- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ver since the music rhythm genre was monopolized by Activision and Harmonix, the two companies have been locked in an ongoing game of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. Harmonix was the first to introduce multi-instrument gameplay, while Activision fired back with band-specific titles featuring the likes of Aerosmith and Metallica. Those will probably be kicked to the curb (and the used game stores) the minute "The Beatles: Rock Band" is released, however, because everyone has been clamoring for that game since the day it was announced. Even Activision knows it can't compete with the greatest band that ever lived, but they’re not waving the white flag just yet. "Guitar Hero 5" may not offer the chance to play as the Fab Four, but it does deliver one of the most accessible music rhythm games to date.
No doubt inspired by the success of the Nintendo Wii, Activision’s latest installment embraces the everyday gamer by making it even easier to rock out to your favorite bands. Don't want to mess around with silly menus? No problem, because now you can jump right into the action without even looking at the set list. Don't want to spend time unlocking songs? All 85 tracks are available right out of the box via Quickplay. Better yet, for those times when “Guitar Hero” has been called upon to be the life of the party, Activision has included a new mode (aptly titled Party Play) that serves that exact purpose. Players can jump in and out of a song at any time, switch instruments on the fly, or even pause their portion of the song without affecting the other players. You can even have whatever configuration of instruments you want on stage (three guitars and a drummer, four drummers, three vocalists, etc.), while every player chooses their own difficulty level, allowing for hardcore fans to play alongside their less-savvy significant others and family members.
Plenty has changed in Career Mode as well. For starters, the highly criticized gig structure of “World Tour” has been replaced by a much simpler system where you earn stars based on your performance to unlock new venues and songs. In addition to the five-star rating scale, there are also instrument-specific challenges that allow you to earn up to three more stars per song. These challenges (ranked Gold, Platinum and Diamond in difficulty) include everything from score-related achievements to the number of successful bass pedal hits in a song, and add a new layer to the game that guarantees repeat visits. Those that like to test their skills in the multiplayer arena, meanwhile, have a host of new competitive games to choose from like Momentum, where the difficulty of the song changes based on your performance, and Elimination, where the lowest scorer is booted after each section until only one player remains.
Of course, no amount of changes matter if you don’t have a good selection of music to choose from, and Activision has put together an eclectic set list featuring a whopping 85 songs from 83 different bands. Unfortunately, in trying to please everyone, the soundtrack is almost too eclectic. There’s still a lot of metal and indie music scattered throughout the latter stages of the game (not exactly mainstream friendly, if you ask me), while guys like Stevie Wonder and Elton John hardly fit the “Guitar Hero” bill. Nevertheless, fans of 90s rock will love playing along to Garbage, Bush, and Smashing Pumpkins (not to mention the hugely underrated Spacehog), while the inclusion of live tracks from Peter Frampton, Nirvana and Rush is a nice treat. And can we give a special shout out to the person responsible for Queen and David Bowie's “Under Pressure”?
Seriously, that guy deserves a raise, because those are the kinds of things that help keep the “Guitar Hero” train chugging along. The addition of playable characters like Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, Shirley Manson (of Garbage) and Matt Bellamy (of Muse)? Not so much, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the game, either. Of course, I prefer slapping some bass with my personal Avatar (decked out in Gears of War armor, natch), but whatever your weapon of choice, there’s no denying that “Guitar Hero 5” is a step up from last year’s “World Tour.” It’s not a big step, mind you, but when you’re facing off against the biggest band in the history of music, every little bit helps.