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LONG BLOG

E for Effort: That old time rock & roll

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I believe that's officially the 154th time I've seen that commercial, how about you?

Guitar Hero has been one of my favorite gaming franchises for a while. I dabbled in rhythm games before with Harmonix's "Frequency" and "Amplitude" games on the Playstation 2, but the first Guitar Hero game turned my gaming world upside down. For years, I pretty much quit other genres that I began my gaming career playing, and devoted huge chunks of my time to plinking away on fake plastic guitars. Guitar Hero 1, 2, and 80s were my obsession during most of the last decade.

When Harmonix left after Rocks the 80s to go produce their next rhythm game, I seriously worried about what would happen to the Guitar Hero franchise. I got even more worried when I found that Neversoft would be developing the games from now on. Like many people, I was a bit leery of how a company that was making a skating franchise that got worse and worse every year would make a rhythm game good. Guitar Hero III was actually not so bad, though. It had its issues like a poor difficulty curve, a timing window approximately 2 times larger than a whale's vagina, and the terrible Boss Battles, but it was still a fun game. Plus, it had The Fall of Troy, so I could forgive some of the game's issues based on that alone.

However, Neversoft had direct competition from Harmonix with their full-band game, Rock Band. Not one to be outdone, Activision demanded a response from Neversoft! Rock Band 2 came out for the 360 on September 14 2008, and the first full-band game from the Guitar Hero franchise (titled World Tour instead of just IV for reasons no one is sure of) was released October 26 2008. So, you'd think that maybe Neversoft would learn from the few mistakes they made with Guitar Hero 3 and improve it for this full band game, right?

You'd be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

Guitar Hero: World Tour was deeply flawed in a number of ways. One of the easiest to observe is the full band HUD.



I now understand what's happening in this screen, but when I first played this game as a full band, I was completely bewildered. The entire band shares one bar of Star Power, it's at the top left. So when you activate it, it shows up for a few seconds and turns off. This quickly leads to people hogging Star Power for themselves, and forgetting to save friends thanks to the convoluted 'failing' mechanism.
Instead of having Rock Band's system where a person can fail out of a song completely (but be saved with an activation of Overdrive) but the others keep playing, Guitar Hero World Tour had everyone operate on one big Rock Meter. If one of you goes down, the whole band does. Oh, and good luck determining who is failing. If you're looking up at the top left to see if someone's doing bad, you're probably missing notes and failing yourself out.

I had plenty of other HUD and general ease of access issues with the game. The vibrant designs on the note highway were too distracting, and obscured notes often. Scrolling through songs 1 by 1 on the Quickplay list felt terribly outdated in comparison to Rock Band 2's system. In online Quickplay, you have to choose difficulty out of a menu before searching for a band, as opposed to picking it before each song. The "band" play online couldn't start without 3 players, and as soon as a player drops, the session ends for everyone. Even naming characters, instruments and whatnot was messed up because Green/A saves your choices, but Yellow/Y sets each letter. That's just ass backwards: A should pick the letter and START should be the "I'm done editing" button.

The new set of instruments that came with the game had its share of issues. The wireless drums often had problems with the red pad not registering, or the cymbals not responding properly. I personally know people who have returned more than three drum kits to Best Buy/Gamestop/whatever. And the guitar had a really nice strum bar and a brand new touch strip. Shame that the strum bar would often stop registering downward strums for no reason, and the touch strip would "strum" on its own until you turned it off on the options menu.
And none of this would be a problem if Activision/Neversoft adopted MTV Games' extremely generous method of trading in faulty plastic instruments for new ones. Activision's stance on the whole thing was "Oh, your instruments broke? Buy some more and don't treat them so badly this time."


I remember renting Guitar Hero World Tour for a 5 day period, and returning it in 2 because the game was so poorly made. I never thought I would dislike a rhythm game, where the core gameplay really doesn't change much from game to game, but World Tour's confusing design choices when it came to menus and the HUD were enough to sour the game experience for me. It really seems that Neversoft said "Rock Band is doing this, we will diverge to be different and not get called copycats" in a lot of cases. It would have been fine to copy aspects of Rock Band's HUD because it is a good HUD. By attempting to be different for the sake of being different, Neversoft sabotaged their own game.

However, after buying the game for cheap last year, I've seen that the game did have some novel concepts. In comparison to Rock Band's somewhat repetitive "World Tour" structure where you could easily end up playing "Creep" 20+ times in one night, the career mode in GHWT was refreshingly straightforward. You beat a set of songs, move on to another tier, and beat different songs. No repetition.

Despite the issues it brought up, I do commend the idea of the touch strip on the new guitar. Sure, you couldn't tell where your fingers actually were on the darn thing because it was completely flat, but the "slider notes" were an interesting concept. The drums had some even cooler ideas. The layout was completely different than the Rock Band kit and had more inputs, so even playing songs that were already on Rock Band felt different. Velocity sensitivity and the ability to trigger Star Power anywhere were also cool additions.

In the end, I don't think Guitar Hero: World Tour is a good game. I definitely don't think it should have sold as well as it did. But I give it an E for effort for actually trying something new with the rhythm game genre: adding actual new concepts like slider notes, velocity sensitivity on drums, different designs for the instruments, a robust create-a-character, and even a music creator. It's a shame the gameplay and design wasn't up to par, but the game does get points for trying something new.
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About Perfidious Sinnone of us since 4:46 PM on 03.03.2009


I go by many names. Masterace, Perfidious Sinn, KD Beaston, Perfidious Syn...uh, that might be it actually.

Twitter: @PerfidiousSinn (https://twitter.com/PerfidiousSinn)

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