The Guitar Hero series has finally hit a sour note.
The fake rock rampart — which started out as a goofy way to live vicariously through Jimmy Hendrix, and ended up being the most improbable cultural phenomenon since the spawn of Billy Ray Cyrus — has been comfortably picking and grinning for nearly four years now.
In fact, GH was one of the first games reviewed in this column when we began a few years ago. "Guitar Hero is the kind of game that players are cautious to invest in because it costs $20 more than the average title and, frankly, involves a plastic guitar," I wrote in the original review.
Guitar Hero: World Tour
Guitar Hero: World TourPublisher: Activision. Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2. Price: $59.99-$189.99. ESRB Rating: T (for Teen). Score: 6 (out of 10).
Right. Nice call, 2005 Chris.
No one bats an eye at a fake guitar anymore, and you can add an incautious zero to that $20. Even in terrible economic times, no one has blinked at the $200 bundle version of the newest, hotly anticipated release of Guitar Hero: World Tour, which includes a mock guitar, drums, and a microphone. It's still cheaper than gassing up the tour van, I guess.
These past few years, Guitar Hero's brand has been challenged by Rock Band and watered-down rip-offs such as Rock Revolution and PopStar Guitar. As another smackdown to the series, most of the Beatles catalogue was just licensed to rival Rock Band's MTV Games. Don't know about you, but I can't wait to play "Revolution 9" on Expert.
World Tour should have been Guitar Hero's reclamation of the rock throne. Instead it fails to deliver anything new or worthwhile to the well-milked genre. Sort of like a Hootie solo album.
Let's begin with the much-hyped drums, which bottle the frustration that Def Leppard's one-armed drummer must feel. The flimsy kick pedal isn't attached to squat, and slides all over the damn place. On my kit, the snare was flat-out unresponsive and required palm-stinging hits to register. (Activision has responded to complaints, and a "drum-tuning kit" is planned). Luckily you can use your Rock Band drums for World Tour, but then you're denied the use of World Tour's cymbals, which add great depth and fun.
The new guitar, though miles better than Rock Band's crummy axe, is the same old Strat with worthless novelty features. A touch-sensitive pad (think of your iPod wheel) below the five main buttons is supposed to allow for finger-tapping solos but is too hypersensitive and awkward. It's like having that Dashboard Confessional pussy as your wingman at the bar: useless.
Oh yeah, and you can sing and play bass. Those are super additions, actually.
Sequel set lists, which used to make or break a music game, have become moot in the age of downloadable content. Guitar Hero could release an album a week online and never release another $50 game CD. So what justifies buying another disc?
Not much, it seems, because many of World Tour's tracks are Rock Band copycats ("Eye of the Tiger"? Again?) Songs that aren't duplicates are clearly made to appeal to groups of casual players, instead of the arthritis-inducing speed metal that GH typically offers up. The trade-off? Steely Dan for Slayer, Bob Seger for Black Sabbath. Sorry, Sir Paul, but I'd rather play something by Winger than Wings in a Guitar Hero game. "Band on the Run" still sucks.
The create-your-own music studio must have been designed by Jeff Healy, the blind guitarist and human beer-bottle target from Road House. Recording simple tracks is a complicated mess because you have to navigate a multifaceted audio program with a guitar controller instead of a mouse, try to manipulate blue-and-red button combos into actual chords, and hope to end up with something resembling music.
Meanwhile, a YouTube-style community allows you to upload your creations, and early indications reveal your song will be one of two things: a crappy version of the Super Mario theme, or something called "MSG ME IF YOU_BEAT THiS SONG." It's iTunes for iTards.
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Minus the expendable attempts at new features, what you're left with is a paler version of Rock Band 2. A John Oates to Rock Band's Darryl Hall. A Messina to MTV Games' Loggins. A fucking Garfunkel, man.
The majority of the mainstream gaming press somehow seems to find all of this acceptable. They probably never get tired of new Rolling Stones albums either.
For all of our sakes, let's hope Guitar Hero's next attempt is the comeback album, not a reunion tour with a replacement Steve Perry.