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Gaming Review

'Guitar Hero 5' (Xbox 360)

By
Released on Thursday, Sep 10 2009



Also available on: PS2, PS3, Wii
Genre: Rhythm Action
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision
Release date: September 11, 2009

The latest instalment of Guitar Hero has been a long time coming, which of course is an absurd statement that can't be said with a straight face. In fact, it seems like only yesterday that we reviewed Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits, and only the week before that we reviewed the Metallica edition. However, the difference between those titles and this one is that, while they were spinoffs, this is a full-blown sequel, which has a certain responsibility to improve and surpass its predecessors.

Activision has certainly been vocal in the build up to this release, with a great deal of talk about accessibility and party modes, while the game's unlockable characters such as Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain have also provided interesting talking points.

Fortunately for Guitar Hero fans, Activision has managed to prove that there's no smoke without fire, and created a title that justifies the hype and manages to borrow the good bits from other games, while also adding some enjoyable touches of its own.

For the most part, the new features revolve around getting as many people together, regardless of skill, to sample the game's delights. The main new multiplayer mode is called Party Play, which sees up to four guitarists, drummers, bassists and singers team up in whatever combination they desire to create their own setlists and belt out some tunes. The good thing about this mode is its flexibility, which allows players to drop in and out of songs without disruption, as well as change the difficulty as and when they please. It's a simple feature when you think about it, but it really does create a situation which keeps everybody happy, and doesn't leave anybody short changed for the duration of a song on an instrument they don't want to play, or at a level they're not comfortable with, especially if they swap with another player.

For the more competitive players out there, Rockfest is the all-encompassing multiplayer mode that actually draws inspiration from games outside of the rhythm action genre. The most enjoyable of the new games is called Momentum, which is hilariously hard to predict and can see even veteran players thrown off course simply by playing well. Players start on the same difficulty level, which increases or decreases depending on the streak you manage to muster. While this sounds straightforward, the initial shift of difficulty really throws you off guard, and if the confusion gets to you, it's not long before you're relegated to lower levels, with fewer points at stake. Miss enough notes on expert and before long you'll find yourself frantically strumming on beginner, which is altogether too slow for somebody used to thrashing out the metal tunes on hard. Of course, the more notes you miss, the lower the score, which does act as an equaliser for somebody less skilled, who may be able to better adapt to the lower difficulty.

Elimination, which is very much like Eliminator in Burnout, is another stellar multiplayer treat; however, unlike Momentum, it is much more reliant on players of a similar skill level battling with each other. The rules are simple, whoever is in last place after a certain period of time is eliminated, while the remaining players continue until the next checkpoint. This game is very much about how you use your star power, with the more eager out there in danger of not capitalising on the big pay days, while the overly cautious might find that it's too little too late if they save up their star power for too long. The potential for excitement is great for this particular game, but it can be slightly demoralising if the finish is in sight but the player ahead of you isn't.

In terms of traditional modes, the career mode, which was starting to get a little stale, has been revamped, and features Rock Band-style challenges, which can be anything from using a sufficient amount of whammy to nailing certain sections flawlessly. The other big strength of the new career mode is the ability to change instruments throughout the course of the set. It all adds up to a much more varied and interesting career, which spans the full range of instruments based on the player's desires.

The setlist is once again the most subjective part of the game, and plays on the fact that multiple people with an eclectic mix of musical tastes will be playing; contemporary numbers from bands such as the Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys litter the soundtrack, while classics by the likes of Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder are also prominent. This may not suit some single-player fans who have a pretty rigid musical palette, but there's no denying that, while the likes of 'Play That Funky Music' may seem rather exotic compared to past Guitar Hero tunes, they are still enormous fun to play. Only time will tell whether the modern tracks will obtain classic status, but they play their part in the new game very well. The game also gives players the opportunity to import their World Tour tunes, but sadly not nearly enough songs make the transition.

Underneath all of the new songs, features and ways to play, this is still very much a Guitar Hero title, which hasn't changed too much since it launched back in 2006. Players still need to hit the notes at the right time on the drums, bass, or guitar, while vocalists must match the pitch and length of the lyrics that scroll along the top of the screen. It's this basic formula that has won the genre countless fans over the years, but at the same time, there can't be much more scope for improvement, the gameplay starting to take the form of an ageing familiar face, albeit a friendly one. Neversoft's note mapping is very good, while the hammer-ons and pull-offs are now at their most fluid. In another welcome move that will be familiar to Rock Band veterans, bands can now save the weak link by playing well instead of instantly failing, while top-notch band play is rewarded with flaming star power, which sees the whole band explode with style, much to the crowd's delight, plus it gives a healthy points boost to boot. The presentation is also pleasingly sleek, which gives the game a coming of age look that reeks of maturity and confidence. The studio mode also returns, albeit with a redefined and simpler interface, which is topped off with an attractive visualiser. Other touches such as crowd sing-alongs and improved character visuals have also been added, which increases the immersion factor.

Guitar Hero 5 is an excellent addition to the series, and despite the genre getting to the stage where it seemingly can't progress in leaps and bounds, it still manages to move forward, which is the most important thing. However, the danger remains that the series can only decline, with opportunities for innovation and advancements diminishing with every title that is released (which in the case of Guitar Hero is a lot). If this is true, and the series does hit a downward spiral, Guitar Hero 5 is a fitting send off, but here's hoping that the developers manage to continue on the path forward rather than crumbling under the pressure of popularity and stardom like so many of the fallen rock stars this genre has helped to immortalise.


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