" Guitar Hero 5 is a very welcome addition to the genre and a good step forward for the franchise. "
Title: Guitar Hero 5 by Activision
Format: Xbox 360 Band Rhythm Game
Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters
There was a time,
not too long ago, when I would have had to spend a lot of space at the start
of this review explaining how band-based rhythm games worked. Happily, that
is no longer the case. However, with that mass familiarity has come a mostly-unexpected
glut in the market. Now you can't throw a stick in a game store without smashing
it into fifteen or twenty boring, generic, adds-nothing-to-the-genre knockoffs.
So is there room in an already over-crowded scene for yet another band simulator?
Well, when it's one as fundamentally solid as Guitar Hero 5, the answer is most definitely yes.
And "fundamentally" is actually a really good way to look at GH5, since it doesn't really bring a whole lot new to the party. It's still a classic four-player band simulator. It still uses the same kind of notes, the same kind of star power, and the same kind of peripherals. It still includes the same options for vocals, drums, guitar, and bass. However, unlike 99% of the other games on the market, it not only does each of these things very, very well, but it also makes some very welcome, and long overdue, changes to the classic format.
The changes start with the menu system, which allows people to join, drop, and choose instruments without having to dump all the way out to the title screen and then re-set-up the entire damned lobby. Now, that may seem like a small thing initially, but as anyone who's tried to play these games at a party knows, that time, effort, and frustration-saving is huge.
And, speaking of parties, the next great advance GH5 brings to the table is a finally functional, finally stress-free party mode. One that is drop in / drop out, allowing players to enter and leave the game at any time (including mid-song), and that only allows those playing at high levels of difficulties to fail. So, finally, those of us who are routinely grinding out songs on Hard and Expert will no longer have to play the same damned gig over and over and over again because the noob who can't pass easy keeps bombing out.
Nor will we have to fight over lead guitar, or the mic, as GH5 allows for up to four players in any combinations of instruments to jam. So, assuming you've got the usual assortment of instruments, you can now have two people playing lead guitar at the same time, or--if you're some kind of bizarre freakin' sadist--you can go buy three more mics and warble out "Dancing with Myself" as a quartet.
And the improvements don't stop there. Also on the revisionist block is the way band member saves work, now requiring only exceptional play from the remaining players instead of the use of greedily-horded star power (an upgrade that makes difficult band play feel a lot less like tactical work). Likewise, the lackluster character creator has been upgraded, which couples nicely with the oddly hysterical option to allow Xbox Avatars to rock out along side in-game rendered heroes (or, even stranger, the licensed real-life rockstars such as Shirley Manson, Johnny Cash, and Kirk Cobain).
Truthfully, the only glaring issue Activision and developer Red Octane failed to address was the complete lack of impetus in the campaign / tour mode--which is still nothing but a selection of sequentially unlocked songs. Why they seem to have such a hard time realizing that some kind of great rock and roll journey, preferably one with an iconic rise and catastrophic fall, would add significantly to the experience I'll never know.
Still, all in all, Guitar Hero 5 is a very welcome addition to the genre and a good step forward for the franchise.
The Good: Upgrades to band play, party play, and general formatting are all welcome.
The Bad: Career mode still feels listless.
The Overall Ugly: New music and upgraded features? What's stopping you.
What it's Worth: Market