STAFF REVIEW of Guitar Hero: World Tour (Xbox 360)

Thursday, October 30, 2008.
by Adam Dileva

Guitar Hero: World Tour Box art Guitar Hero has become practically a household name and if you?ve not played it, you most likely at least know what it is. This year?s installment of the series is trying to take away a piece of the pie that Rock Band has managed to do so well with a fully fledged drum kit and microphone as well as the standard guitar that we?ve become accustomed to. Guitar Hero World Tour (will be referred to as GHWT for the remainder of this review) has taken notice of Rock Band?s success and has released their take of what a Band game should be, but is it what the rest of us want?

Arguably the most important instrument in a band would be the guitar, and this is what the series has built itself on and has done a good job to this point. When Rock Band added the five solo buttons on the bottom of the guitar neck in their game, Activision seems to have taken notice and is attempting to one up them by adding a flat touch sensitive slider bar that is the length of the regular buttons you hold down lower on the neck. There are a few reasons for this new change and some new features that come along with it as well.

Should you wish, you can use the slider bar to do your wah-wah?s on the long notes instead of using the whammy bar. While this isn?t a huge feature, it?s nice to not have to reach away from the strum bar to pull the whammy bar and then put your hand back on the strummer. The only difference when using the slider bar for this though is that the note sound that changes is nowhere near as distinct. Most of the time I wouldn?t have even known it was doing the wah-wah if the sustained note bar didn?t change shape.

While playing lead guitar there is also a new set of notes that will show up that are meant to be tapped on the slider bar. These can also be played normally by using the buttons and strumming together but much like using Rock Band?s solo buttons, it makes it feel slightly ?cooler? while doing it the intended way. The notes are half see through so that you know when you are meant to ?tap? these notes and they are strung together with a thin line between each note like a connect-the-dot to help guide you through these sections. The problem with these tap sections while using the slider bar is that since the touch sensitive bar is flat, there is no way to tell where your fingers are on the bar without much practice. Losing your proper finger position on the slider bar will be frequent when tapping the expert level solos even though with the slightest touch the column your finger is touching lights up it would have been nice to have a slight bump on each flat ?button? on the bar so you can fix your fingering easily.

The other big addition that comes along with the new slider bar is the ability to tap the bar in lieu of strumming. This makes bassists like me very happy now that we can play some actual slap bass. It?s an interesting feature and although the bar is very sensitive somehow I find using it instead of strumming usually isn?t as accurate, especially on the more difficult expert levels.

Also sure to make the few bassists out there happy is the addition of another note to press, totaling it to 6 (for bassists only). This is done by having a flat bar across all notes that looks exactly like Rock Bands drum pedal note that needs to be strummed or tapped but without holding any of the colored note buttons down. At first it seemed pretty basic and a gimmick, but in the later songs having to strum and not hold a note then instantly hold a different note adds some welcomed challenge to bass players. It?s worth noting that this 6th note only appears on hard and expert difficulty for bassists only.

A common problem with previous guitars in either game previously was deploying your star power. If your guitar didn?t always deploy it by holding the neck straight up you could always press the back button instead, though not many people knew this. Some people prefer this method as holding the neck straight up can mess up their regular playing, so Activision has taken notice and brought a welcomed change for this lingering issue. You are still able to lift the neck straight up to deploy your star power but the change is that the back button is a long button on the guitar right where your palm rests when strumming. This makes it much easier to hit the button should you not want to potentially miss notes by holding your guitar up and it looks natural on the guitar to match the wood looking finish.

Drums are a new addition in the Guitar Hero franchise and much like the guitar; it seems they?ve seen what?s out there and then did their own take on it. The biggest change you will notice first off is that instead of using Rock Band?s 4 circular drum heads they have made 3 larger ones on the ?bottom? of the drum kit and now has 2 cymbals raised up above them slightly between the inner pad.

At first look they can seem pretty intimidating and being an expert drummer on Rock Band myself, this new set does come with a learning curve. The 3 circular pads are slightly larger than Rock Band?s making them easier to hit and feel like they have more cushion to them. Oddly this does not make them quieter than Rock Band 2?s new drum kit and with having to hit the cymbals that are stiffer frequently, this new kit is not apartment friendly in the noise department.

For some reason the drum pedal has a cord that is much longer than it needs to be, but to the point that I wrapped mine around the middle bar that holds the drum heads up. Why the reason for this I?m not sure because your foot still needs to be in range so your arms can hit the drum heads. While this isn?t a big issue, the fact that the pedal itself is very flimsy like the original Rock Band?s one has me nervous that it will snap in time as it seems to bend to the sides very easily especially when playing furiously on expert level. One thing they did add is that the bottom of the pedal itself has rubber ?feet? to prevent it from slipping should you be playing on hardwood or a smooth surface. They have also added a strip of velcro should you be playing on a carpet like myself. While these two small things are nice, I?m finding the pedal will sometimes still get away from me since the pedal can be placed anywhere and doesn?t ?attach? to the drums base in any way.

Drums fills (those few seconds of drumming where you can hit any note you want) are few and far in between I?ve found and unlike Rock Band where your highway (the area where your notices scroll down) changes color so you know this is your time to shine and fill to your heart?s delight, the highway gets very feint white swirls and if you aren?t looking for it, it?s completely possible to miss your chance to do your fill completely.

Easily my favorite feature with the new drums is how you activate your star power for bonus points. In Rock Band it was quite frustrating to have to wait for a specific drum fill area then also hit the last note to use it where guitarists could use it anytime they wish. GHWT remedies this very easily and a drummer can use their star power at ANY time now by crashing both symbols at the same time. It?s simple and effective and it just feels awesome much like nailing that hard solo on guitar.

Drum play also has a new ?note? in a sense much like the bass?s 6th note. Certain notes will have a white outline on the note and these are meant to be hit with more than normal force on the pads. Since the drum kit is velocity sensitive and can tell how hard you hit them, hitting these specific notes with a harder force than normal gets you bonus points. It?s not a game changing feature, but it definitely makes you get into the song and seems to be at the appropriate sections of the songs.

One issue that I?ve run into though with the drum kit overall is that one of my pads seems to work only part of the time. Since I play on expert and decided it wasn?t me just not being used to the new drums, I decided to calibrate the lag but with no luck. With some quick searching online it seems quite a few people are having the same issues as myself with random pads or cymbals not working. I?ve not seen Activision announce any sort of repair procedure like EA did with their instruments yet, so here?s to hoping so that drummers with faulty kits can actually enjoy this title soon.

Should the front man or Diva in you want to emerge, you can now take the microphone in GHWT and sing with the rest of your band. Gameplay is practically similar to other karaoke games out there and Rock Band. The lyrics will scroll across the screen and you must sing in key to get your score up but the presentation is different in GHWT. In Rock Band, you had an arrow in a static place to show you where you were pitch wise, this has been replaced with a small circle called the comet and it will move up and down depending on how you are singing. As lyrics scroll across you must move the comet in line of the preferred ?tunnel? to be on key with your voice.

Spoken words have been altered in the way that instead of a different style and color of lettering and no ?tunnel? to let you know that it only has to be spoken and not sung, the tunnel area will be red and you can say it in any tone or key you want. The only issue with this is that GHWT doesn?t seem to have any vocal recognition like Rock Band does, so I was able to get perfect on the spoken parts by just humming or saying anything. This isn?t a huge deal, but with certain songs like Beastie Boys? ?No Sleep Till Brooklyn? where the whole song is spoken, you can see where there is no challenge.

Instead of having tambourine tapping parts like Rock Bands vocalists must do, you have freeform sections to sing whatever you wish. This is where you get your bonus points, but the tricky thing is that you get rewarded much more if you are singing in tone of the song and along with the general beat. I?ve yet to perfect this myself but it definitely makes a difference when trying to freestyle along with the beat than just random gibberish.

Much like how the drummers can use their star power at any time, so can the vocalists by either hitting a button on the controller or apparently tapping the microphone, though I?ve tried many times to activate it this way and have been unsuccessful so far.

Taste in the music selection will vary from person to person but GHWT tries to cater to everyone by having a little of everything there are surely to be at least a few songs that everyone will enjoy. Jimmy Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Tool, Korn, and even Willie Nelson are there, so finding something you like shouldn?t be too difficult.

Not being able to import my Guitar Hero 3 songs into GHWT was very disappointing as it seems a standard since Rock band has done it with their sequel. I do understand that the songs bought in GH3 were strictly guitar tracks but it would have been nice to possibly patch them or even have them playable only in Guitar form even.

The music download store is almost exact to how Rock Band does their in-game purchases. You can preview the songs you want to hear then buy them directly without leaving the game. Activision has also taken note of how successful buying single songs have been and you are no longer forced to buy a whole track pack just to get that one song you want.

New to the series is being able to make your own rocker instead of picking a preset one. You are able to customize everything from hair to skin tone to height and weight. Obviously clothing choices are a given and you unlock more as you go. Instead of a set amount of default faces you are given the basic face and from there you can tweak it how you want; everything from brows to nose to cheeks and eyes. It sounds like it may be better this way, but I would have rather had a choice of a few preset heads then be able to tweak it from there. From here you can even customize cheers and dances your person will do if they pass or fail a song. It?s not much but it?s nice to have a little more customization to suit your personality and style.

After creating your perfect rocker you are then able to choose an instrument and change that to your liking as well. This section is much more in depth than Rock Band?s since not only can you pick a different style of guitar, bass, or drum kit, but from there you can even further make it your own. You can pick the necks and head of the guitar, the body style, the fret board and even the design and color on each part. The same goes for drums by being able to change the main drum that faces the crowd and even the outer edges of each of the pads. You can save each instrument you create as its own name and then just use that for any character you wish, so you aren?t forced to make it for each character you play.

GHWT?s career mode is a very flat and unrewarding experience other than unlocking new songs to play. Unlike Rock Band where you are always working towards your fan base, unlocking new areas and gathering money, GHWT just haves you go from gig to gig that compromises of a set list of a few songs with an encore at the end. It feels very flat an only getting money as a reward doesn?t even feel that rewarding. Gigs are posted as posters on the wall and you just choose which you would like to do and that is basically it.

Some gigs require you to actually spend your earned cash to even play them, so if you accidently bought too many things in the Rock Shop for your rocker, you may find yourself redoing old gigs to just catch up to where you need to be in the career.

Every now and then a mini cutscene will happen and someone will join your band on stage. Musicians that have signed on for the game will actually be performing with you sometimes which is an interesting addition, even if seeing Billy Corgan sing for my band creeps me out.

Playing as a band together means that you must work together, and just like in a real band, if one member is lacking, the whole band will fail. Unfortunately, this is true for GHWT as well. Should a band member get over zealous and play a difficulty they can?t do and fail out, the song instantly stops and the whole band fails the song. You can imagine how frustrating this is while playing online and seems to happen quite often in my experiences. One counter for this poor design decision is the fact that as your band all gains star power, it is not individual, it is a collective for anyone to use at any time. Additionally, if one member uses it to get themselves out of red, they only use a portion of the star power and not hogging it all for themselves for someone else that may need it (or just want to rock out more). This works great when players are paying attention, but if a very hard sequence comes up and the band mate isn?t quick enough to use star power preemptively, you will quickly fail the song and be disappointed.

One of the biggest new features to distinguish itself apart from Rock Band is the inclusion of being able to make your own songs in GHWT. On paper this sounds amazing but in usability I don?t foresee the average gamer to put too much time into this very convoluted section.

You are able to set your own guitar, drum, and keyboard tracks but no vocals. I can see why this wasn?t included due to copy write issues due to people that would just use the microphone to make ?real? songs and then share them, but with the lack of vocals on any homemade music, it just doesn?t feel more than a glorified midi.

Load up the Guitar Hero Studio and start recording whatever you want. You can change the tempo, pause and go back to fix something, but having to hold down multiple notes to get one note can be very confusing for someone that doesn?t know much about music producing. From here you can import it into Guitar Hero Mix where you can fine tune each track and manipulate it in other ways but there are so many features and buttons that as previously stated, I don?t see the average person putting more than 30 minutes in it to even try and figure it out. It all feels very over complicated for a console game and the fact that you are doing all of this on your guitar or drum?s d-pad doesn?t help the ease of use.

It?s very time consuming and not user friendly in the slightest, but there is a flip side. Should you take the steep learning curve to understand how the Studio and Mixer work, there is potential to make some great tunes. I?ve downloaded some of the top rated user content and there are some great pieces out there but I can only imagine how much time it must have actually taken to make something sound great, as a quick 10 minute trial will show you that it isn?t easy at all.

Should you finish making your masterpiece, you are able to upload it to Guitar Hero Tunes in-game which is their equivalent of iTunes. Songs can be sorted by best, features, newest, genres and then downloaded and played. Once you play someone?s song you are asked to rate it; which I found a good feature since you will get feedback on people that play your tune be it good or bad.

Online or local play is possible and there are some new additions here as well. Regardless of what mode or instrument you decide to play, once you are in a game there is a random picking of who gets to pick the song to play each time which is a nice change from previous titles rather that the host always having control of the selection each time.

You have the choice of going 1 vs 1 for each instrument, or even 2 vs 2. If you want to do co-op or just get 4 people together online to form a band and play whatever set lists you want, that is possible as well. The biggest feature for online that GHWT boasts over the competition is actual band versus band with 8 players. It does take some time finding a game going especially if you are a solo player, but once you have your band going, finding another didn?t seem to take too long, it was only a lengthy wait if you were trying to join the 8 person band vs band mode while playing solo.

The new features on the instruments are a welcome change and how it relates to in the game as well is generally for the best. It?s not one large part that brought down the GHWT for me; it was the many small annoyances that brought on must frustration and made me just wonder why, that really seemed to pull down the experience when I had high hopes and truly wanted to enjoy this title.

While the music is great, the key feature of being able to create your own and share is simply just too confusing and uneasy to use, which is a shame. As a basis I hope that GHWT is the groundwork for the next title on the series and I hope they learned a lot from their mistakes this go.

Learn what people like from the competition and build ontop of it. You don't always have to reinvent the wheel to be successful.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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