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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter successfully taking over the “Guitar Hero” franchise when Harmonix split from RedOctane for greener pastures, the next logical step for Neversoft was to expand their new musical empire. But with the arrival of “Rock Band” seemingly rendering guitar-only games insignificant, the question on everyone’s mind was what that meant for “Guitar Hero.” It didn’t take long for publisher Activision to realize that they’d have to evolve in order to survive, but while their multi-instrument debut, “Guitar Hero: World Tour,” looks the part of a “Rock Band” clone, it fails to bring anything new to the rhythm game genre.
That hasn’t stopped Activision from forcing you to find space in your living room for yet another set of plastic instruments, though. True, you can just as easily play “World Tour” with your “Rock Band” peripherals, but you won’t be able to take full advantage of what the game has to offer. For starters, the “World Tour” drum kit contains five pads instead of four (including three large circular ones and two raised cymbals), which means that unless you play with the “World Tour” kit, you’ll be missing out on the most realistic drumming experience available. Unfortunately, some serious technical flaws involving unresponsive drum pads plague that experience. Sometimes you have to pound the pad just for the note to be recognized (as if the drums didn’t already make enough noise), while the chance that anyone will ever score a Perfect was pretty much tossed out the window the minute Activision decided to rush the game to stores.
This isn’t the only area where it shows, either. The gameplay in general feels a bit underwhelming – from the grouping of songs into gigs that you select from flyers, to the lack of any real reward for completing them. “Rock Band” made its Career Mode interesting by acknowledging the player’s progress, but in “World Tour,” all you’re really doing is playing a long list of songs in a slightly more dressed-up fashion. Additionally, online play hasn’t changed much from the last iteration of “Guitar Hero” other than the ability to take part in a 4v4 Battle of the Bands (which is admittedly pretty cool), but the fact that you can’t save your bandmates from failing (let alone even know if they’re failing) is one of the game’s biggest disappointments. That’s right: if one person fails, everyone fails, no matter what amount of Star Power you’ve been saving up. It’s not exactly the smartest decision on Neversoft’s part – especially since it more or less discourages newer players from joining Xbox Live.
In fact, the only thing that “World Tour” does better than “Rock Band” is character customization. Create-A-Rocker finally allows gamers to play as someone other than one of the fictional characters from the “Guitar Hero” rogue's gallery, while those who enjoy customizing every detail of their rock god fantasy can get lost for hours in designing the ultimate guitar or drum kit. Music Studio, the game’s other big feature, isn’t quite as user-friendly. The idea of creating original music that you can then play or upload for others to enjoy is actually pretty cool, but the songs are only MIDI quality, you can’t include vocals on any of the tracks (lest you create a perfect rip-off of your favorite tune), and it takes far too much time and patience to come up with anything of real value. Only those who are diehard music geeks will be able to create anything worth listening to (let alone playing), and even then, the songs still sound more like video game theme music than actual Top 20 hits.
It’s a good thing, then, that Neversoft has crammed so much great music onto the official set list. From Muse (“Assassin”) and No Doubt (“Spiderwebs”) to The Doors (“Love Me Two Times”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Go On Your Way”), it’s probably the most eclectic group of songs to ever appear in a rhythm game. It’s particularly nice to see that bands like the Eagles (“Hotel California”), Smashing Pumpkins (“Today”) and REM (“The One I Love”) have finally gotten in on the craze, but why Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” has also been included is a mystery. Unfortunately, great music doesn’t necessarily equal great fun, and while a majority of the songs play fine on the guitar, there are far too many instances where the drum and vocal sections feel uninspired. In the case of the latter, my first gig was made up songs by jam bands (like Creedence Clearwater Revival) that required little actual singing, and if that’s what Neversoft thinks makes a first-level tune, they’re sorely mistaken.
Which brings me to the main reason why “World Tour” ultimately fails as the “Rock Band” challenger it’s so desperately trying to be. Despite including other playable instruments in the game, it still feels geared to those that prefer guitar. This would have been fine if Activision had just made another “Guitar Hero” (it’s what they do best, so why not continue doing it?), but instead, they were so worried that their competitors had cornered the market that they rushed a product that doesn’t even stack up with the original “Rock Band,” let alone the new-and-improved sequel. What Activision doesn't seem to realize is that it takes more than a great soundtrack and special guest appearances by a few greedy musicians (like Ozzy Osbourne and Sting) to make a good rhythm game. “Guitar Hero: World Tour” is still fun, mind you, but it’s not going to replace the far superior “Rock Band” any time soon.