Guitar Hero 5

Air guitar is a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog now that gaming is almost a decade into the 21st century. The blue spikey one used to be cool, but, in the modern era, it's as if Sega's mascot is trying a little too hard to be hip, and no matter how hard he tries, there will always be disapproving looks from today's youth. As anyone caught playing air guitar to loud rock music will know, there has to be a better way. Since the days of Playstation 2, the Guitar Hero series has offered exactly that: an opportunity to play out rock music fantasies as the star of a band, without all the hassle of buying real instruments and developing musical talent. Following several combo and themed packs, such as Greatest Hits and Metallica iterations, Guitar Hero 5 is the next true sequel in the series. The expectation is that this game should push the genre to new levels of perfection, with the addition of exciting new features and ideas. In reality, Guitar Hero 5 offers nothing particularly new or unusual, but careful polish, tuning and subtle improvements might make entry 5 the best Guitar hero yet.

Guitar Hero 5

For newcomers to the series, Guitar Hero features a track (in the style of a guitar stem) upon which notes stream towards the screen. By strumming at the appropriate moment and holding the necessary button, a pleasant note is produced. Miss a note and things got uncomfortably quiet, while hitting a wrong note is even worse, injecting an awkward disturbance into the natural flow. Choosing an appropriate level of difficulty though, players will swiftly be able to strum along to a their favourite rock songs, tapping away like a guitar pro, and wowing the surrounding audience. Successful strings of notes lead to increasing multipliers, and hitting particular phrases successfully allows players to enter a star power mode where the audience claps along, the lighting changes and the multiplayer increases even further. All this means that when things go well, they really go well, and the atmosphere when on a hot streak is absolutely electric, especially when playing with friends.

That doesn't mean that expert players are the only ones capable of getting the full enjoyment of a successful song though. The difficulty ranges from Beginner (with no notes, just timed strumming) through to Easy (with three notes), Medium (with four) all the way up to Hard and Expert where all five notes are used, and at lightning speed. There's a bit of an uncomfortable leap from Easy to Medium, but the levels are gauged fairly well in general. With a difficulty chosen, players can head off to a variety of modes, including a well-formed Career mode (where players choose a venue and play a selection of songs), quick play (with instant access to single songs or a playlist) and competitive. The latter features several enjoyable face-off games, including one with an adaptive difficulty level that rewards (ha!) good play be increasing the difficulty, and insults poor play by dropping it. The competitive aspects are quite entertaining, and fun online, but the main attraction is undoubtedly the idea of playing as a cooperative band with friends or other online associates. Players aren't restricted to guitar either. Since Guitar Hero: World Tour, drum kits have been available and microphones too, allowing groups of people to build a group with guitar, bass, singers and drummers in a complete band experience. There's a fairly equal focus on all aspects across the career mode, though all songs can be played with just one instrument.

Guitar Hero 5

There's also the opportunity to create your own music in the game, starting from scratch with an empty notes track. Admittedly, it's not particulary intuitive, but examples online demonstrate that there's significant potential in the system. With a little patience, players can create original tunes or their own cover versions of famous tracks they wish had been included in the game. It's not the main attraction in the game, but it's existence is very welcome, and adds an extra layer of depth to the single-player experience. Imagine inviting a group of friends to come and play your very own creation, and the possibilities swiftly become clear.

Obviously the main attraction is the existing music in the game: 85 tracks from a wide variety of famous artists, all available to play from the very first moment players switch on the game. The tracks are sufficiently different that the game should appeal to a decent range of musical tastes. Inevitably, there will be many who simply don't like anything in or near the rock genre, and this game might therefore be best avoided in those cases, but for people with even the slightest passing appreciation of rock, there's almost certainly a song or two in the list that will suit. Each song is brilliantly recreated in the game, with fantastic audio quality. The timing and position of every note is perfect in most songs, though there are a small handful where, on the easier difficulty levels, note placement isn't quite so intuitive. On the harder difficulties though, since every note has to be hit, there's no unnatural breaks in rhythm. On the whole though, every song feels very natural. With a little experience and practice, players will likely be able to strum away without watching every note, simply by sensing the pace and timing of the music itself.

Guitar Hero 5

The only significant downside on the instrument front is the need for specific controllers, a criticism that can also be levelled at the World Tour entry in the series previously. Obviously, the game is designed for use with a guitar, and there are options to use microphones and drums too, as part of the band experience, but for those who purchase only the guitar, it would be nice to have the option to play drums on a standard Dual Shock. There's no reason the drum hits can't be mapped to button presses on a Dual Shock, allowing players to make their own decision about money spent on the game, but I suspect this would work against the Publishers desire to sell more accessories to consumers. Instead, to get absolutely everything out of the game, players are expected to fork out for even more kit. That said, there's so much to do with just a single Guitar that the game doesn't seem short or empty without the other accessories, but trophy enthusiasts will be disappointed to note that the platinum in the game can only be achieved if all instruments are available to use.

Unsurprisingly, Guitar Hero doesn't push the frontiers of visual spectacle. Band members are essentially caricatures, but rather than appearing to be a simple way of avoiding the need for intense graphical detail, the appearance of the game's band members is actually quite effective, and lends itself brilliantly to the party feel. The character customization is also astounding, with every aspect of band member creation open for fiddling. Starting with a few example templates, players can alter everything from hair and facial structure through to clothing and guitar design. The notes track is fairly simplistic, a necessity really, otherwise displays could easily become overly-complicated. However, things are brightened up with neat flame effects when each note is hit, and lighting changes when players enter star power. Nothing stands out in the way a game like Uncharted or Metal Gear Solid, but there's no real need for that in a game of this nature.

Guitar Hero 5

Guitar Hero 5 might not be a massive step forwards in the genre, but the game is easily the most polished in the series so far, with the slick menus, carefully gauged note formations and decent selection of music tracks providing a thoroughly enjoyable experience. With all tracks and options accessible from the beginning, there's nothing to stop players of all abilities getting immediately stuck in, either online or offline. Trophies to collect add some challenge and extra lastability, but it'll be evenings of multiplayer mayhem that truly make Guitar Hero 5 last. If you've never taken the plunge with a Guitar Hero game before, the fifth entry in the series is a perfect starting point, with the lessons already learned leading to one of the best music experiences available on a console.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Activision

Developer:

Neversoft

Players:

1-4

Online:

1-8

Release:

2009-09-11

Trophies:

50

Review summary

Gameplay:

Brilliantly addictive, absolutely superb fun to play

Graphics:

A slight upgrade over previous iterations

Sound:

Lots of fantastic tunes, all superbly realized

Lastability:

Brilliant multiplayer will keep players coming back

9.0

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