Nov 172008

Since I’ve had a couple weeks to kick around the latest Guitar Hero the time is right to see how it stacks up against Rock Band.

With this iteration of the now venerable Guitar Hero franchise Neversoft decided to bring the game into direct competition with Rock Band by adding drums and vocals to the mix. As well as the ability to create your own charactets in addition to the old cast of Lars, Judy et al. And in a move to separate themselves from Harmonix, they also famously added a music builder. The character builder is satisfyingly deep, almost too much so in fact. I get crossed up when given control over things like eye shape, nose tilt, and lip width. Still, it’s clear Neversoft made great strides in the doll aspect of the game, and actually pushes them ahead of Rock Band, which provides less control over the look of the characters. So while the old, familiar cartoon characters from the first three games still exist…why would you use them?  One thing that Rock Band 2 got overwhelmingly right in character creation is the ability to create a full band even in single player mode.  Instead of having randomly generated characters filling in the holes I can have characters I’ve created and who look the way I want them too.  It’s a feature I love because I find the more cartoony character designs unappealing and detracts from what is titularly “my band.”

It is worth noting that all of my comments regarding both games deal strictly with single player guitar. While I have puttered around somewhat with bass play, and even less with vocals in RB2, no time has been spent on either game’s drum mode. Likewise I have logged no time in the online multiplayer.

Gameplay in World Tour remains basically the same, if you’ve ever played Guitar Hero, or Rock Band, you can pretty much pick up a controller and go. There are a few new wrinkles that I assume are again in response to Rock Band. For guitar players they added “tap” and “slide” sections. In “tap” sections you do not need to strum to hit notes, simply tapping the fret button will suffice. There are also moments in these sections where it is possible to use the touch pad built into the guitar controller to simulate a slide guitar playing technique. It’s all very nifty, but in the end comes off as more gimicky than integral to the gameplay. Especially when compared to the solo sections in Rock Band which do an excellent job of highlighting the best bits of songs.

Another area where Neversoft appear to have taken a cue from Harmonix is in the layout of the “gigs.” Gone is the highly regimented progression from easy to hard. In its place is more free form collection of shows. Obviously there is still a progression of difficulty, but you no longer have to play all the sings at a given difficulty level before tackling the next group. Now this layout is nowhere near as deep as Rock Band’s, a game that does truly feel like a “World Tour,” but it is a step in the right direction.

One feature that is unique to World Tour is the inclusion of the original artist in certain songs. This is an expansion on the inclusion of Brett Michaels in Guitar Hero 3, and while it is a gimmick of the highest order, it makes the game more fun so I don’t care. The last gig is especially ” lulz” worthy since the rest of the band is entirely made up of these Rock Stars. What I’m most curious about is if there are any cheat codes that let you unlock the stars as playable characters. I know it’s possible to unlock the two Guitar Battle opponents — Ted Nugent and Zakk Wylde — but they don’t interest me as much.

Another area that the devs obviously spent a lot of time on was the character animation. I noticed several times during my playthrough that the characters were actually playing the instruments. If a note was being “bent” then they animated the character bending the note. Now this was obviously special work done for specific passages of certain songs, and the continuity of motion was lost when the camera changes to a wide shot, but it remains a welcome addition.

The bottom line on World Tour is that it is the best Guitar Hero game released to date, but it still lags behind Rock Band all phases of the game, with the possible exception of the instruments.  The little embellishments to gameplay that Rock Band brings to the table have a much more organic feel to them, and the game is just that little bit more fun because of it.

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