Guitar Hero 5 Preview

Another power chord.

In what feels like an everlasting war between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, a war which exists even if one side doesn’t acknowledge it, Neversoft attempts to take control of the airwaves with the almighty amplifier known as features. Everywhere you look in Guitar Hero V, there is an addition, a tweak if you will – the menu interface, the song selection screen, the music studio, the multiplayer mode variants, the avatar creation, even the standard build of a four-player rock band – essentially transforming the would-be sequel into Guitar Hero World Tour Redux. But really, when God and Satan join forces as a Celestial Agency to challenge mortals for rock supremacy, how can you not answer the call?

[image1]If there is one feature that Guitar Hero V touts – as it should – it’s handiness. In the selection screen alone, you have options to activate or change the difficulty, venue, instrument, hyperspeed, "no fail", free drumming, the star power tilt and touch strip on a guitar peripheral, the mode (career, freeplay, or competitive), the avatar, the avatar’s outfits, and (wouldn’t you know it?) handedness. This means that you no longer have to wade through a jumbled net of menu screens just to change an option or mode, a complaint that fans have decried in the previous installments.

Moreover, the four-player band doesn’t need to be comprised of one wailing guitarist, one steady-eddie bassist, one unstoppable drummer, and one poor sap who’s stuck screaming into the mic. Any combination of four players on any four instruments will do, so you can stick to your instrument of not making a fool of yourself choice. Party Play will even allow you to drop in or out, change the difficulty, and swap instruments on the fly during the song . I surmise that this would almost eliminate the traditional band set-up, but considering that this accommodates nearly anyone with any assortment of compatible instruments, this isn’t much of a problem.

Of the peripherals we were allowed to test at the preview event at the Temple in San Francisco, the only new instrument available was the guitar, which has a new red and white curved skin but is by and large the same reliable, well-constructed guitar from World Tour. The new drumset wasn’t on the floor for us to grab hold of – only the drumset for World Tour was available – but we hope that it is more dependable and sturdier (the two drumsets we received from World Tour both had issues with responsiveness).

[image2]Other handy adjustments have been made to the interface making  it more sensible, moving most of the elements closer to the track that scrolls towards you during a song. The ten bulbs that indicate your note streak multiplier are now along the right side of the track, the star power gauge is now a proper gauge like in the first Guitar Hero instead of six bulbs, and the health "rock meter" bar is aligned on the left side of the track. Anything that keeps our eyes firmly on the track is a welcome change.

Guitar Hero V also takes several cues from its closest rival, incorporating a handful of gameplay ideas from Rock Band. Star power is now tracked for each player separately, so that players don’t have to share from the same pool of star power and start bludgeoning the douche who steals it all. A unison bonus of sorts has also been added in the form of a Band Moment, where if every player nails a fixed sequence of flaming notes, they score more points while the screen glows in pretty, bright red hues (a.k.a. Light Sensory Dynamics).

Apart from in-game cameos of Carlos Santana, Shirley Manson, and Johnny Cash, Guitar Hero V ups the ante by introducing a host of new competitive modes and challenges for both the completionist and perfectionist. While the general progression remains intact – unlock more difficult tiers by earning enough stars through completing songs – each track provides up to three additional challenges ranked Gold, Platinum, or Diamond based on their difficulty. Completing these challenges, some of which are not song-specific, will usually yield additional stars as well as various unlockables, which will likely be avatars, avatar clothing, venues, and behind-the-scenes videos. Beyond that, you will earn yet another star for perfection, allowing you to gain up to nine stars for every song. This means that beginners will have more chances to reach the higher tiers while Scoreheroes will be have their hands full plucking out all the ripe challenges in sight.

[image3]For the latter breed of players, competitive variants will keep them busy and will probably make their presence known in Guitar Hero competitions. Along with the standard Pro Face-Off, the RockFest mode introduces other head-to-head options like Momentum, Streakers, Perfectionist, Do or Die, and Elimination – all of which provide different scoring alternatives. And on the subject of multiplayer, Wii owners will be glad to know that the game will support up to eight players without Friend Codes!

One point of difference is how players save bandmates who have failed. Instead of activating star power to revive them, a band revival meter appears, and if the other players nail their notes, the player is saved. That means you won’t need star power and you are not limited to the number of times you can save someone, though it seems that it becomes more and more difficult to save someone the more times a member fails.

Headlining the new 95-song track list, which can be bolstered by more than 150 songs from the downloadable content for World Tour (for now, up to 265 songs in total), is Bob Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower", Billy Idol’s "Dancing With Myself", David Bowie’s "Fame", Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire". Thankfully, there are only a frew songs that are shared with those in Rock Band, so you can expect a unique experience for the most part. From the new setlist, experts should be eying tracks like (guitar and drums) "Scatterbrain" by Jeff Beck, (guitar and bass) the 13-minute-40-second odyssey "Do You Feel Like We Do?" by Peter Frampton, (drums) "Brianstorm" by Arctic Monkeys, (vocals) "Under Pressure" by Queen & David Bowie, and (drums) "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.

Guitar Hero V improves on nearly every facet of its predecessor, making it a strong contender in the multiplayer music genre and not letting itself rest on its laurels. Whether it will take the social gathering spotlight away from Rock Band 2 remains to be seen, but it certainly has the chops to do so. Get your guitars ready to rock on September 1st.