tiistai 8. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Guitar Hero: World Tour (2008)

GENRE(S): Rhythm
RELEASED: October 2008
DEVELOPER(S): Neversoft Entertainment, Aspyr Media (MAC, PC), Budcat Creations (PS2), Vicarious Visions (Wii)
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

The game previously known as Guitar Hero IV was released in late 2008 to a very confused audience. The game was well received, but what confused people was the North American release of the franchise's previous developer Harmonix's milestone of an effort - Rock Band 2 - just a month prior. What could Neversoft possibly do to improve and diversify the Guitar Hero experience after two groundbreaking games such as Guitar Hero II and III? Well, follow Harmonix's lead, of course, and make it a band game. It was not such a bad call, but if they seriously thought they'd get away without people making claims of bitter plagiarism, they must've been crazy. It all comes down to one thing: which game is better? I can give you a hint: it's not Guitar Hero: World Tour.

At the wrong place at the wrong time

This game is one of the two PlayStation 3 games I've ever sold, which also makes it the first game I've ever written about without playing it for the sake of a review. Even though I've not played the actual World Tour game in about two years, I remember it quite well and there's a bulk of information on the net that easily fills up the gaps. Ever since the buzz around the rhythm game genre started to die down, I guess I've learned to appreciate Guitar Hero: World Tour a little bit more. I pre-ordered the game bundled with the new Fender peripheral back in the day, and I guess I would've appreciated it back then, too, but there was a slight problem; my friend got Rock Band 2 as an import, bundled with all the peripherals, the exact same day I got Guitar Hero: World Tour. That called for some serious comparison, and after a couple of days of doing that, my game totally lost the race.

Rock Band 2 had a better tracklist. It had better DLC, and the fact that all DLC from the first Rock Band game was compatible with the new one raised the ante just a little bit further. The drum tracks were more realistic and precise, the vocal mechanics worked a whole lot better, and the game was more rewarding in every sense. The only thing that Guitar Hero had on its side was the classic guitar controller; I personally disliked the Rock Band guitar peripheral. All the instruments for both games were supposed to work both ways, but that was not entirely true. Even Rock Band's microphone was not fully compatible with Guitar Hero. I should know, I still use one. A vocalist gets the short end of the stick in Guitar Hero: World Tour; unlike in Rock Band, he/she is damn near required to imitate the original vocalist to the very last note and pitch, there are no personal hooks or gimmicks allowed, and even the freeform bits are not nearly as fun to perform as in Rock Band. Guitar Hero; World Tour is still just a simulation of guitar playing, with the mere (bad) option of going at it with a band, while Rock Band 2 is the real thing, an authentic band simulator.

I want to get all the stuff involving the hardware out immediately. Let's continue on with the microphone and vocal mechanics. The freeform sequences are long, and out of place. In Rock Band, nailing a freeform triggers Overdrive - Rock Band's equivalent of Star Power. In Guitar Hero, maintaining some sort of boring stretch of "yeeeeeah yeeeeeah yeeeeeeah" throughout the freeform bit only garners in some random points. Star Power is sometimes triggered when you yell into the mic loud enough, but officially, you're supposed to hit the mic - and ironically, that doesn't always work, at least not when you're using a mic optimized for Rock Band. To make it clear, I'm not really criticizing the game as long as I'm speaking of the hardware, I'm criticizing the semi-compatibility that was promised to be a full one.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Zakk Wylde!
The new wireless guitar controller is very cool. I love the new design - the guitar is bigger (and therefore one step more realistic), the strum is longer and a LOT quieter, and should the motion detector fail, you can easily trigger Star Power by pressing the Star Power button standing in for a real guitar's bridge with your palm while playing. I love the whole new touch pad, which allows both quick finger picking across the fretboard in the style of Eddie Van Halen and fancy slides. You'll get it once you play the game, or any more recent games on the higher difficulty levels. The problem with this highly technical and fancy piece of work is, of course, that it's extremely delicate. I have had to break down and re-assemble my guitar controller several times because it's so easily corrupted. The strum has broken down twice, the whammy has stopped reacting a few times, the motion detector has almost never worked properly, and the biggest problems have been caused by the touch pad - which is so sensitive that over time, it will most likely start playing phantom notes on its very own as long as you're simply touching the fretboard. You'd never guess that it's kind of hard to play the game without having your hand there. The touch pad can be turned off completely, but that kinda eats away at the experience, don't you think?

One thing that Guitar Hero: World Tour truly succeeded in was making being a bassist cool - especially on Expert. How is that humanly possible? By adding an open E string. Neversoft originally toyed with the idea of adding open strings to guitar tracks, but that would've just... SUCKED, in lack of a better word. Their intention was to ease up the game; by having guitarists deal with open strings they would've utterly destroyed the game and its playability. Being a bassist in a rhythm game has always been way too easy, so it was the perfect subject of the open string's implementation, and the open strings make playing the bass extremely fun, a great alternative to the guitar. I was kinda hoping they'd put some more stuff that's actually a bit more bass-oriented in here, like Primus, or dare I even ask, Manowar. Well, at least the game has Tool.

I've never even seen the Guitar Hero drum kit in use, but people are saying it's quite all right. How is it I don't buy that? I have a friend who's a guitarist, but he's also a great drummer, and he has always been our drummer of choice whichever rhythm game we're playing. He was there when the "divide" happened, and he simply botched Guitar Hero: World Tour, saying that the game's drum tracks or mechanics have absolutely nothing on the feel of Rock Band 2. I didn't even learn to play the drums properly before Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, but when I did, I borrowed Rock Band 2 to make my own judgement, and I must say I absolutely agree. Guitar Hero's drum tracks, regardless of the difficulty, are structurally weird and they feel like they're aimed at little kids, while Rock Band's aim is to make them as authentic as possible with such a compact set of percussion. Ironic, considering that all of Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Travis Barker (Blink-182) worked as advisors for the drum tracks in this particular game, while Harmonix, to my knowledge, had no special advisors working for them while they were making Rock Band 2.

Now that we got how "crappy" the game feels to play in comparison to Rock Band 2 out of the way - on several occasions, at that - let's see what the game's standing in the Guitar Hero franchise is.

Aside from the high definition, the robust art design of the Tool gig - the climax of the whole game, and it's in the damn middle - and the pseudo-gothic style adapted from the PC version of Guitar Hero III, I do not really see the difference between a last generation Guitar Hero game and Guitar Hero: World Tour. The unlockable and playable caricatures of the several celebrity guests are kinda cool, and the fact that you can fully customize your character and instrument is an absolute plus. If I were the developer of a rhythm game for the current generation of consoles, I would've opted for realistic characters instead of comic book caricatures. Either way, the game definitely looks better than Rock Band 2, that's its strong quality, but also an extremely irrelevant one.

Since the most basic gameplay standards of a rhythm game have been in place ever since the release of Guitar Hero II in 2006, the fact is that a rhythm game's core quality boils down to the tracklist. Once again, Rock Band 2 is on the hot plate: that game had choice cuts by Judas Priest, Testament, Metallica, Dream Theater, Alice in Chains, Tenacious D, Jethro Tull and many other great artists to rock our socks off (to). Even some of the crappiest songs in that game were fun to play together with a band of players, most of them had something. In addition, the game had TONS of magnificent DLC (the DLC for the first game included), ranging from whole albums such as Judas Priest's classic Screaming for Vengeance, Megadeth's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? AND Rust in Peace to Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood, to track packs and singles that blew heads off.

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the
fight, risin' up to the challenge of our rivals...
seriously, this was more fun in Rock Band.
Well, let's start with the DLC for Guitar Hero World Tour. It was never too mindblowing. There were a few songs and track packs that were interesting, but the only full albums available for the game were Metallica's Death Magnetic (which was originally released for Guitar Hero III) and the Oasis album Dig Out Your Soul. I think I downloaded something like ten songs for the game (besides Death Magnetic), and most of those songs were free of charge, so no, I was never too excited of the DLC they conjured up for World Tour. I was more excited about most of the DLC than most of the stuff in the retail, though. There are a couple of climactic gigs in World Tour. The first one is the Tool gig; three of their best songs played in succession, with art design by the guys themselves. I heard they refused to license their songs if they weren't allowed to get involved with the art design. The Tool gig is most definitely one of the coolest moments in rhythm game history, but sadly it does not reflect on the quality of the game. Neither does the Ozzy gig, which comes in a bit too late, and could use one more song. Still, it's cool. A little bit of Ozzy is better than none.

OK, this game has Metallica too, "Trapped Under Ice" of all songs; I'm glad they picked something that isn't so well known, but it nevertheless feels like such a random choice after Guitar Hero III's "One" and Rock Band 2's "Battery". Dream Theater's also here, with their biggest and only hit single "Pull Me Under" from 1992, which is probably the game's most entertaining song to play. There's an extreme amount of songs, even good ones, that simply aren't fun to play with any instrument, such as "Antisocial", "Overkill" and "Assassin", AND many songs that were already featured in Rock Band 2. Shitty ones, too, such as "Float On", "Feel the Pain", "Lazy Eye" and "American Woman"; yeah, yeah, I know that last one is a classic, but I've always hated it.

Let's get to the point. There's a lot of good stuff here. Jimi Hendrix, Eagles, Steely Dan, Willie Nelson, CCR, Billy Idol, Joe Satriani, Korn, Rise Against, System of a Down. Something for everyone, and all of the songs performed by these artists are great fun to play. Ted Nugent and Zakk Wylde are the bosses in this game, which means they both wrote an exclusive instrumental for the game, and also that there are songs from both Ted and Black Label Society in this game. "Stranglehold"'s guitar track OWNS and "Stillborn" is one of my favourite songs to sing in the game. Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was a winner even before I ever laid eyes on the tracks for the song. In turn, there's a lot of crap that you MUST play in order to be able to make progress in the game, since there are no bonus tracks. Some art rock from international artists - which isn't all that bad, actually, once you get used to it - some downright nauseating garage punk/rock, and trendy horse shit such as Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Filter, and finally, my two long-standing arch enemies, Jane's Addiction and Tokio Hotel. If they had put in Nine Inch Nails - actually Filter does a "great" job standing in for 'em - and Marilyn Manson, this game would've been a whole cavalcade of the worst. What's worst is that almost a half of the songs in this game have absolutely nothing to do with what this franchise used to stand for - being a guitar hero - and they're not even fun band songs! Coldplay? Come on!! They're on the tracklist for the dollars only.

The good thing about the whole tracklist is that all of the songs are master recordings, meaning there are no covers at all; however, for several reasons, I guess, both political and technical, some of the songs are live versions.

Besides the touch pad features and the open E's of the bass guitar, there are a few nice changes to the basic mechanics of the game. You can play single notes while sustaining a lower note, HO/PO on chords, and finally, there are some random power chords consisting of four notes instead of the old maximum of three. Guitar Hero: World Tour feels like an even harder game than Guitar Hero III, up until you realize that you can change the difficulty level any time you want, with minimum punishment. Well, at least that takes care of the age-old problem of having to see the career through on every difficulty level to unlock everything, but it's lame! The dazzling difficulty that constantly kept you on the edge when you were trying to beat the last songs of your career in Guitar Hero II or III on Expert was one of the most important spices of the classic franchise. Sure, the low difficulty level of Rock Band 2 sucked too - but at least that game had Trophies to encourage you to try harder, God damn it.

The enigma that is Tool.
The Battle Mode is ousted along with the previous version of the boss battles. In this game, all you need to do to win a boss battle is to keep up with the boss in a traditional game of face-off. Disappointment is all up to you. I'm not too disappointed, I wasn't a big fan of the Battle Mode, at least not against the CPU.

The band peripherals allow you to engage in different multiplayer modes. Besides the obvious option of being able to play the whole non-linear Career mode through as a band, there's also some online game modes. You can also visit the Music Studio, one of the most hyped features about the game... and one that certainly didn't live up to the hype. You can only create MIDI tunes with this one. As fun as it is - to those who know enough about making music - to recreate some 8- and 16-bit classics, it isn't officially legal, and by far the only thing the Studio is good for.

Sure, if you're enough of a fanatic and yet to experience the rival game, which is simply better from all standpoints, Guitar Hero: World Tour will probably please you. How long, that's another thing entirely. The Career Mode is over quickly, and fails to really call one for a second round, since something has simply happened to the awesome feeling you get from succeeding in a song, the option to lower the difficulty level at any time is just the beginning. You don't get any rewards at all from playing DLC except for good spirit; which is ass, since it costs honey. The biggest problems with the game are the only half sufficient tracklist, and the fact that the guitar and bass are still the only instruments you can have true fun with. I recommend you turn to Rock Band 2, or hell, Rock Band 3.

SOUND : 7.9


a.k.a. Guitar Hero IV, Guitar Hero IV: World Tour

GameRankings: 81.60% (PS2), 83.41% (PS3), 84.41% (X360), 86.26% (Wii)

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