Guitar Hero 5 Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Sep 01, 2009

The Guitar Hero series has been playing catch-up since Harmonix split to make Rock Band, however, and while Neversoft has admirably picked up the slack, each edition since the divide has been a little...off. Guitar Hero 5, however, is a return to form for the series.

The Pros
  • Overall fantastic lineup of songs
  • Party Mode is great for friends and family, every music game needs to copy it
  • Mini-goals within songs are addictive
The Cons
  • Songs become note waves and scream-happy in final tiers
  • Poor interface design makes it difficult to identify key gameplay icons
  • Kurt Cobain looks realistic, but creepy

It's hard to believe we're already on Guitar Hero 5. I remember sneaking into Red Octane's pint-sized E3 booth years ago to see the first Guitar Hero prototype. There was no hype. These days, music games are a dominating force in the industry. The Guitar Hero series has been playing catch-up since Harmonix split to make Rock Band, however, and while Neversoft has admirably picked up the slack, each edition since the divide has been a little…off. Guitar Hero 5, however, is a return to form for the series.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC, MAN


Guitar Hero 5

Fundamental to any music game is, of course, the music. There is no feature more paramount to success than its soundtrack. Guitar Hero has stumbled in this regard since Neversoft took over, its new operators suffering an identity crisis with Guitar Hero III and hurriedly going multi-instrument in Guitar Hero World Tour. There was more breathing time with Guitar Hero 5 and the music selection reflects that. There's a solid assortment of band-friendly rock in Guitar Hero 5, enough to satisfy indie hipsters like myself (Sunny Day Real Estate in Guitar Hero?!) who are usually Rock Band loyalists.

All the music in Guitar Hero 5 is unlocked at the start, but developers include career modes in these games for a reason -- many of us play games for a sense of progression. Guitar Hero 5's career mode is barebones, moving players from tier to tier, unlocking the next sections of songs by accruing "X" number of stars from performing well. There's an enjoyable balance before Guitar Hero 5 stumbles over a balance between fun and difficulty, a regular issue in music games. The last few tiers in Guitar Hero 5's career mode are largely filled with waves of nasty notes and someone screaming into a mic.

Hitting the notes, at least, feels spot-on this time around, even if Guitar Hero doesn't actually employ my prefer method for a music game. Neversoft's approach has always felt more mechanical, whereas Harmonix took Rock Band in a more game-like direction. There's a smaller window to hit notes in Guitar Hero. Ultimately, that makes it more accurate, which is why musicians seem to feel more comfortable with Guitar Hero because of its precision requirement, while Rock Band provides a little more leeway. At this point, I really don't have an issue with how Guitar Hero does it -- it's a preference.

The game does fail to make use of the touch pad introduced into last year's guitar peripheral, though. The applicable notes are few and far between, even on expert settings, and often only a handful of notes at a time. I ended up just passing on the feature entirely.

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EVERYONE TAKE NOTICE


But by far Neversoft's most clap-worthy achievement in Guitar Hero 5 is Party Mode. It's essentially a jukebox that allows for drop-in, drop-out multiplayer however, whenever you'd like. Guitar Hero 5 plays music on its own until someone clicks a button. Up to four can participate with any instrument in any combination -- four vocalists, four drummers, doesn't matter. It's a stroke of genius, a feature that needs to be in every Guitar Hero going forward and one Harmonix should happily copy for future Rock Band games. The ability to start a song on expert, realize it's too tough and dynamically switch difficulty without interrupting fellow bandmates fits so naturally it's difficult to imagine why something like this wasn't implemented sooner. Thankfully, it's here now. It needs to stay.

Guitar Hero 5

TOO SOON?

There are small touches that round the game out -- the inclusion of Avatars and Miis, the ability to bring in downladable content from Guitar Hero World Tour (finally!), mini-goals within each song (i.e. sustaining note combos) and guest characters that look less creepy than in the past (though Kurt Cobain's inclusion remains questionable). It doesn't, however, change fundamental issues that have long-plagued Neversoft and remain an issue in Guitar Hero 5, such as a poorly laid out interface that takes far too long for you to decipher basic gameplay needs, such as whether or not you're going to fail.

If you're a gamer who hedged their bets on the Guitar Hero series, you won't be disappointed with Guitar Hero 5. For the Rock Band crowd, it's a disc with a solid soundtrack, with many songs that aren't available there yet. It's not perfect, but it's Neversoft's best Guitar Hero yet.