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     " Who would've thought Willie Nelson belonged in a rock game? But he does. "

      Title: Guitar Hero: World Tour by Activision

      Format: Band simulating rhythm game for the 360

      Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters

      The Hype: The franchise that brought music-simulating rhythm games to the masses has stepped up to the whole band experience. Now including drums and vocals for the first time, Guitar Hero: World Tour wants to take on games like Rock Band for the title of ultimate band simulator. But does it have the stones to rock that hard? Read on, fellow monkey, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

     I thought, for ease of presentation, that I'd take this review in chronological order of my experience. It may not be the most traditional method for a review of this type, but I think it'll work the best, all things considered.

     So, to start, let's go with opening the box.

     What struck us initially is how high-quality the peripherals are. Following in the footsteps of the exceptionally solid-feeling guitar from Guitar Hero 3, World Tour brings us a guitar with fairly little play in the neck (no chincy wobble here), a drum set that feels like it can take a beating, and a mic that''s a mic. There's nothing either remarkable or disappointing about it.

     Assembly for the first time took only a few minutes and was easy and practical enough that we all agreed we'd have no problem bringing the kit over to a buddy's house should the need arise.

     Then, necessary preambles out of the way, we started to rock.

     No, that's not true. Then we started to make the characters who would rock for us on screen. A process that was much more in-depth than we had anticipated and that we spent way, way too much time playing with.

     Though still not on par with some of the top of the line character creators, World Tour does include a pleasantly intricate designer that lets you change most everything from the color of your Mohawk highlights to the danglies you put around your wrists. Overall it's a nice, though not amazing, system that will guarantee that you will make everyone else wait for ten or fifteen minutes as you decide which disappointed tantrum style best suits you when you epically fail.

     Some hours later, with all of the office Monkeys satisfied with their presentation, we then began to rock...and rocking is easy with World Tour's diverse track list.

     Using only master recordings by the original artists and straddling most every rock genre, the 80-odd tracks include artists ranging from Tool to Willie Nelson, Los Lobos to Smashing Pumpkins, Wings to Dinosaur Jr., and Linkin Park to Michael Jackson. Unless your interests are limited to nothing but folk music and classical orchestra, you will find something here you like.

     Coding for the tracks is pretty decent, too--with an overall nice balance being struck between played and unplayed notes. Unfortunately, despite the addition of a beginner level to the difficulty mix, developer Red Octane still has not managed to figure out a good balance between Medium and Hard on the instruments--with the jump still too extreme to facilitate a natural progression from one to the other. It doesn't seem like it'd be a tough thing to understand, that adding both extra buttons and a massive increase in technical difficulty simultaneously is rough on moderate players, but they just can't seem to get it right...and once again many non-hard-core players are left with a medium that's too easy to be entertaining and a hard that requires too much real practice to jump to.

     Still, the actual playing is a pretty damned good time--especially with the new peripherals.

     The new Kramer-modeled guitar is both bigger (read: less ukulele-like) and more solid than its Guitar Hero 3 predecessor, and it really does feel like it can stand up to some pretty serious rocking. Also added is a new touch-sensitive area on the neck that lets you either tap in place of strumming (for the illusion of high-neck playing) or slide your fingers up and down in place of holding down the fret buttons. But while the tap-strumming is useful for ultra-fast solo sections, the sliding feature is more trouble than it's worth--with the poorly delineated buttons being near impossible to hit accurately as you move your fingers back and forth.

     Then there's the drums. Oh, lord, the drums. Featuring three large, springy pads and two very fancy raised symbols, this is unquestionably the most drum-like experience we've seen in a game to date. Once you spend a little time figuring out where everything and getting in the habit of hitting the split-level buttons naturally, you will really feel like you're rocking on an electronic drum set. A kid's electronic drums set, but an electronic drum set all the same. Which is good, because the kit actually has a midi-output in the back that lets you plug it into a computer and use it as a real 4-piece set.

     Not too bad. But I know what you're really want to hear.

     You want to hear how it stacks up to Rock Band. Go on, say it. Say it.

     Alright then.

     The short answer is, the results are mixed. I know, that's not what you were hoping I'd say. Truthfully, it's not what I was hoping would be the case.

     I wanted an experience that was either vastly superior or absolutely dreadful by comparison. One or the other, so that I could say, "This is the one you need," or "forget it, don't waste your money." But, sadly, that's not the case, and here's why.

     On the peripheral front, World Tour is unquestionably superior. The guitar is more solid and more ergonomically designed, and the drums feel more like drums and have a more appropriate number of pads to keep it interesting. Moreover, Red Octane has learned from their gaff with Guitar Hero 3 and has now made both the game and the peripherals compatible with Rock Band (so you can use the Rock Band instruments with World Tour, and, more importantly, the awesome World Tour instruments with Rock Band).

     Likewise, the music on-disc for World Tour is much better in my mind. And while, yes, the music "you" will like is much a matter of personal preference, your odds of finding more music you like is greater, I believe, with Guitar Hero.

     But here's where we start getting into a gray area. Because while the music on disk is better for World Tour, Rock Band has literally hundreds of songs available as Downloadable Content (DLC) that will let you customize your experience. Contrastingly, as of press time, World Tour only has about a dozen songs set to be released as DLC. And while, yes, that DLC costs more money, I figure the odds are good that if you're going to spend $200 on a rock game, you're not going to shy away from dropping another 10 or 20 bucks for songs to make the experience more enjoyable.

     Then there's the "game" itself. And by "game" I mean all the stuff that happens on the software side; from interface to menus to gameplay to controls to response times. And, in each and every one of those aspects, Rock Band stomps all over World Tour.

     It's a little strange, and a lot disconcerting, but Red Octane opted to make choices with World Tour that are not only obviously inferior to Rock Band 2 (which was released months before World Tour), but that don't hold up even when compared to Rock Band 1.

     The career mode is a joke...offering little more than a string of gigs (sets of songs) you have to play in order, with no real rewards or feeling of achievement for completing them.

     The interface, especially when you're creating a set list, is unbelievably rough and is a constant cause of grumbles and moans between games. By way of example you can look to your DLC, which always appears in a separate area regardless of your sorting options, and so must be both remembered and sought after specifically if you want to play it. And, speaking of sorting, World Tour gives you only bare-bones sorting options, and lacks much of the information you will unquestionably want when choosing songs (including any indication of difficulty).

     And the gameplay...

     In some cases, Red Octane made a serious attempt to improve on the design of Rock Band. The singer and drummer, for example, can now use Star Power whenever they want, which means they can be much more influential in terms of helping the band stay on course. That's good.

     At other times they went the easy route and just adapted for World Tour what Harmonix had done with Rock Band (i.e. Star Power can now be extended by hitting new power notes while your power is already going). Which is also good. I mean, hey, if it ain't broke...

     But then, in other ways they went in their own direction for no particular reason, and frequently to the game's detriment...which is never more noticeable than in the hat trick of doom that is Star Power--a series of three inexplicable choices that all work together to make the game much, much less fun than it could be.

     First, they made Star Power communal, and so is frequently much less available when it's needed. Then, to make matters worse, they opted to omit a "rescue" option, so if one bandmate fails, you all fail. Finally, they removed the "no fail" mode, which all combines into an experience that says that unless you are a veteran player who is able to hold your own at an entertaining level of difficulty, you had better down-play to a level that's stable (and often boring), because otherwise your group will be replaying the same song over and over and over and over and over again (which is especially frustrating given the afore-mentioned excessively harsh jump from Medium to Hard).

     Which is why I say, there is no clear-cut winner in the fight. Sure, Rock Band has the snazzier interface and DLC, but World Tour has the better instruments and disc set list. Which means, if you're looking for a solid recommendation, I would probably say to go ahead and buy World Tour for the peripherals, but also pick up a copy of Rock Band 2's game disc to supplement your gaming experience.

      The Verdict:


       Overall, Guitar Hero World Tour is a good showing and a nice addition to the genre. Unfortunately, the developers didn't spend nearly enough time on the interface to make it truly great.

      The Good: Great set list and killer instruments.

      The Bad: Crappy user interface and under-thought gameplay.

      The Overall Ugly: Who would've thought Willie Nelson belonged in a rock game? But he does.

      What it's Worth: Market.

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