If I had to guess why Guitar Hero 5 wasn't playable in Activision's booth this year, and only briefly previewed to the press behind closed doors, my logical side would say that it's because this year's spotlight belongs to DJ Hero. My speculative side, if you're interested, might claim that they're politely conceding to the incredibly high-profile Beatlemania in the Rock Band camp. Paul, Ringo, and Yoko will do that to ya.
Regardless, the announcement, artist reveal, date reveal, feature reveal, and setlist reveal sequence of a Guitar Hero game is now an event as natural as the lunar cycle. At E3, as private as it was, we are now at the feature reveal stage. And as big of a Guitar Hero fan as I am ("I saw them play at the Red Octane back in '05, man, before they got big!"), I find myself balking slightly at the notion of a numbered sequel after I assumed last year's World Tour was Activision firmly establishing the franchise on the same footing as Rock Band -- de facto music game "platform."
As the producers went through the list of changes, everything sounded great: a jump-in and jump-out, no failing, no scoring Party Mode; all four players being able to play the same instrument; all songs on the setlist unlockable from the get-go; the ability to save and load playlists; unlockables based on an in-game achievement system instead of via spending in-game cash; an updated Star Power mechanic that takes overflow from players who are on a roll and distributes it to the rest of the band (Communism? In my Rock 'n Roll?!); new competitive modes, one of which adjusts the difficulty on-the-fly based on performance; and a cleaned-up and streamlined user interface that reduces on-screen clutter.
There's even more than that, but when I take a closer look at all these features, there's nothing that immediately stands out as a killer reason to buy a new disc: many of these things should and could have been fixed with a free update to the structure and look of World Tour, like cleaning up the interface or updating the custom Music Studio, or reasonably sold as DLC -- the modes in particular. (And to be fair, the same criticisms could be levied at the EA/Harmonix/MTV threesome when Rock Band 2 made a suspiciously quick appearance).
And since Activision would not talk about new instrument hardware or anything at all to do with importing songs across different versions of Guitar Hero, the only thing left to talk about is the list of bands that are scheduled to appear. And fortunately, it's quite stellar. If the My Morning Jacket song turns out to be "One Big Holiday," I will be a happy boy.
But with World Tour still getting new DLC tracks, the Van Halen special edition, DJ Hero featuring DJ vs. guitar tracks, and the forthcoming, confusion-inducing Band Hero adding to the SKU spew, some clarity and focus in the plastic instrument genre would be welcome (this includes you, too, The Beatles: Rock Band).