Last year it seemed like everybody was arguing about which game was going to be better - Rock Band or Guitar Hero III. While I enjoyed both games, a year later there is a clear winner in my living room. Thanks to the four person multiplayer, the drums and the ability to download hundreds of songs, I cannot deny that for me Rock Band was the better game. That's not to say that Guitar Hero III wasn't a fun game, but it's hard to compete against a game that is offering weekly songs and four-player support.
But hey, who cares about what happens in the past? This year the war starts all over again with the release of Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour. I was able to spend some one on one time with Activision's newest Guitar Hero game at this year's Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington. And while I still have some reservations about the multiplayer functionality and the downloadable content, I can certainly say that I came away from this demonstration impressed.
Despite its name, Guitar Hero: World Tour is about more than just the guitar this time around. Like Rock Band 1 and 2, World Tour adds singing and drumming to the mix. On top of the new instruments, World Tour also includes a deep song creator, a few new gameplay modes and a renewed dedication to downloadable content. Unfortunately I wasn't able to test out any of that stuff, but I was able to sit down (and stand up) with the game for a solid half hour and enjoyed every minute of it.
Seeing as the game is called Guitar Hero, I felt it only natural to spend some time with the brand new guitar. Unlike the last few fake plastic guitars, this brand new guitar isn't modeled after a particular guitar. Instead it's just your average looking guitar, a bit bigger and a little sturdier, but a generic heavy metal drum nonetheless. The biggest difference to the guitar has nothing to do with its size, but rather the strange touch strip thing that fits directly under the five fret buttons. This strip is used to link notes together, all done without strumming. On paper that sounds pretty cool, but I found linking the notes to be needlessly difficult. I also didn't see the point; it was just as easy to press the buttons. And it's not just easier; it's also more accurate to do it that way. Maybe if it added extra points or something it would make more sense, but as it is it feels like it's a novelty that most people won't even bother with.
After trying out the new guitar I decided to move on to the drums, which appears to be where all of the research and development went. Let me tell you, the Guitar Hero: World Tour drum kit is nice ... easily the nicest set of fake plastic drums I have ever used (and that includes Rock Revolution's Lucky Charms drum kit). Instead of giving you a row of four rubbery things to smack, you get three big pads and two cymbals. I was amazed at not only how natural this set-up felt, but also how much like a drummer I felt like while smacking them about. Even on my first go everything came together, I didn't have to get used to the new equipment or anything. Unless Activision drastically changes the drums between now and the late October release, this Guitar Hero: World Tour drum kit is the one to beat.
For the most part everything else is exactly as you would expect it. The interface looks a lot like that of Rock Band. No, scratch that, it looks exactly like the interface in Rock Band. Then again, with four different instruments (guitar, drums, bass and vocals) it's hard to rearrange the set-up. The music was a nice mix of new and old, including Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer, Interpol's Obstacle 1, and No Doubt's Spider Webs. Some of the stand outs included Float On by Modest Mouse and the Foo Fighters' Everlong (which is also featured in Rock Band 2). All of the music is from the original artists (and some of the tunes were actually re-recorded for Guitar Hero: World Tour). The soundtrack was nice; however I still need to see the rest of the 80 song line-up before I pass judgment on the song selections.
Unfortunately I did notice a few weird quirks that may or may not be major issues. One thing I noticed is that when one person fails out, everybody fails out. In Rock Band when one person fails it's up to one of the other musicians to jump in and perform an "overdrive" move that instantly resurrects the fallen player. This may not sound like much, but it brings the players together in a supportive role, which makes you feel even more like a real band. Unfortunately this is not the case with Guitar Hero: World Tour ... at least, not in the mode I played.
It was also unclear what kind of story mode there was in the game. The brilliance of Rock Band is the "world tour" mode, which had you performing different sets all around the world. While it was a simple mode, this one feature added so much replay to the overall title. Heck, to this day my band and I are still working our way through the world tour. I would hate to see this Guitar Hero skimp on the single and multiplayer story modes. Nobody wants another boring list of songs that you play in a particular order, we want to be able to earn fans and customize our characters with the money we've made from playing gigs. I don't think that a more robust story mode is too much to ask, especially for a game that is ten dollars shy of $200.
It's far too soon to judge this game, but what I played felt natural and made me excited about the game's upcoming release. As entertaining as it was to try out a new drum kit, part of me wants to wait to see what kind of campaign mode there is and how much DLC support Activision gives us. If all of this can come together then Guitar Hero: World Tour could just be the music game to beat this fall.