Guitar Hero 5
(Neversoft/Activision) - Nintendo Wii version reviewed, also available on PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360
One of my main excuses to buy a Nintendo Wii some time ago wasn't just for the sheer fun of multiplayer gaming and the way that the remote controller was quite innovative and fun, but because it meant that I could rock out if I wanted to. I've played all the Guitar Hero games on the Wii since I purchased Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock along with the guitar controller some time ago, and with the likes of Guitar Hero Gretest Hits and Guitar Hero Metallica being released in recent months, you could accuse the makers of hanging the licence out to dry a bit with maybe more focus being on downloadable content instead of more releases.
So it's with this in mind that Guitar Hero 5 was unleashed to the masses, and the question was since its release did it justify its price tag, or was it just another attempt at getting plenty more out of the consumer just for some more songs? Well, let's see. First off, I'm reviewing the Wii version here, and the Wii specific stuff I'll deal with later on so that the initial part of the review focusses on the same functionality on all versions (bar the PS2, which has some features missing) so you can make your own mind up.
The Game and Core Features
The game boots up and presents a very nice interface, it's very crisp and clear to the user and it's pretty obvious what you're selecting from the menu. Initially you'll see a band performing on stage and if you want to just jump in, you can whack a guitar button for "party play". This introduces one of the new features of the game, where you can drop in or drop out of a song at ant time, and just essentially play for fun. You can step in when you like, select the handedness and difficulty and play through. Crucially, you can't fail the song either so if you want to just play for a bit of a giggle, then that's for you. In essence I can see why that'd work.
Also, you've got a different multiplayer option, basically in competitive mode from the menu where you can select various types of RockFest. You've got "Momentum" where you start at medium difficulty and gain extra difficulty for doing well or drop down if doing bad, but of course you score less points if you don't do well. There's "Streakers" where points are earned for consecutive streaks of notes on the bounce (I think my record is around 600 on the trot!), "Perfectionist" where you need to get 100% on sections of the song to earn ranking points to win, "Do Or Die" where the lowest scorer sits out a section, "Elimination" where the lowest scoring players are eliminated, and the standard Pro Face off, where you basically have to get the highest score to win. These can be on the same console or online against other console users too, so you can if you wanted to have an eight player competitive rock battle (it's more than doable!) and also of course four player guitar battles on the same console.
Which leads me nicely to another feature: you can now have two or more players playing the same instrument, should you wish. One of the limitations of the likes of Guitar Hero World Tour was you had one bass, one guitar etc. Now, if three of you want to be guitar, no problem, and of course that could also mean three different difficulty level players all playing guitar to try and nail it, which might be immense fun to see how the styles compare. Most people would probably stick with their classic rock band line up, but good to know at least you can vary it a bit if required.
For the single player or the band, career mode is also improved nicely. You've still got the venues to work through to unlock the songs in this mode, but not only now do you need to earn stars for doing well in the song (with a sixth star given to you if you completely 100% the thing with all the combos) but you can now earn up to three bonus stars on a level of gold, platinum and diamond, which reflect a record's sales level. Each of these challenges varies, so it could be nailing the end "Fame" vocals on the David Bowie classic, maintaining a multiplier of 4x on guitar or bass, hitting the tap notes, or if you have a band challenge either scoring so many points for the song or in star power, keeping the band multiplier above a certain level and so on. Some of the challenges do require you to play the song on a harder difficulty level so it's something to bear in mind when attempting them. Of course keeping up the 4x or higher ones mean that even players on beginner level do have something that they can aim at if required.
In each venue, there's a set of songs to play through, with some within the venue unlocked when you play the earlier ones, but now you also have the option of playing challenges where you can gain extra kit for your guitarist in the form of sponsorships. These are in the form of "open" challenges, where you can play any song up to that point, plus any choice of any downloadable content too. That way you have some freedom in picking and choosing a song which will allow you to win those open challenges well. Even without the downloadables, one of the songs will always be enough for you to earn the extra stars needed if you have to - I've done it on a few occasions which worked out rather well.
As the career progression is the same on all instruments, this does mean that if you're not playing guitar or bass, the difficulty can vary on some songs, most notably on vocals. Because of the fact that a band can also play career mode with the same progression, it might be offputting to the singers out there that some of the really hard songs are early in the career from a vocal point of view - it might have been nice if there was an option of a different single instrument career mode also allowing you to just choose the one instrument and getting through the songs in order of their "intensity". Ah yes, something to mention: each song is ranked by its difficulty in terms of "intensity" and is graded for each instrument, so the difficult vocal ones for example are Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" whilst the likes of Jeff Beck's "Scatterbrain" are the hard ones for the guitarists.
Quickplay is just that - and like in Guitar Hero Greatest Hits all songs are unlocked so you don't have to go through career mode just to get to unlock them. This for me is much better, it allows much more freedom. Any downloadable content also appears in your selection very nicely and is marked (in the case of the Wii, it'll be from your SD card) so you can tell which is which. In Quickplay you can easily see the song intensity, the length of the song, the date of release, artist etc and also see how well you've done in terms of the instruments with a quick and easy score panel. Plus of course you can choose a "playlist" of however many songs you'd like and play through them in that order, which works out pretty well.
As for playability, I hear you ask, does it play as well? Well, on the whole, yes it does. The guitar and bass paths are laid out fairly so that you can follow them without going too delirious, and they're tracked much better these days so that even on an easier difficulty level you can follow the groove of the guitar or bass and dial yourself right into the flow of the tune most of the time, meaning nailing the song can work for you very nicely. Vocals seem a fair bit harder than Greatest Hits, and particularly on expert level, where you really need to be within one semitone of the actual vocals performed so that you can score highly. It's not that easy, and in direct comparison I got around 87% on Motley Crue's "Shout at the Devil" compared to 98% on Greatest Hits, even singing both in a similar way. It may need a little too much precision though: after all you're supposed to rock out, so why be so ultra pitch perfect? Also, the freeforms in vocals have completely gone, so you can't rack up points during those anymore - which does mean you have to much better nailing the vocal phrases.
However, that's me being picky - it's got a great pick up and play sense about it, and the moment you get started everything is free of clutter, it's pretty easy to see what you're doing, the band rock out nicely in the background and graphically it seems pretty good too. Of course as you progress through career mode you can unlock musicians and singers to be in your virtual band in the game, including Matt Bellamy of Muse, Johnny Cash, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Carlos Santana, and - controversially - Kurt Cobain. The controversy arose because you could use his character for all the other songs in the game and not just the Nirvana ones in there, which Courtney Love and the former members of Nirvana have been unhappy with.
One criticism that needs to be levelled though is the choice of songs. Whilst eighty five songs from eighty three artists represents a varied tracklist, and lots of bands getting their Guitar Hero debut, it's a little too reliant on new songs in the last few years in my view. There's not enough of the old rock classics to get people of all ages really wanting to go for it with the guitar especially. Whilst it's good having good relatively 2000s bands like Attack! Attack!, Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys in there, the set list leans too much towards this decade. Notable exceptions include T Rex's "20th Century Boy", Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak", Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" and Peter Frampton's epic almost 14 minute long live version of "Do You Feel Like We Do" - certainly one to test the endurance, that one.
However, it's a fine balance to strike to please everyone and I'm sure that there'll be songs for everyone in there, even if it's not all of them. But that's not all. For a small fee, you can also re-licence some of the songs from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Greatest Hits and have downloadable content versions in Guitar Hero 5. At least on the Wii, this worked very well, you simply entered the corresponding code from the game manual or it checked for a valid save game and that then allowed you to download the content. At the time of writing, it is however only 35 songs from World Tour and 21 from Greatest Hits, which many people see as not enough. There are some good songs in there though and for the small fee is well worth considering if you want more of, say, The Sword or Blondie or stuff like that. The other downloadable content on the music store is easy enough to access and use too, and allows you to get individual songs or track packs - but I just wish there was more of it.
Online play seems to be much improved, too. You can easily contact anyone who is on the same console and search for players, and even have an eight player band face off if you so wish, and I'm sure that would be immense fun when you are rocking out to the masses. On the Wii, you simply use the code from the Wii Message board (via the main Wii menu screens) and add people on there as your Wii friends. Once that's done, they'll appear as people who can play in the game - just make sure though that the use of Wii Friends is enabled in the online options and you'll be good to go.
Wii Specific Features
That's not all for Wii owners though. Vicarious Visions, who've done an excellent job at doing the Guitar Hero ports to the Wii previously, have done an even more marvellous job keeping all the features intact the same as the XBox 360 and PS3 versions, whilst also adding some new and innovative features. For a start, Guitar Hero is the first ever game on the Wii to support the use of SDHC cards to store downloadable content, as long as you've got Wii System Software 4.0 or above (as you should have by now). What this effectively means is that the maximum 2GB limit for SD cards is now 32GB for SDHC, allowing tons of songs to be stored on the card. It's easy to download the songs straight to the card from the music store in a "rock archive" and all the importable content downloaded to the card without problem, and tells you how many blocks of the card's memory each song takes when you download it. It also means that you've got much more flexibility in how you play the songs in career mode where you "pick a song" as 2GB wouldn't be enough to store all the World Tour and Greatest Hits songs.
A word too about instrument compatibility. Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments never on the Wii used to be compatible with each others' games, meaning the likes of Datel's Crossplay was needed if you wanted to use the Guitar Hero guitar on Rock Band. As with Rock Band 2 and Rock Band: The Beatles, Guitar Hero 5 supports both types of guitar and both types of drum kit, as well as of course any USB microphone. What this meant was that I could use my Rock Band guitar as bass and my Guitar Hero one as lead guitar and it all worked flawlessly. The only slight caveat is that the Rock Band guitar doesn't work on Mii Freestyle mode, which is what's up next.
Mii Freestyle is back - and much improved from Guitar Hero World Tour. The aim is the same, for some freestyle fun, as your Mii rocks out. You can now have a guitarist, bassist and drummer, and if you don't have a drumkit to hand, the remote and nunchuk can be used too if you so wish. But there's an extra cool feature too - if you have a Nintendo DS, you can use the "connect DS" option on Mii Freestyle, and once the information downloads to the DS, you can use that to be the stage manager and control the lighting and the cameras of the performance, leading to some very neat old school Top of the Pops-type effect as you rock out, oh yes. And not only that - when you've finished rocking, you can save your performnace and send it to your Wii Friends via Wii Connect 24 for them to watch. Neat or what eh? I tried it with a friend's DS and it certainly was immensely great fun - well worth it if you don't want to rock out too seriously.
You also have the feature "roadie battle", where if you have 2 guitars and 2 DSes, you can do a battle similar to that in Guitar Hero III where you play against each other, and the role of the DS in this is to be the roadie so that you can sabotage the other player's equipment, making them miss notes. What it does mean is that the younger players can do the roadie action whilst the adults rock out for example (or the other way round!) meaning that the whole family can get involved. Nice again this and goes to show just how much effort went in by Vicarious Visions to have a bit more family friendly fun to make the game more accessible.
Well, if you want to rock out and aren't sure what game to get, then you could do a heck of a lot worse than Guitar Hero 5 to be honest. It's very playable, has lots of pick up and play elements and even if you're playing on your own has plenty to offer. The extra downloadable content, whilst not as much as Rock Band 2, is good enough, and you've also got the importable content from previous releases. What makes it all work though is the sheer fun you have - and something not lost on me either. In addition, although I do have valid criticisms of the game, it's because of its variety, and not because of its difficulty or lack of clarity during play. The Wii-specific features are all a nice touch and full credit has to be given for making it the same feature set as the other versions. So, in short, if you have a Wii and are considering if you want a bit of a rock fest, then Guitar Hero 5 is the game for you.
Warren's rating: 90%