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  • Guitar Hero World Tour – Review #2

    Posted on October 28th, 2008 Shawn No comments

    We’ve got more GH:WT review goodness for y’all to enjoy.  This comes from our rocking pal AbrtRetryIgnore over at the “RB30+ (invite only) forums”.  It’s lengthy, but a good read for the real rhythm gamer geeks out there (me included).  Check it, do you agree?

    I picked up the game-only version for the 360. I already have 6 toy guitars (2xGH2, 3xGH3 Les Paul, 1xRB2 Strat), and 2 toy drum sets (RB1 and RB2), so I don’t need any additional faux instruments, thankyouverymuch.

    Disclaimer: I am attempting to keep my bias (because everyone has a bias, whether they admit it or not) in check as I write this review. I have ALL of the GH games through GH3 (yes, even the 80’s), but I didn’t bother with the Aerosmith one. I very much enjoyed GH1, GH2 and the 80’s…and played the HELL out of them. I was very disappointed with GH3, despite some great songs. I have both RB and RB2, and I’ve purchased nearly 100 DLC songs. My wife and I have hosted numerous Rock Band parties. I play all 4 instruments all the time, and all on Expert. I’m not ub3r-1337, but I don’t suck, and my drums and vocals skills put me roughly in the top 1% of the 100,000 on the RB leaderboards. I play Rock Band almost every day, although with some of the star-tracking/scoring omissions in RB2, I find I am playing it less than I did RB1. I really wanted to like GH:WT if for nothing else to increase the number of great songs my friends and I can rock out to, and I bought it and played it before reading any other reviews. Now on with my impressions of GH:WT.

    First impressions:
    1) The intro cutscene for GH:WT was unbelievably bad. After watching it, and before *I* had said anything, the wife remarked, “Okay, that was awful. Just stupid!” I think I said something a little less PC, like “Yeah, that was pretty f***ing retarded.” We were pretty unimpressed. They’ve kept the same cartoon style for the cutscenes and the same non-verbal grunts/groans for dialogue. I didn’t like it much then, and it certainly hasn’t grown on me since GH3. Not an auspicious beginning. The wife later remarked: “The Rock Band intro scene is awesome compared to that crap.”

    2) As soon as I fired up the game, the Message of the Day announced several free vignettes and song packs, as well as a NOT free but awesome Classic Rock pack featuring “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, and “Rock & Roll Band” by Boston. I definitely wanted to go ahead and start the downloads for those 3 classics while checking out the game, but it took me about 10 minutes of frustrated searching to figure out that you can’t download the real DLC within the game. There’s a “Download” section, but it’s exclusively for the sh*tty music studio tracks uploaded by other users. No in-game music store…have to exit the game and use the Xbox LIVE marketplace blade. That’s a glaring omission.

    3) The available customization of the rockers is incredibly intense. Looks like Neversoft might have ported their character creation code from another game (Tony Hawk?), and you have SO much control over every aspect of the rocker’s features and physique that you can undoubtably recreate anyone you wanted with alarming, stalker-like detail. On the other hand, you can also just pick from the usual cast of rockers from the previous GH games…with one truly notable exception: What the hell happened to Xavier Stone? Every one of the rockers is now white, which seems like a pretty big omission. Sure, you can create a custom rocker of color, but c’mon…you’ve got Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix songs in the damn game, but no brothas to play ’em? That simply aint right. Maybe you can unlock them, but the only unlockable characters I saw 2/3 of the way through the career were Billy Corgin, Hayley Williams, Zakk Wylde, and Ted Nugent. My wife and I would much prefer Xavier to a couple of the new pre-made rockers they stuck in there, but I guess unlocking Hendrix is all you get.

    The Good:
    1) Character customization. As mentioned above, if you’ve always wanted to spend 6 or more hours creating a rhythm music game rocker avatar who looks EXACTLY like [insert_name_here], now you can! Or if you’re lazy like me, you can hit randomize a bunch of times and settle for that. Or if you’re old school, you can just pick one of the pre-made guitar hero rocker archetypes, or “rock-etypes,” like Judy Nails and Clive Winston.

    2) Soundtrack. They have some freakin’ awesome songs in GH:WT. A lot of really huge, well-known hits that will lend themselves well to parties or repeated solo playing.

    3) Open E string on bass. I *love* the new open E string note on the Bass. However, after the very first few songs (with the wife on lead and me on bass), the lack of documentation had me thoroughly convinced that GH:WT was fatally bugged as my otherwise flawless bass playing was marred by seemingly random broken streaks. There was significant wailing and gnashing of teeth as a result, including several choice “WTF” type expletives. Turns out I simply hadn’t noticed the new notation for strumming without pushing any fret buttons, which is represented with a horizontal line, a la the bass note for drums. Once understood, this feature is freakin’ awesome. It’s not really more difficult, per se, but it does add a touch of additional complexity to bass. Love this feature.

    4) Extended chords on guitar. The addition of the “extended chords” on the guitar is awesome. It *finally* allows the rhythm game guitar interface we’ve all grown familiar with to duplicate a slowly strummed chord. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, imagine a really long sustained green note on guitar. Now imagine that shortly after you start and hold the sustained green note, you add a second note (red, while still keeping the green note going). And then a third (yellow, perhaps). So at the end, you are now holding down 3 fret buttons for a 3-note sustained chord. These can be either strummed notes or Hammer Ons, depending on the song. Very cool.

    5) Remember how I ripped on the game’s main introductory cutscene? Well, when you start the drummer’s solo tour, that cutscene is hilarious. It’s still the cheesy cartoon style and gutteral noises, but it’s pretty damned funny. Thumbs up on that one.

    6) Auto-adjusting for RB drum controllers. I have a RB2 drum kit modded with the GoodWoodMods mesh heads, plus a Destroyer bass pedal. It recognized my kit and remapped everything to 4+1 configuration flawlessly. And after playing about 2/3 of the tracks, none of the charting seemed overly “weird” or unusual as a result. Big thumbs up to Neversoft for this solution.

    7) Difficulty doesn’t seem as ridiculous as GH3. Guitar Hero 3 was an overcharting nightmare, and I was silently dreading that the same treatment would be given to GH:WT. Other than appeasing the ~1% of the population qualifying as ub3r-1ee7 toy guitar freaks, it really wasn’t fun to play a lot of the GH3 songs. It would seem, however, that GH:WT has returned to sanity. The difficulty seems on par with the earlier GH games (like GH2), with plenty of tricky passages and solos, but nothing truly ridiculous. The game actually seems easier than RB2, believe it or not. Since RB is more of a party or group-oriented game, I think that’s a good thing. In fact, I really liked the difficulty balance achieved in RB1, and I believe RB2 went too far to the side of “more challenging” in response to the vocal minority of hardcore guitar gamers. These games are all about fun, and failing out — especially in a group or party setting — isn’t fun.

    That said, the timing window on GH:WT is clearly much wider than RB. I don’t really care for the extra-wide timing window, and there were quite a few times last night while playing a few harder songs on both guitar and drums that I immediately glanced over expecting to see a broken streak…but instead saw that I had somehow cheesed my way through with my 4x still intact, whereas I *know* those performances wouldn’t have passed muster in RB. So while they seem to have kept the wider timing window, they don’t seem to have the same level of ridiculous difficulty in GH3 that pretty much mandated it. But overall, the difficulty seems fine.

    8) Vocalists can activate Star Power at any time. It took me forever to figure out HOW to activate Star Power as a vocalist (you can use the green button on the controller, or supposedly just tap the mic), but it was really nice that I could do it at any time rather than being forced to wait for an activation window and yell something random…or worse (as with RB), being locked into a percussion section and being completely denied access to my Overdrive, thereby preventing me from joining my teammates for the maximum band multiplier or rescuing a failing bandmate. Rock Band needs to implement this stat. Speaking of which…

    9) More stats. More stats is good, and it’s also completely optional to view ‘em, so you can just skip them if you want. Rock Band needs this. I mean, what the f*ck, HMX…you created the optional “more stats” screen. Give it back to us, dammit.

    The Bad:
    1) The interface. “Politically Correct” assessment: It’s poorly laid out. Non-PC version: It sucks ass.
    1a) The familiar “rock meter” is back, but it’s pretty much impossible to see how each instrument is doing. FAIL.
    1b) The frets are an opaque purplish brown color, and the horizontal lines for bass pedal on drums and the open E notes on bass are…purple. They’re way too damned hard to see…or at least, they’re much harder to see than they should be. They should be a much higher contrast color. Currently they blend in with both the background and the lines marking out the measures. Very bad choice.
    1c) The frets aren’t as visually “noisy” with patterns and graphics as the older GH titles, but they’re still not clean, and it detracts. They’re also opaque, thereby completely blocking the “action” on stage. The RB frets are partially see-thru, allowing folks to see the main visuals…but even with that partial transparency the high contrast notes are much easier to pick out than in GH.
    1d) Unlike RB, the star power and current multiplier info isn’t directly below the strike line, so they can’t really be seen with peripheral vision, forcing you to look away from the fret for critical information. The side lanes of the fret do glow orange when you have a 4x multiplier going, but if you’re below that you have to glance over to the right side to see how you’re doing. The star power meter is REALLY a bitch to see in the upper left, and the multiple, small glowing bulbs approach is way too hard to gauge quickly.

    Overall, the interface makes for a LOT of broken streaks while trying to figure out how you and your bandmates are doing.

    2) Random drum fills. They pretty much suck. I can’t really quantify it more than that. I don’t know if it’s because they change the pads from the song’s regular mapping to the “default” snare/hi-hat/tom/crash sounds, or whether the fill lanes aren’t distinctive enough to stand out, or whether it’s the lack of a crash at the end, or what. But it doesn’t work. At all. I really look forward to improvising rhythms in my RB drum fills (when I have Overdrive), but for some reason, these are just weak. Lame.

    3) Vocal scoring is too hard. Okay, let me start by saying that I’m a pretty good vocalist. I’ve had some vocal training, and if I know a song pretty well, I can usually FC it on Expert in RB. I don’t point this out to brag, but to illustrate a point. Vocals is already really hard in these games. If you don’t know the song really well, you’re NOT going to do well. Any band with a singer in RB already knows that the singer pretty much has to choose the songs, cuz if they don’t know it, they will really drag the band down. As it turns out, however, the mechanism used by GH:WT to measure vocal performance is EVEN HARDER than RB.

    In RB, if you are on pitch for a percentage of the entire phrase , you get full credit for the phrase (and it gets really generous with how long you need to be on pitch with Easy and Medium). For the most part, the game only tracks phrases nailed when calculating your percentage and when scoring the vocalist. In GH:WT, however, they break each phrase into separate pitched notes. So whereas in RB, you might have 28 phrases you need to perfect, in GH:WT you could have 180 separate notes to hit within those 28 phrases. And if a phrase has a really fast set of short/tricky up and down notes before a long sustained note, in RB as long as you nail that sustained note, you can still ace the phrase. But in GH:WT, you’ll be hard pressed to get the mic to correctly capture your quick pitch changes fast enough to get credit for those short notes, which you’ll then “miss,” lowering your percentage dramatically. It’s kind of hard to describe, but let me put it this way: I’m a pretty good vocalist, and I can FC/Gold Star an easy song like “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins in RB every single time on Expert. In GH:WT, I got a 93% on Expert. More importantly, I didn’t get a single 100% on any phrase. It’s a lot HARDER.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with increased difficulty. Personally, I like the challenge and look forward to improving my technique. But, when unnamed others without vocal training tried to sing a song THEY knew really well on Medium, they got a 73%. I’ve had Rock Band parties where people who could carry a tune and who knew a song really well try to sing on Hard and Expert, and then get really upset when they failed out. So basically, GH:WT took one of the hardest parts of the band (vocals) and made it even harder. Yikes. So get used to having your GH:WT vocalists on 1 or 2 difficulty settings lower than what they’re used to in RB…or get used to them NEVER getting 96%+ on a song. This could be a problem for “all expert bands” as well as a major bummer at parties and for more casual players, especially when everyone else is on Hard/Expert and the vocalists are limping along in the red on Easy or Medium.

    4) Vocals is kinda boring. For Rock Band, Harmonix made the controversial choice to add a bunch of cowbell, tamborine, or clapping tracks in songs when the vocalist isn’t singing, even if they weren’t always present in the original song. GH:WT has chosen NOT to do that. Turns out, the percussion stuff, while slightly silly in some songs, is still a LOT more engaging than sitting there as the vocalist for loooong stretches with NOTHING to do. HMX made the right call. Some songs have long solos or stretches where the actual singer has switched to playing tricky sections of actual guitar. For the rhythm game player as the vocalist, unless you’re doing voxtar, those parts kinda suck with nothing to do.

    5) Free form sections in vocals are weird/annoying. Perhaps I’m just not used to it, but there are a lot of “Free form” sections in GH:WT vocals where the vocalist is essentially encouraged to make a lot of noise during those long stretches of doing nothing. Now, maybe improvising during long stretches will work well for some (although I’m pretty sure that Guitar Hero repeatedly warned us in the past that “free form jazz odysseys were not okay!”), but as the singer I found the free form sections frustrating, and as an instrument player I found it annoying when the vocalist was basically forced to babble atonally or just make noise to fill the free form sections. And they’re not really optional, because you get graded on them for your percentage, I believe. Looks like Neversoft stuck them in there in an attempt to compensate for the lack of percussion “busy work” described in item 4, above. But encouraging the amplified microphone holders to make random sh!t up is rarely a very good idea.

    6) The simplistic, linear career mode. Ironically for game called “World Tour,” there’s no equivalent to Rock Band’s awesome World Band Tour. I mean, the words “World” and “Tour” are in the title, but they aint in the game. No fans, no van/bus/plane challenges, no nothing. Boooo. Replay value for GH:WT is miniscule compared to RB. You basically unlock the songs in Career mode, then just stick to Quickplay forever. Yawn.

    7) The songs aren’t rated with regard to difficulty. Kind of surprising, but until you play it, you really have no idea how hard a particular song will be on a particular instrument. Granted, you can pause the song and restart on another difficulty since there’s no penalty but lost time, but it’d still be nice to know up front that “Hot for Teacher” might actually kill that novice drummer sitting in for the next song.

    8) Star Power Phrases for Vocals aren’t clear. My wife and I took turns singing dozens of songs last night, and we could never tell which phrases on vocals gave star power. It’s probably just a UI familiarity thing, and maybe the tutorial would shed some light on that…but it really should be completely obvious, and it wasn’t.

    9) Some of the songs are terrible choices. Just like there are some awesome songs on the disc, there are also a bunch of songs that I’ve either never heard of, or really made me think “wow…bad choice” after playing them. You win some, you lose some.

    10) The “Music” Creator. I put music in quotes for a reason. The “godawful noise creator” is a huge waste of time and effort. If the free tracks created by the game’s Neversoft developers are any indication, this is worse than useless. I picked a random song from the list of custom tracks crafted by the Neversoft experts, and it was so bad, I quit out of it before the song was even done. Ugh. Just say no to user-created content. It sucks.

    11) Documentation. It doesn’t exist. I know there are tutorials in the game (a lot of them, actually), but if you’re brand new, you don’t know where they are (there’s no “Training” item in the main menu like in RB). And the actual documentation is incredibly weak to the point of being useless/nonexistant. The included booklet should at least cover rudimentary things like “To download additional pay content, exit the game and use the Xbox LIVE marketplace.” Or describe the important new functionality like the open E string on bass. Or how to freakin’ activate star power on Vocals. Or start by saying “This booklet is useless. Really. So don’t waste your time looking for something useful in here…just put it down right now and refer to the training episodes within the game that are accessed from within the ‘Options’ menu.” Et cetera. Thumbs down.

    Mixed Bag:
    1) Star Power for drummers.
    1a) Drummers don’t have forced drum fills to activate Star Power like they do in RB. Instead, they need to hit the yellow and blue pads simultaneously (if using a RB drum kit like I was…I think it’s probably the yellow and orange cymbals with the GH:WT kit). On one hand, this is cool because it allows drummers to activate Star Power at any time (theoretically, anyway). It also keeps the drum track active and avoids forced drum fills if you are saving star power for some reason. On the downside, if you’re playing on Expert, there aren’t always a lot of good spots to activate Star Power. Think of any fast-tempo song with the usual long string of uninterrupted 8th note hi-hats (on yellow) with snares on red and the usual bass kicks. If there are no 8th note or quarter note rests, good luck switching over to yellow+blue and then back to the chart pattern to activate star power without breaking your streak. Essentially, without a convenient break (and there were several songs that did not have ANY intermittent 8th note or greater rests), you are forced to squeeze a yellow+blue 16th note “flam” in between your 8th note hi-hats and whatever snare/bass pattern is already under way. That’s a LOT harder than it sounds. I’m a pretty good drummer, but I broke my streak about 80% of the time because of this. Now, for some songs with occasional rests, this is a piece of cake. And for songs on Easy to Hard, it’s not very tough. But 100+ bpm songs on Expert with a continuous track? Very tricky.
    1b) If it’s just a matter of getting used to inserting 16th note double-pad hits in the middle of songs, then this might actually work out fine. It pretty much screwed me up big time for a lot of the first 60 songs, though. But maybe it’s easier with two cymbals, and maybe it just becomes routine after a while. I’d kinda like the same double-cymbal option to go into Overdrive in RB, if that’s the case. Ergo, it falls into the mixed bag category.

    2) The guitar slider. The (purple string) notes seems overly gimmicky to me, but I don’t have one of the new guitars, so maybe it’s super awesome and I’ll just never know it.

    3) Sustained notes on drums. Yup, they’re rare, but I saw ‘em. Sustained notes on the drum charts. Think about that for a sec. (I guess you just wail on that pad with a super fast roll.) Might be pretty cool, or might be really lame. Not enough info at present.

    4) New Star Power mechanism. When playing as a band, Star Power is now pooled and available to anyone as soon as 1 bulb is fully lit. So I could be earning star power left and right as I drum flawlessly, but my struggling vocalist can keep tapping into it repeatedly to prop them up. On one hand, sharing star power is an interesting concept. On the other hand, it can really screw the drummer. Remember how I mentioned how tricky it was during some songs to strike the two pads (or cymbals) as a quick 16th note insertion into the basic rhythm to trigger star power as a drummer? Well, guess what happens if your greedy guitarist uses that star power you had just earned? Yup…you get a broken streak and no star power. That blows. Also, the new mechanism apparently only burns through one “bulb” of star power per activation and then stops, which is kind of annoying. You trigger, and then a few seconds later it stops…although there could still be a ton of star power left in the meter. So you trigger again, and it quickly stops. You end up triggering over and over and over just to use up the star power you’re earning because it keeps stopping. Finally, unlike Rock Band, if *I* use star power, it apparently doesn’t help my struggling bandmates…just me. So it’s too early to tell if this new mechanism is a boon or a bane overall, so it goes into the Mixed Bag.

    Well, that’s all I can think of after playing it this weekend.

    Overall impression: 6/10
    For every cool new feature Neversoft added (open E string on bass, extended chords on guitar), they screwed something else up (terrible user interface, no tour mode). If you were looking for GH:WT to raise the bar on collaborative music games and truly challenge Rock Band, you’re out of luck. GH:WT is a “decent” game with a lot of appeal for hardcore music gamers, but it’s not really competition for Rock Band. The poor interface and overly difficult vocals prevent it from being a superior party game (after all, vocals is the most popular instrument among novices), and the simplistic career mode and lack of replay value prevent it from being a superior solo game.

    Verdict: Buy it only if you really like the songs and don’t think they’ll ever appear in Rock Band. Otherwise, it’s just a decent rental.
    Gamertag: AbrtRetryIgnore

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