Guitar Hero 5 Review (Xbox360)

The Guitar Hero games have been a slowly-evolving bunch. Back when Neversoft was first handed the reigns with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, I said that Neversoft made “slight tweaks to enhance the experience.” Aerosmith may have been stagnant in terms of growth, but Guitar Hero: World Tour, the addition of slider notes, bass fret slamming and more pushed the musical experience. Then Guitar Hero Metallica cleaned up the act and made it all fit together perfectly.

Now, with Guitar Hero 5, Neversoft has amazingly done it again, though this time taking into consideration notes I'd left a year or two ago. That said, the gameplay is fantastic, the best I've seen thus far from a music game. Mostly changes to the guitar (it is Guitar Hero, after all), the new change where slider keys don't require the slider at all is perhaps the best. Instead of using the fretboard (which can still be used, if you like) players can feel free to just use the fret buttons, so moving your hand between the fretboard and fret buttons will never be a problem again.

Gameplay hasn't changed much.
The art style doesn't do the game justice. Who's singing here, the Joker? C'mon.

Beyond that, the Pull-off and Hammer-on system has been tweaked so that all those notes are specially lit. Like what Harmonix did for Rock Band 2 but didn't do enough of, notes now have a circle of light when players can perform a Hammer-on or Pull-off on those notes, making it very easy to know when the move is appropriate. Previous games had notes that were close-by associated by Hammer-on and Pull-off. Now, notes that actually need it have it, and those that don't musically make sense for such actions, don't have the option.

Then there are the tiny updates, the ones that just make everything better but can easily go unnoticed. Like when you start GH5, it starts playing a song at random immediately, which players can jump right into, no sign-in required. Any number of players can play any instrument: three guitars, two singers and two drummers, or four bassists, whatever you want. Load times have even improved, albeit slightly.

That's not to say all is well in the Guitar Hero kingdom. While back with GH3, we recognized Neversoft's unique art style, it's become far too dark. Not that it's gothic, but rockers never looked so angry and menacing before. When picking or creating a character, I opted to use my avatar (yet another interesting addition), which although I made it a dark-looking avatar, it's impossible to make anything look evil with Microsoft's avatar creation suite. The alternative is playing as collectable artists, such as Carlos Santana or Kurt Cobain, though playing as the latter songs that don't belong to Nirvana is, well, just plain disturbing.

Versus play has also been improved with a longer list of game modes, including Momentum (songs get easier or harder based on how well players play) and Do-or-Die (missing 3 notes leaves players out of the song, earning no points). While prior Guitar Hero titles had decent online versus modes, GH5 is the best we've seen thus far.

However, unlike past games, the story is minimal in GH5. There are only two animated cutscenes, barely worth mentioning. We are simply treated to a career mode with different venues to play in. Nothing stuck out or was out of the ordinary, something that we'd really like to see, since the Rock Band games do it so well. Considering the art direction, its almost never worthwhile to watch what happens on screen if it isn't a moving note.

For anyone who is new to Guitar Hero, or to a specific instrument and wants to go through the training, GH5 has an excellent list of informative tutorials. While they aren't as visually entertaining as previous GH titles, they are amusing to listen to and give just enough information to give new, and even experienced players, what they need.

Another neat addition are bonuses. Each song has a built in bonus for achieving certain feats, be it getting a high note streak, hitting enough Hammer-ons or Pull-offs, or a multitude of things. There are three levels for each, and most players will find getting at least the first is easy. Passing each level earns a star, for a total of nine stars per song, though some songs require multiple players to achieve the bonuses.

Yes, nine stars. Remember how getting 100% in a song before just earned you an achievement? Now it'll get you a star for every song you do it, so with 85 songs, there's a total of 765 stars to earn. Don't worry, you don't even need 255 stars to complete the game, and that's playing every song and passing with three stars.

Sadly, it's the music itself that makes it hard to reach 765 stars, let alone 255. The given tracklist is a mess, with songs from every era in the last 40 years that seems to have no organization whatsoever. The only thing in common is that they are all technically in the „Rock“ genre. Otherwise, they have no relation whatsoever.

Venues aren't great, but they occasionally surprise with decent special effects.
As expected, the in-game characters like Carlos Santana look great. Very enjoyable to see them on-stage, even virtually.

That's not to say GH5 is packed with bad songs. On the contrary, there's something for everyone. The problem is that unlike previous games, there is literally something for everyone, not a batch of favorites. I can't say this for everyone, but I have only a small list of songs on the GH5 tracklist that I want to play more than once, whereas games like Rock Band 2 (with Rock Band 1's added tracks) has a list of songs that I'd enjoy playing for hours.

GH5 also has the option to transfer songs, but not in the quantity that Rock Band offers.

The odd thing is that Guitar Hero 5 does almost everything right. The gameplay is spot on, the best I've ever seen on a rhythm game. Cooperative and competitive gameplay are great. All the little added nuances give the title a feel that we're in good hands. And then a tracklist in disarray and an art direction that feels more occult than rock begs the question: what is Guitar Hero trying to do? It's not pushing in any straight direction, but in every which way, making owners everywhere enjoy the lowest common denominator. As a rhythm game, there's no comparison, but as a music game, one in which players can enjoy the songs they are playing...that's something that needs to be seriously addressed.