Guitar Hero 5 ImpressionsBy Abbie Heppe - Posted Jul 17, 2009
Earlier this week, X-Play had the privilege of heading out to Neversoft’s offices to see Guitar Hero 5 in action. Project Director Brian Bright and the Neversoft band gave us a in-depth look at some fantastic new features and hints at what’s to come.
Before you start playing, you always have to check your instrument. The new GH5 guitar has some nice aesthetic changes, chrome tuning pegs and a sharp red body with white pick guard, but there are some very useful changes to the hardware as well. The touch pad has been fine-tuned for better accuracy and the star power, start and select buttons and strum bar now have a rubbery coating, good for keeping fingers from slipping out of place.
Party Play Mode
Party Play is a new mode in GH5 that allows players to jump into gameplay right from the title screen. Goodbye countless menus. You’ll be able to create a custom track list or just let the game choose random songs and with a quick tap of the yellow button, you’re able to get right into shredding. There’s no fail in Party Play mode, and it acts like a veritable juke box of all the 85 songs in GH5. If more players want to hop in, all they need do is tap the yellow button, choose an instrument then difficulty and…it’s a party! When a new player joins, all of the note tracks make a quick transition left which seems to work seamlessly -- that is, without tripping up others already playing. One of my favorite aspects of the mode, and of GH5 in general, is that you aren’t limited to one player per instrument. If everyone wants to play guitar (or sing, or drum, or play bass), they can. Sure, I’m probably about to offend some bass players, but the majority of songs in any GH game are usually more fun on guitar, and this way, no one feels slighted by getting stuck on bass.
The most significant changes in GH5 seem to fall within Career mode. Each song is unlocked as soon as you boot up (eliminating the need to find an “unlock all” cheat code), and frankly, I don’t mind. That’s because Career mode has changed its structure entirely. GH5 does away with the existing system for item unlocks and instead introduces a challenge system for every track in the game. By completing bonus challenges within songs like note streaks, alt-strumming, up-strumming on bass, you get a gold, platinum or diamond rating which gives you more stars and unlocks venues, clothes and other bonuses. I love how this feature creates an objective to every song rather than the objective of beating the game as whole. For those worried that their skills won’t get them diamond ratings, you can always pull in a more skilled friend or an online bandmate then ride their coattails to victory. You dirty, dirty, cheaters-- I mean, I’ll be more than happy to help if properly bribed with delicious cakes. If you’re playing with a band, you’ll notice Band Moments, where fiery notes come down the highway. If your band manages to hit all of these in sync (and throw some Star Power in the mix too) you can earn up to an 11X multiplier in the song. But maybe your bandmates aren’t that good and start to fail out. You’ll notice there’s no Band Rock Meter in GH5. When someone fails out, everyone else can hit their notes correctly to save them but if they keep failing, that task will get progressively harder.
Ah, competition. It feels like competitive modes have been an ongoing struggle in Guitar Hero, so I’m happy to say that GH5 irons out some of the most maligned problems. First, Expert players won’t be matched with other difficulties. If you play on Expert, you’ll only be up against others on the same skill level. Battle mode appears to have been phased out (I’m not sad), and Momentum, Streakers, Do or Die, Perfectionist and Elimination join Pro Face-off and Team Pro Face-off as the online modes. They all execute like their descriptions; Momentum drops your difficulty if you miss 3 notes, but bumps you back up if you can hit 20 in a row, Perfectionist asks you to hit notes without missing through sections of the song to earn points, Elimination kicks the lowest scoring player at intervals throughout the songs and so on. All of these can be part of Rockfest, which mixes up the mode you’ll be playing for each song in your playlist. It’s very promising.
So, I’m a gamer and not a musician. In fact, I have a staggering lack of musical ability, which meant going into the studio in World Tour was pretty intimidating. For GH5, design programmer Travis Chen, who works on the Music Studio, managed to make it all seem a bit more inviting to the creative, but perhaps musically challenged. Even though there’s way more in the Studio this year, the navigation and interface have been simplified. Should questions arise, holding down the button for the tool you’re trying to use will give you a complete description of what the tool is and how to use it. That eliminates the need to jump online to look up a manual. There are also over 400 pre-made patterns for whatever instrument you don’t feel like playing, so you can choose a classic rock guitar solo, a metal drum fill or a funky bass line for any of your tracks. You can always preview songs you’re working on and alter the tiniest details on any note in the game once you’ve laid it down. This extends to scales, what your instrument sounds like, Line 6 effects, mixing, where star power comes in and lighting effects. Light cues! With a 10 minute limit on songs, that is so many pyrotechnic displays -- though you can’t put them on every note. 10 minutes? Yes, the cap has been raised from 3 to 10 and more notes are allowed in every song. Users will also be able to upload 50 tracks to the servers, a huge jump from last year.
Of course, I might still end up creating something that sounds worse than the Shaggs, which is where GHjams comes into play. In this new mode, you can select a premade backing tune (like classic rock, punk, blues, 8-bit flavored chiptunes and many others) and just go crazy on the fret board. Think of it as selecting your beat or back up tune on a keyboard and then just messing around. In the background, you have a visualizer that provides visual effects themed to what sound you’ve chosen. You can also select the visualizer to play in normal game modes, sort of like your personal laser light experience.
In some ways, GH5 bears little resemblance to World Tour. The track list is more eclectic and while I’m not at liberty to confirm a full list of songs, it includes some of my absolute favorites by various bands. Who can say “no” to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” or heavy hitters like Elliot Smith, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop and Blur? There’s a great mix of classics and up-and-coming bands that should please most music snobs. I also couldn’t help but notice that GH5 strays from the harsh reds, yellows and oranges of World Tour and has shifted into a bluer, greener more mellow aesthetic. It’s quite nice actually. From everything I saw this week (through my tears, at one point, as I witnessed one Neversoft employee play Expert+ drums without looking at the screen), I wouldn’t doubt if this becomes Neversoft’s best GH game to date. We’ll find out on September 1st. In the meantime, more info is expected to roll out in the next few weeks and check X-Play for interviews with both Brian Bright and Travis Chen, our behind-the-scenes tour of Neversoft headquarters and (perhaps) some info I can’t divulge here.