It looks like competing “tap the buttons as colored gems move across the screen in time with music” games Rock Band and Guitar Hero have started the kind of annual rivalry usually reserved for sports fans. So, despite the fact that the series is still called Guitar Hero, this year’s big innovation is the addition of drummers and singers (and the accompanying $180 bundle pack). It’s tempting to deride the series for copying Rock Band 2, but it’s really just a natural evolution of this genre. Besides, Guitar Hero: World Tour actually trumps RB2 in a few key areas.
The most important difference is obvious after only one song: though you can use your Rock Band 2 gear with no problems, Guitar Hero World Tour has better instruments. The drum kit’s cymbals feel better and the pads sound deeper and feel more substantial. Rock Band 2’s drums have a better kick pedal, but even with its added outboard cymbals, that’s the only advantage it can claim over these beauties.
The guitar is a closer call – it lacks the visual beauty and “pickup selector” sound effects switch of Rock Band 2’s guitar. Plus, the “string” flipper is oddly, at times infuriatingly squeaky. However, the beefier star power button finally has the perfect size and location: at the bridge, where you’re unlikely to hit it by accident but where you can easily punch with your hand without interrupting your stroke. And the addition of a flat, touch-sensitive pad higher up the neck, which enables new in-game moves like faster tapping and slide guitar, seals the deal.
Once you start playing, you’ll find a bare-bones solo career mode. You’re basically a gigger-for-hire answering ads on a bulletin board, which leads to a vast list of celebrity cameos from Sting and Ozzy to Jimi Hendrix and Hayley from Paramore. We appreciated the wide range of difficulty options, though.
Multiplayer modes are pretty robust, with full support for four musicians not only offline, but online – even in full, four-on-four, head-to-head band battles, which Rock Band 2 doesn’t even do.
There are several important differences in the way Guitar Hero: World Tour handles the actual nitty-gritty of playing when compared to Rock Band 2. First is that GHWT has a worse interface – the star/rock meter is shared by all users and stuffed up in a corner, making it hard to tell who’s failing and how much star power is left during multiplayer sessions. It gives you the power to trigger star power in smaller increments and at any time, even as a singer or drummer, which is helpful. On the downside, that shared Rock meter means that if one person fails out, the song is over for everyone. That is not helpful. It is instead annoying as hell.
GHWT creates a greater difference between instruments, too. Guitar players get the touch pad, bass players sometimes strum “open” notes (no buttons), and singers can work the crowd a little more in special moments (though they don’t have Rock Band’s tambourine taps).
However, there’s still something about the actual note charts that doesn’t feel as good as Rock Band 2. Sometimes they just don’t feel as organic, and sometimes they feel like there are extra notes tacked on. It’s hard to put into words, but it feels a little more like a game as opposed to a music simulation. Though esoteric, this is a big deal, and when combined with the poor placement of the star/rock meter and its all-for-one failure condition, reason enough for us to still give Rock Band 2 the overall edge in gameplay.
One thing Guitar Hero World Tour has all to itself is the recording studio (Rock Revolution’s doesn’t count), which enables a devoted user to create his or her own songs and upload/download them via the ol’ webtubes. It’s very robust, though there are two big let-downs. One: you can’t record vocals. Just bass, drums, and guitar. Two: The other side of it being impressively powerful is that it’s also incredibly complex. This is basically a Pro-Tools setup, which you’re trying to control with a toy instrument. There’s a nice tutorial, but you’re still going to need a lot of time and patience to get decent results.
So, is Guitar Hero World Tour better than Rock Band 2? Not quite. Yes, the instruments are superior, and we love four-on-four online matches, varied tweaks to each instrument’s parts, character customization, and build-your-own-guitar options. But, we just don’t get as much out of the music editor as one would hope, and Rock Band 2’s better note maps, smarter interface and more musical “feel” resonate more with us.
Nov 10, 2008