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.