar pass through the career mode. Anything you do with that rocker, online, in a band, or playing solo will all feed into that cash system and tiered level structure.
Playing the game hasn't changed hardly at all, even less if you have some experience with Rock Band. The lead and bass guitar tracks all play out the same with only a few minor differences. You now have notes streams that are connected with a purple line indicating a fast chain of notes you can tap out on the secondary fret pad. This is similar to the blue-shaded solo sections in Rock Band but in World Tour these streams don't always coincide with a solo. Also new to the note stream design for World Tour lead guitar are hammer-on sustains that will keep you on your toes as you try to keep one fret (usually red) pressed down while your other fingers dance around like a concert pianist.
Bass players will have something new thrown into the mix. While you will use the same guitar for either lead or bass, the bass track in the game offers up a new innovation that mimics the kick pedal of the drum kit. As you are playing your bass groove you might see a purple bar running across the entire neck of the note stream. This indicates that you must strum without pressing any frets, essentially adding a sixth note to the possibilities.
I'm the first to admit that I suck at the drums, but I am getting better. Most of my improvement came from the new drum tutorial on Rock Band 2, and while World Tour offers a drum tutorial of its own, it is more about how to play drums in World Tour, whereas Rock Band 2 actually teaches you real-world drum skills that translate into the game. One thing is for certain; I love the World Tour drum kit with its more compact configuration, elevated cymbals, and quiet velocity sensitive drum pads.
The vocals for World Tour aren't all that different from Rock Band. You don't have any rhythm sections so there is no need to smack the mic other than to invoke Star Power. Like Rock Band, you have some songs where you don't have to carry a note as much as match the spoken words, but World Tour doesn't really tell how well you are doing on these sections until you see your score at the end.
One significant improvement is the ability to refill your Star Power while you are using it. I've been complaining about this for the past two Guitar Hero games, ever since Rock Band did it. It just seems so logical, and while it may seem trivial to some, I can almost make a mini-game out of trying to keep my Star Power alive for extended periods of time. The use of Star Power is also regulated when playing in a band; so one person can't use up all the juice the entire band has built together.
Playing in a band is pretty easy. Pick your rocker, pick your instrument, and find three other people to fill in the missing spots. For the dedicated foursome, there is a band career mode that lets you tackle the bulletin boards as a team, but there are some glaring omissions in the overall team aspects of playing in a band; the biggest being that you cannot save a player who "fails". Rock Band allows for three strikes but if one person fails just once in World Tour the entire band loses.
For those who would rather make music rather than play it, or perhaps do a little of both, the new Music Studio will dazzle you with its comprehensive features and powerful mixing abilities, most of which are accessible with a standard guitar. This virtual recording studio lets you lay down your own custom tracks and even mix multiple layers of guitar, drums, and voice to create your own songs. There are in-depth tutorials for this new feature, and the studio is broken down into basic and advanced modes, but you are still going to need a solid foundation of music and possibly even production, to make the most out of this interface that looks very much like a mixing board from a real recording studio.
The Music Studio allows you to freestyle jam on your guitar. Just pick a key and rock out while you record your note stream. You can also do the same on the drums, or if you like, you can choose from numerous pre-recorded rhythm tracks, swapping out in real-time by pressing the frets. Whatever drum track you pick will automatically slip in while keeping the “beat”, so it’s all seamless and very cool. Once you get a beat that works you can loop it for playback while you add other instruments to the mix.
Sadly, the PS2 version of the Music Studio doesn't allow you to upload your custom songs, so the only way to really share your creations is to pass around your memory card to other people with the game. This, combined with the total lack of online gameplay isn't really surprising - this is the PS2 after all, but it does hurt the overall value of the game when compared to other systems. I guess that's why they knocked $10 off the price.
Venues get a serious facelift for World Tour and you get to play in fun locations like a Frat House, the State Fair, a Goth Club, New Years Eve in Times Square, and some pretty amazing stages and arenas, complete with exciting camera work and professional stage lighting. Perhaps the ultimate venue is the one created in collaboration with the band Tool, who not only bring three songs to the game, but one of the most wickedly cool places to play them. The graphics for this gig are so cool they don't even put the musicians on the screen.
The character graphics are still a bit cartoonish – perhaps stylized is a better word, but there is no denying the amazing character creation tools that Neversoft has put into this game to create a totally original rock star. You’ll have nearly as much freedom creating your own guitar by mixing and matching even the smallest components, and as you play the game you will continually unlock more gear and guitar accessories for purchase in the store.
Neversoft has taken some creative liberties with the design for World Tour. The HUD has been totally tweaked, but not necessarily for the better. Admittedly, they had to work in three note tracks and a vocal/lyric strip along the top, but the relocation of the Star Power gauge to the top corner is unforgivable. Chances are, you shift your eyes up long enough to see your streak, score, or Star Power status you will miss a note, especially on the harder and faster skills levels.
The overall presentation of menus and cutscenes feature the graffiti-style attitude of Neversoft made famous their Tony Hawk series and Guitar Hero: Legends of Rock. The cutscenes are all cel-shaded storyboards, almost like a Flash animation, with no speech, just sounds and mime-like motions. Gone are the fun cutscenes between gigs. You basically have the opening movie, the closing movie, and some fancy camera pans through the venues before the music starts.
There is some detailed character design, and smooth animation for all the rockers. The lighting, special effects, and cinematic camera angles, including some nice handheld camera shots as well as those new suspended wire-cams that fly in over the crowd and appear to rush the stage. It all blends together to create a perfect concert atmosphere. The pyrotechnics complete with particle effects and billowing smoke machine vapors is second only to the giant stage props like a giant winged skull crashing through a window, and these become part of the show, especially prior to an encore. Star Power erupts with awesome stage antics, blue arcing energy, and thunderous crowd reactions, and there are wide shots of the crowd dancing and waving their arms. My only venue complaint was playing on the deck of the aircraft carrier. The designers should have really made the crowd all Navy men and women in uniform rather than the same hippie crowd from every other event.
Unfortunately, you really can't enjoy the scenery since you’ll have to keep your eyes on the thousands of notes streaming down the neck of your guitar or drum track or watch the lyric scroll along the top, so you probably won’t get to enjoy the stage show as much as the person sitting next to you waiting for their turn to join the band, but at least you can pick your guitar and even skin it with fresh designs that you can purchase in the store. As with the previous games, you can change costumes for any of your rockers once you have purchased their alternate outfits and if you have created your own custom rocker, the sky is the limit when it comes to customization.
This latest Guitar Hero game supports 480p widescreen, but you'll have to go to the options to toggle it on. While 480p is far from the gleaming goodness of the PS3 and Xbox 360, it wasn't that long ago I was playing the original Guitar Hero on the PS2 and was thankful is just had progressive scan. And in case you are suffering from audio-visual lag when running in progressive mode, there is a built-in calibration utility that will smooth things out for you.
Now we come to the song list. Keeping in mind that musical taste is more of a subjective concept, I hopefully won't draw too many flaming emails when I say that I didn't like a lot of the music chosen to be part of this game. Conversely, World Tour also has nearly a half-dozen music tracks exclusive to this game that I can't go more than a day or two without playing, but on the whole, I'd say 50% of the music I was indifferent to and 20% I just plain didn't like at all. The other 30% includes a lot of the same music already available in Rock Band and my ultimate favorites like "Beat It", "Hollywood Nights", "What I've Done", "Hotel California", and "Hot For Teacher".
World Tour offers 85 amazing tracks from just about every genre of music. There is bound to be something in this list that will connect with just about any music lover. Here is the official and finalized track list for Guitar Hero World Tour:
It took me a few days of casual gaming to complete all the tracks in the guitar solo career mode on Medium. With the addition of new instruments and vocals, World Tour instantly gets four times its value out of the box, at least if you are open to playing drums and singing. My biggest obstacle to overcome in completing the career was the way the gigs were presented. There were numerous times when I got to a place where none of the available gigs had music I wanted to play, and I often had to take a break before diving into these events.
Just from the included music alone you can easily get 8 hours of gameplay per career pass per instrument, so that is going to get you 32+ hours of rock and roll not counting retries. New to World Tour is the ability to switch difficulty levels, even in the middle of a set. This is a huge improvement over past games where you picked your difficulty at the beginning and had to stick with it.
Mastering World Tour will take months, years, possibly never, as the guitar tracks get quite insane on the harder difficulties and learning to play the drums will take all the dedication of actually learning how to play real drums. World Tour does a much better job of ramping up the skill level than it has in past games. The difficulty level dictates the complexity of chords and which frets are brought into play, and this all combines with the overall difficulty level of the song being played.
The PS2 continues to muddle on and studios like Budcat are making bank on the fact that people are either unable to unwilling to part with their last-gen systems. I supposed PS2 owners should be happy a game like World Tour is still being made for their dying system, but the simple fact is, the World Tour bundle costs nearly twice as much as the PS2, so if you can afford the bundle just get a next-gen game system and enjoy all the extra features you are missing out on.
World Tour takes the guitar experience into a new realm, one of being part of a four-person band. The PS2 gets the job done nicely, but without online access to download new songs or even upload the ones you make, it nearly defeats the purpose of the Music Studio and your multiplayer is limited to local head-to-head and four-player co-op. As long as you go into this venture knowing that you are pretty much stuck with the 85 songs you get and whatever you can make in the studio, dedicated PS2 rockers won't feel left behind. After all, this is still Guitar Hero, back on the PS2 where it was born.