Following the defection of Guitar Hero developer Harmonix to MTV, Activision was left playing catch-up. The release of the superb Rock Band six months ago put pressure on the publisher to take the Guitar Hero franchise to the next level. Guitar Hero: World Tour is Activision and Neversoft’s first attempt at the full band experience and it’s clear they have kept a close eye on the competition. As well as addressing perceived problems with Rock Band, most notably the somewhat flimsy hardware, Guitar Hero: World Tour also jumps on the user-created-content bandwagon, offering a new Studio mode. However, while World Tour surpasses its rival in a number of areas, gameplay issues prevent it from being a true Rock Band killer.
World Tour allows up to four players per band, with two guitars, a drum kit and a vocal mic. It’s immediately noticeable that the instruments are a cut above Rock Band’s, especially the drum kit. With three main pads, two cymbals and a bass drum pedal, it not only looks more realistic, it feels much better to play. The rubbery pads offer up a satisfying level of bounce and everything feels sturdy and resilient. Red Octane has also added a MIDI input to the drum kit, allowing hardcore drummers to add a second bass drum pedal for extra depth.
The guitar peripheral has also been overhauled, with Red Octane tweaking the existing mechanics as well as adding some new features. The strum bar has been extended, and feels generally more robust than its predecessors, and the longer whammy bar means using tremolo to milk the power notes is easier. Red Octane has also catered for the hardcore point chasers by adding a star power button to the face of the guitar. This means you won’t have to worry about messing up your note streak as you don’t have to tilt the neck to activate star power. Another new feature is the slide solo strip on the neck, which allows you to sound notes without using the strum bar. It takes some getting used to, but the slide strip soon becomes indispensable when tackling the more challenging solos. The microphone is a standard USB affair and, unlike the rest of the instruments,
is not wireless. While the potential for Roger Daltrey-style windmilling is appealing, a wireless mic would be preferable.
The game plays out in similar fashion to Rock Band with vertical note charts for guitar, bass and drums and a horizontal bar at the top for vocals. Players must match the note sequences to keep the fans happy, and too many mistimed notes will result in your band being booed off. Hit the special notes to fill a star power meter which, when full, can be triggered to boost your score multiplier. The good news is that the occasionally baffling note charts from Guitar Hero III are gone and, with the exception of some awkward chord patterns, everything seems more logical. Anyone who has spent some time with Rock Band’s drums will need to adjust to World Tour’s pad placement, but the note charts are instantly familiar – the coloured notes correspond to the pads while a horizontal line indicates a bass drum note.
Drummers also get the chance to improvise during certain sections of a song, but sadly the system is not as well-implemented as Rock Band’s fill sections and rock endings. World Tour’s improvisation sections lack start and end points, which means that it doesn’t feel as satisfying as timing that perfect fill and nailing the end note. There are also issues with the star power system. Whilst it is shared between all members of the band when activated, you can’t use it to save a fallen band member a la Rock Band. As a result, you’ll find yourself constantly restarting the song if you have a weak link in the band but, thankfully, it is now possible to drop the difficulty down without quitting to the menu.
Whilst World Tour’s gameplay doesn’t quite surpass its main rival’s, Neversoft has introduced a fascinating new feature to the series: the Studio Mode. This allows users to compose, edit and share their own songs with other World Tour users. The studio offers up a wide range of instrument sounds and effectsand, although the interface isn’t particularly intuitive, it’s pretty easy to build some basic patterns and melodies. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to record your own vocals apparently due to legal and technical issues, meaning your songs won’t feel as complete as the standard tracks. However, the studio is a worthwhile addition, offering a level of creativity that can’t be found elsewhere in the rhythm action market.
The most important part of any music game is the tracklist and although World Tour includes some classics, the jury’s out on this one. The inclusion of Hendrix and Metallica is welcome, but there seems to be a considerable amount of filler in World Tour. Of course, this is all down to taste and most players will find at least one track that puts a smile on their face. The discovery of Dinosaur Jr’s Feel the Pain was this reviewer’s highlight.
World Tour doesn’t quite eclipse Rock Band in terms of gameplay, but it does offer the best set of instruments on the market which, due to the cross-compatibility between RB and GH, alone warrants a purchase. The tracklist isn’t the most immediately impressive we’ve seen in a GH game, but downloadable content will offer more choice and the new Studio Mode allows you to create your own, albeit limited, content. World Tour is not the definitive music game we were hoping for but it’s a worthy competitor to Rock Band and will undoubtedly give Harmonix food for thought.