October 12, 2008

Underestimating Guitar Hero: World Tour?

Guitar Hero: World Tour will be released in a week or two. It’s still unknown how well the Guitar Hero franchise, newly expanded from a guitar game into a full band game, will do compared to the firmly established, original full band game, Rock Band. Rock Band is on its second version and has literally hundreds of playable songs, not to mention almost a dozen complete albums.

In fact, it’s tempting to write off GH:WT as a Johnny come lately, a second fiddle trying to copy Rock Band’s mojo. That’s what I thought initially, too, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. I had the chance to play GH:WT at the Penny Arcade Expo this year and I came away impressed. I agree with Tom Chick’s take on this — if you thought you could get away with just one band game, think again.

You already have Rock Band 2, so you might think that you’re all set when it comes to music games with fake plastic instruments crowding your living room. You’d be wrong. Guitar Hero: World Tour comes out on October 26, but I’ve already had a couple of occasions to play it. I don’t intend any sort of advocacy one way or the other, but based on my hands-on time with World Tour, here are 10 reasons you’re going to have to make room next to your copy of Rock Band 2.

The ten reasons follow:

  1. Nice list of exclusive songs, including some major tracks like “Beat It”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Purple Haze”.
  2. YouTube style service called “GH Tunes” where the top-rated user created tracks from the Music studio can be downloaded.
  3. Music studio for creating your own tracks. Remarkably full-featured (sans vocals, however).
  4. Vocal pitch is shown as a dynamic “burning” tube that’s always rolling, so you know where your voice is at even before the vocal phrase begins.
  5. Addition of sixth “open” bass note for bass players. This is a strum with no buttons pressed. Adds a much needed layer of complexity to bass, which is frankly downright boring in a lot of songs.
  6. Guitar innovations, including touchpad that allows you to tap out notes, purple line connecting rapid notes to show you where to slide your finger on the touchpad. Activate star power using the large button directly under your palm.
  7. More realistic drum layout — three dimensional, with cymbals above drum pads.
  8. Incredibly simple beginner difficulty level for new players, and the ability to complete the song (in most cases) even if a band member fails.
  9. An actual storyline for the single player campaign.
  10. Deep and detailed character builder, beyond what Rock Band offers.

I agree with Tom on much of this. After the disappointment that was Guitar Hero III, I was expecting more of the same with IV, but I have to honestly say that they seem to be innovating in World Tour!

(Oh, and they de-emphasized those soul-crushing, totally unfair, completely un-fun “guitar battles” from GH3. There are still two guitar battles in the game (Zakk Wylde and Ted Nugent) but from what I read, they’ve been toned way way down. Thank God.)

The “purple lines” that Tom is referring to can be seen quite well in a series of high definition Guitar Hero World Tour gameplay videos from GameSpy. Here’s a closeup of one frame:

ghwt-note-purple-lines

When you use your finger to trace those purple lines on the guitar touchpad, the channel color lights up as seen at around the 2 minute mark of the Satch Boogie guitar battle with Sal “sluggo” Accardo.

ghwt-note-touchpad-channels

It’s a great addition; it makes it much easier to see the way you’re supposed to move your fingers during those ridiculously fast note patterns. And don’t forget, the touchpad isn’t just for sliding — you can “tap” the touchpad to strum as well.

Beyond that, the addition of the open bass note adds a surprising amount of depth to playing the bass. I got to play bass on Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker”, a pretty decent Bass guitar song to begin with. At first I was wondering why the bass track had the purple kick pedal drum line — was I looking in the wrong place? I then realized that purple line was the indicator for the open bass note! It’s harder than you might think to wrap your head around the idea of playing a note with no buttons held down. And funner!

If you had written off Guitar Hero: World Tour in favor of the Rock Band juggernaut, you might want to reconsider. Do check out Tom’s top 10 article, and the high definition gameplay videos. And remember, GH:WT is compatible with Rock Band drums and guitars, so you can pick up the game alone and play as a full band with all your existing Rock Band equipment.

Details are still sketchy at this point, but GH:WT may also get more serious about downloadable content. They’ve already pre-announced some DLC to start with:

  • 3 tracks from REM’s new album Accelerate
  • “Rock and Roll Band” – Boston
  • “Hot Blooded” – Foreigner
  • “Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield
  • “No Rain” – Blind Melon

It remains to be seen if they can keep up with the blistering pace that Harmonix has set for DLC with Rock Band, but it’s a promising start.

My heart may belong to Rock Band and its massive catalog of DLC tracks, but I’m definitely liking the competition GH:WT is bringing to the table. I for one am glad I pre-ordered the full band kit!

I don’t have any Rock Band, so I’m in the middle of my GHWT or RB2 decision. The fact that the instruments work on both is awesome, but then question becomes, which title should I get the instruments for?

Should I get RB2 instruments and use them on GHWT?
Or get GHWT instruments and use them on RB2?

I haven’t pre-ordered or anything (I still need to get my 360) but think I may wait a tad to see where the dust settles based on other reviews.

And although I’ve been a Guitar Hero supporter and tend to stay with franchises, the sheer number of DLC in for RB2 has me leaning that direction.

Morning Toast
October 17, 2008 at 1:55 pm

I ordered GH:WT with all the instruments, and from what I’ve heard it’s compatible with RB2, I’m a bit more interested in RB1.

I figure the mic and guitar might be compatible, but I doubt the drum kit will be backwards compatible.

Which’d be a shame since RB is finally being released in Australia the end of this month and RB2 probably wont be here for six months or more.

Andrew Tobin
October 18, 2008 at 4:00 am

Purely from the perspective of “works with all titles” the Rock Band 2 hardware would be preferred.

I am not ENTIRELY sure how GH:WT drums are going to work with RB2 tracks, and vice versa, because the drum layout is so different. They are supposed to work, but nobody knows exactly how this is going to work in practice. Since RB has the much larger (by far, it’s not even close) track library I’d say it’s safer to err on the side of the RB drumset until we know more.

Anyway, Morning Toast, I would recommend getting the RB2 *DRUMS* for sure, as they’ll be the most compatible standard layout — and then whichever guitars you prefer. The RB2 guitars are actually not bad this time around, but the GH:WT guitar is still the better fake plastic axe, IMO.

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