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, or what I like to call the other Rock Band. 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 PS3 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 and PS button. 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 or even an entire band online, or immerse yourself in the fully equipped Music Studio where you can start laying down your own tracks, remix them, and upload your creations to the GHTunes online community.
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; either people wandering around your living room or people wandering around online looking for a jam session. 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.
The best thing about the new Music Studio is that those who do create their own music can upload their tracks online for others to download and play and even vote on. You’ll be able to upload five tracks and if people like your stuff (by voting) your online quota will increase. Eventually, you may be able to upload your own album, complete with cover design. While there hasn't been a lot of music available on GHTunes prior to release there are several dozen tracks of various genres and quality, but even the best of the best falls far short of the quality of the built-in music. All of the music I have downloaded or previewed (yes, you can listen before you download) sounds like those old MIDI tracks you could download for your PC back in the 90's.
I'm sure the quality of the music will advance as gamers become more skilled in the Music Studio, and ultimate, this means a virtually unlimited supply of free downloadable content courtesy of the community. But not to fear…Neversoft will still be aggressively seeking out fresh material for official future content to be released at regular intervals. There are already three track packs available for Day one launch as well as an entire album, Metallica's Death Magnetic. But with Rock Band looking at 500 official songs by this holiday, Guitar Hero has some catching up to do from the start. Obviously, none of the tracks from the previously released Guitar Hero games will work; at least without serious modifications for the new additional instruments.
World Tour not only matches Rock Band when it comes to online playability, it actually exceeds it by allowing for full band versus band gameplay. Rock Band 2 claims it too has a Battle of the Bands mode, but you are only playing against another band's score. World Tour lets you take your four-person band online to play against another foursome with real-time performances. Local multiplayer has the more traditional modes including Face Off and Pro Face Off.
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 multiple resolutions up to 1080p if you have the TV to handle it. And in case you are suffering from audio-visual lag when running in hi-def, there is a built-in calibration utility that will smooth things out for you.
Before we get into the song list I do want to compliment the sound quality of World Tour. Regardless of whatever my opinion may be about music selection, the quality, clarity, separation, and overall presentation of the music in this game is unparalleled to any other music game. Not only does the music come across loud and clear, the crowd noises and ambient effects of each venue is distinct and totally immersive. If you are playing this game in anything less than the supported Dolby Digital mix you can’t imagine what you are missing
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.
At the end of this lengthy review I have to start stacking the various facts on the reviewer scales. On one side we have a pretty boring presentation when it comes to the career mode, and money isn't the best motivation to keep me playing. As a veteran of Rock Band, I'm all about collecting the "fans", which is a much better way to judge your success. On that same side we have some glitchy guitars, at least when it comes to the strum bar, and this problem was easily reproduced on six guitars on three systems. And finally, as subjective as it is, I really didn't like a lot of the music in this game. I often had to force myself to play through three or more songs to get to one I liked.
Tipping the scale toward the positive is a fantastic Music Studio for those with the desire, skill, and dedication to make their own music, and we also have the finest drum kit available; one that truly mimics the motions of a real drummer. And also on the positive side are those select few exclusive songs that are so fantastic they almost outweigh all the music I don't like. And whether I like the songs or not, there is no denying the sound quality of this game is second to none, so crank it up. The concert isn't over until the cops show up.
For those on the fence about what band game to get, it mostly boils down to musical taste. Rock Band has a huge song library that caters to a wide variety of tastes. They have more full albums and a lot more music geared toward the 70's, 80's, and 90's. Guitar Hero World Tour delivers a few historic songs as well as at least three songs with Spanish lyrics, two songs that can only be classified as "country", and lots of contemporary heavy rock and grunge. There is also a lot of shared music between the two franchises.
Both games have so much going for them that it really is a shame many gamers are going to have to double up on instruments and spend $400 this fall to keep on rocking. The good news is that if you don't care about singing or drumming you can just buy the game and a guitar and play World Tour like it was any other Guitar Hero game. But even if you never thought you’d like to play the drums or sing, you really need to try World Tour. There is something that is totally addicting about participating in a multiplayer band, whether you are all in the same room or joining up with fellow rockers online. And if you are an aspiring musician or music producer, or like to play around with mixing boards and experiment with creating your own music, the Music Studio is a totally original addition to World Tour and sets this game apart from any of the competition.