When preparing to play Guitar Hero 5 for the first time I went on a rock music binge. I had some Metallica, Wolfmother and even a bit of the compulsory Rage Against The Machine, just to get me in the mood. Yet, to my surprise, Guitar Hero 5 doesn’t really include music of this ilk. In, presumably, an effort to further broaden the appeal of the Guitar Hero franchise, Guitar Hero 5 includes music from The Killers, Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys.
So has Guitar Hero ditched its greasy shoulder-length hair and leather studded jackets in favour of a Superdry T-Shirt and hair products? Well, surprisingly, it hasn’t. What GH5 achieves is a very solid middle ground that will appeal to thrash metal fans and indie scenesters alike. Previous Guitar Hero fans will turn in their Stratocaster cases, but this does not matter seing as some of the more popular songs included in the set list are actually great to play. Case in point is Sex on Fire by everybody’s new favourite band, the Kings of Leon. I know what you’re thinking. Why would you possibly want to hear that god damn song ever again? Well, actually, in terms of playing the game, the way the song is structured and the notes are set out it is one of the most enjoyable tracks in the game.
Guitar Hero 5 is full of surprises like this. One is a live recording of Lithium by Nirvana, which is simply incredible (and surely just reinforcing people’s love for Nirvana, Courtney?). Or when Jonny Cash walks on stage and introduces himself, or All The Pretty Faces by The Killers. Yup, The Killers, I know, they’re not cool anymore. But wait, this song is a hidden gem and a joy to play. The same applies to Scars on Broadway, just simple rhythm-based fun. Of course, there are some ludicrously difficult metal tracks in there if you really want, but that’s just so Guitar Hero 3. It really is a set list that promises little, yet delivers in spades.
Certainly, if comprehensively outselling Rock Band Beatles is anything to go buy (in America at least), Activision have pulled off what many games fail to do and that is to appeal to the masses and the hardcore at the same time. In terms of new features, well, to be honest there aren’t many. Certainly, nothing breaks the mould here. One thing that was a gripe about World Tour was that if one band member failed the song, the whole band as a collective also failed. Now, if one person is a bit ham-fisted with the drums, the song continues but without the drum section. Then, if another member does well enough, the person that failed can continue and the band can finish the track. It prevents repeating songs over and over and is especially helpful if there is a new band member.
There is also the addition of “Band Moments”. Cheesy name aside, if all bands members hit a section of notes correctly at the same time, and band moment is triggered and you gain bonus points. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound that great but when you get one it really adds to the sense of achievement and the feeling of being “in a band”. Another nicety is that all songs included in the game are unlocked from the start for free-play. This will prevent you from inviting people around to play Guitar Hero and then realising that you haven’t unlocked their favourite song yet.
The structure of the career mode is also an improvement on Guitar Heroes of old. You still require a certain amount of stars (awarded based on your performance) in order to progress, but there are now Sponsor Challenges. Haven’t achieved enough stars to progress on to new songs? Then in the past you had to repeat any number of the previous songs to squeeze an extra single star. Now, thanks to the Sponsor Challenges you can earn an extra amount of stars by replaying any song of choice, thus reducing the chances of having to play through songs over and over and simultaneously rewarding you at the same time.
However, it is not all good news. While you can import your DLC from previous GH titles, you cannot import any decent tracks from previous disc-based Guitar Hero titles, something that needs to be sorted out and something that Rock Band does much better. You can now play with however many instruments you like, for example, you can now play with up to four drum sets. There is even a Trophy/Achievement for it. Now, please someone prove me wrong, but that should not be on the list of new features for Guitar Hero. Literally no one is going to use that as the chances of someone buying two drum sets are minuscule, let alone four and having to cart around a drum set to someone’s house is just too much to ask. I really cannot see the point of this.
Things aren’t helped by a number of songs that are shared with the DJ Hero set list either. If you have played DJ Hero, then playing the same song with essentially the same notes (I’m looking at you, Wild Cherry) again but with a different peripheral makes it seems cheap and lazy. Activision, surely you have enough money to splash out on unique songs across the Hero games. Singing is also way too easy (99% on extreme and trust me, I sound nothing like Matt Belamy) and the on-screen characters playing the music are often out of place with the genre of songs in the game (although this can be avoided by creating your own, custom, character).
But I digress. If you haven’t got a Guitar Hero game then Guitar Hero 5 is the best one to date and if you are an old Guitar Hero master who can pick it up at a reasonable price then by all means add it to your collection. The GH drum set is a much nicer piece of equipment than the rival Rock Band set and you can use wireless (or wired) SingStar mics to sing. When all is said and done, there is actually very little that could have been improved upon from Guitar Hero World Tour, so Guitar Hero 5 just refines the breed. Even the character animations and visual camera affects are a step up for the franchise.
- It’s a new Guitar Hero
- The music is pretty good, which always helps
- Band Moments add to the group experience
- Sponsor Challenges improve the structure and liven up the career mode
- It’s a new Guitar Hero
- You can’t import songs from Guitar Hero games you already own
- The DLC tracks are pretty sparse still
- Little (if anything) is new or innovative
Verdict: Neversoft have polished and tweaked the franchise to a very high standard, but I still can’t help but thinking that there is nowhere else to go now for the inevitable Guitar Hero 6.
Note: Screenshots sourced via Google image search