The rhythm genre has become one of the most prolific genres of this decade thanks to Red Octane and
Harmonix with their Rock Band
and Guitar Hero
franchises, but the two have taken very different turns in their games; with Rock Band
increasing songs via DLC and the Guitar Hero
franchise releasing new titles. Now Activision has released the 5th installment of the main Guitar Hero
series, boasting the largest setlist out of the box of any game, but will this installment bring new flavor to what feel like a stalled out genre?
With all the recent Guitar Hero titles coming out in the past couple years [World Tour, Metallica, and the
upcoming Van Halen], it's hard to make each title more enjoyable than the last, but they haven't run out of tricks yet and have conjured up the biggest out-of-the-box setlist than any other rhythm game out. Boasting 85 songs, the setlist is massive and hits an un-heard set of music genres that really show the amount of variety Guitar Hero
was going for. But this is also the letdown of the game as well; with 85 songs to choose, there is a good chance that most of the songs you've probably never heard of or don't want to play at all. Most Guitar Hero
games have leaned towards two or three genres at most while at the top of my head I can count 6-7 different genres, and while in a sense it's not a bad thing since it'll hit a more general audience, it's also bad because throughout the game it feels like Guitar Hero 5
just can't make up its mind. One song will have an indie rock band, then the next will be playing Stevie Wonder; there's no real flow to the game in terms of how they selected the songs and the only way you can really add the flow to the game is to do it yourself through the newly re-vamped Career Mode.
Career Mode breaks the mold of the recent Guitar Hero games by removing money completely from the
game and basing the unlockables on stars and challenges. The new Challenges allow more stars on songs by completing objectives. Depending on the song, there could be instrument-specific challenges or Band Challenges that require two or more players of any instrument to start the challenge. Guitar challenges range from advancing a high note streak, to how many points they can get with Star Power activated; while Bass challenges want one to see how many up-strums that player can perform in the song and overlap some of the Guitar challenges. Other challenges include spending as much Star Power as possible, acquiring as many points as possible, and many others. This does help introduce new songs to players since certain ranks of the challenges [Ranking from Gold to Platinum to Diamond] will unlock new outfits, cheats, extras, and much more. But Guitar Hero 5
requires a very little amount of the total amount of stars to unlock the new venues to furuther complete Career Mode, needing only around 150 stars of the total 800+ stars to unlock the "final" song to finish. Playing through I didn't play three of the later venues at all since I was trying to go in order of the songs they gave me and I was already in the clear to try for the final song, and that was a big letdown.
To me, Guitar Hero was the best whenever the setlist had the five songs to pass with the one encore
song; when those were passed, it went and gave the next five songs. It allowed access to a set of songs that was easy to keep track of and was able to be enjoyed, it saviored the songs they worked to get into the game. Now the career mode makes songs almost feel insignifact and rushed as they allow this almost non-linear mode skippable by venue. Guitar Hero 5
feels like a real rushed project going through the Career Mode and makes songs feel like they're made just so they can be in the game; there's no heart, the great feeling of playing these classics feels so numb compared to when Guitar Hero
and Guitar Hero II
were released. It really hurts the replayability of these songs when it always has this undaunting feeling of "been-there, done-that". It's not effected as much for Vocals and Drums, but most people who buy this game will get it for the Guitar and Bass portions, and heading almost into double-digits on games released: It's starting to become a tired trend.
While Career Mode was a letdown, Guitar Hero 5 does boast some new improvments. The HUD has
been compressed, putting the Rock Meter on the left and the Star Power on the right. The challenge meter, made to look like a record, when activated for a challenge sits where the Rock Meter used to be. There are no Note Streak pop-ups and is a very nice set-up. With the HUD shrinking, you'll be able to see the improved graphics, and they look better than ever. Characters look more realistic in their movements and lip-syncing is getting much better. The pick of song artists is quite nice, especially because they got Matt Bellamy and I'm a big Muse fan, so that's always a plus. Along with the song artists, Create-A-Rocker mode is still great and has improved thanks to the no money decision. Now instead of playing thousands of songs to get one item, it'll be unlocked free of charge once that challenge has been completed, which is SO much easier and stress-reducing.
But the main selling point of Guitar Hero 5 was not the Career Mode, the improvements to the HUD, or
the song artists: it was the selling of the casual gamer and the vast work on the Multiplayer aspect of the game. When the opening movie ends, instead of going to a opening screen, Guitar Hero 5
presents its Party Play Mode. What looks like the game playing random songs, you can hit a button and up will come a note chart and a couple options. Once those options are set, the notes will come down and you'll play until your heart's content. The coolest part of this option is that other players can play whatever instrument they like at any difficulty they like, and hop in and out of the song without ever pausing it for the other players. Like said above, any person can play whatever instrument the please, which can have four people playing Guitar, Bass, Drums, or Vocals, or a combination of the four. It's a really sweet idea that just calls to be played at parties. Though one problem I have with it is that there isn't a option where you can choose what song to play, it'll pick one at random and plays it through without an ability to skip past it, so it can definitely be a buzzkill when no one wants to play a certain song and there's no way to continue through.
The new Competitive mode brings new versus modes to the mix: Momentum - Where everyone starts at
Medium and when a player hits 20 notes in a row goes up a difficulty while missing 3 in a row bumps that player down a level. Streakers
- Where points are based on how long the player can hold a note streak. Perfectionist
- Where points are based on sections of the song where the higher percentage of notes hit, the more points you receive. Do or Die
- Where if you miss three notes in that section of the song, you must sit out and wait for the next section to start. Elimination
- Where players with the lowest score get eliminated after certain sections of the song have passed. And Pro Face-Off
- Players play on the same difficulty, highest score wins. It's nice to see plenty new Versus options and the merciful absence of Battle Mode. Most of them are fun to play minus Do or Die mode since if both players are not doing well, the song will be silent for most of the time. Online mode is as great as it has always been, but I had trouble figuring out where the online section was until I randomly stumbled upon finding it under the Competitive tab in the Main Menu. If I didn't notice it there, I would've probably never found it.
All-in-All, the Guitar Hero franchise will slowly improve on all aspects except the one in which can't be
upgraded, the gameplay. Throughout the entire time playing, I felt like nothing new was really brought to the table in terms of gameplay and the franchise will slowly suffer until they can pull off a miracle in which it makes the game new and interesting for the veterans who have stuck around since its debut. Add this with an abysmal Career Mode and a so-so soundtrack,
what looked like promising set-up for Red Octane falls way short of its mark.
- + Needed Improvements All-Around
- + Song Challenges
- + More Options for Multiplayer
- +/- Really Spaced Out Soundtrack
- - Worst Career Mode in the Franchise
- - Gameplay Getting Stale Over Time
- - No Flow in Music Choice
- - Bad Case of "Been There, Done That"