At PAX 2008, one of the more prominent booths belonged to Guitar Hero: World Tour. With Rock Band revolutionizing the music game genre last year by including drums and singing in their game, it was clear that Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise needed to make up ground. After playing the game first hand, it appears they may have done just that.
The most impressive aspect of the game was probably the fantastic new drum kit. The kit includes three pads and two cymbals along with a bass pedal, and everything felt smooth and natural. The pads and cymbals are made out of some kind of rubber compound, and we found them to be both bouncy (making your drum rolls easier), and thankfully, very quiet. One of our biggest complaints with Rock Band was that the drums were annoyingly loud, and the folks at Red Octane seem to have addressed this issue in Guitar Hero: World Tour.
The location of the cymbals also felt natural, and it was refreshing to be able to keep a high-hat beat on a raised cymbal. While we occasionally had trouble locating the middle blue note as we got used to the new set, with a little practice, that eventually won’t be a problem.
Finally, the bass pedal seemed much improved, as it does not provide nearly the same amount of resistance as the Rock Band pedal and the actual action of pressing it down seemed smaller. However, it still provided enough resistance to play heel up without having any inadvertent kicks.
Our only concern is that the pedal does not rest on a bar like on the Rock Band kit, so aggressive drummers on higher difficulty might have to deal with their foot sliding around more than they’d like. At PAX, the kit was set up on a rubber mat, which definitely provided enough resistance to keep the pedal in place, but we don’t know for sure if that will be the case on carpet or hardwood floors.
When we got our hands on the guitar, it felt very similar to the wireless Les Paul that shipped with Guitar Hero III, but added a couple of new features. On the neck of the new guitar is a touch pad that serves two purposes.
The first is to allow you to tap notes, instead of strumming them. So if you want to channel your inner Les Claypool and play a little slap bass, this feature is for you. It seemed to work well, and can be used during any guitar or bass part. Our only concern is how it will hold up during blistering strum patterns, but again, it’s optional, so you can always return to the comfort of the strum bar.
The other feature of the touch pad applies to certain sections of the game where you can slide your fingers up and down the pad to simulate scales in solos. For example, in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” the scorching intro allows you to use the touch pad to slide your way through the section. The section is indicated on screen by a purple line connecting the notes.
While in theory this sounds helpful, in practice it is very difficult. It is challenging to both locate the touch pad quickly, and also get a feel for where on the pad the actual frets are. While we’re sure hardcore fans will quickly take advantage of this feature, it may not come easily to more casual players. Again, however, it is optional.
Guitar Hero: World Tour’s gameplay was very reminiscent of previous Guitar Hero titles. We felt that the timing window on guitar was as loose as it was on Guitar Hero III, making it easier to play complicated solos. On the drums, the timing window felt a bit tighter, but in our limited playtime it’s hard to say for sure. One cool new feature that was shown off was the game’s quick play, which allows you to easily make a set list by selecting a number of songs on the list with the green button, and then pressing start. Another thing we liked was that when you un-pause the game, a countdown begins allowing everyone to get ready to play again.
One thing Brian Leahy mentioned in a post yesterday that we didn’t care for was that the band uses star power together, but also fails together. In other words, there is no way to rescue a band mate, so let's say your guitarist reaches a solo he just can’t handle, your band will fail the song.
The game does allow you to change your difficulty at any point, even mid song, but without a “No Fail Mode,” we feel this game may lead some frustration at more casual parties where having fun, not just racking up a high score, is the goal. Obviously, this was just a preview build, so maybe the developers will hear our plea and add a party friendly “No Fail Mode” before launch or later with a patch.
Otherwise, there were a number of features we didn’t get to play, including online eight person battle of the bands, the much talked about custom music creator, and a robust character creation system. Overall, we feel that Guitar Hero: World Tour will provide excellent competition to Rock Band, especially if the final set list is as good as rumored.