Guitar Hero 5 Review: Do The Evolution

Activision returns to a simple numbering scheme for the Guitar Hero series with the fifth entry in the core-focused, band non-specific entry, Guitar Hero 5. That's reflective of its largely gimmick-free gameplay as well as the series' evolution.

Guitar Hero 5 doesn't offer as much in the way of new, innovative features as, say, Guitar Hero World Tour, which introduced drums and vocals to the franchise. Instead, it offers smart refinement to its ease of use, its multiplayer capabilities and the music creator known as GH Tunes. It also offers a hefty soundtrack, with more than 85 songs available right from the get-go.

With a flood of music games hitting this fall, is Guitar Hero 5's largely iterative effort worth grabbing?

Loved
Easy In, Easy Out: Guitar Hero 5 puts smart emphasis on making it simpler than ever to jump into, then do whatever one might want in a multiplayer music game, all without having to wade through a sea of menus. The switching of instruments and difficulties on-the-fly is a welcome addition, all easily navigable even with a guitar controller. Drop-in, drop-out Party Play mode should be standard in all multiplayer music games from now on.

Do Whatcha Like: Hey, everyone want to play the guitar part? Cool, go for it—no need to slum it on bass. For some insane reason, would everyone want to drum at the same time? Go nuts. The four-player options are minor stuff, targeted at an increasingly focused subset of the audience, but good for a vocally shy party crowd or perfect for when one doesn't feel like dragging out the drum set.

Quickplay Is Quick: Guitar Hero 5 lets you hop into a song straight from the main menu and, even better, gives the player access to every song from the beginning in Quick Play. No need to slog through Career mode or input cheat codes just to play some blistering Iron Maiden jam.

I Make Gold Records: The addition of song-specific challenges—in addition to PlayStation Trophies and Xbox Live Achievements—may seem like overkill, but they're just as strangely alluring of a pursuit. They'll also make you more likely to pick up a microphone or drumsticks should you be a Score Hero forum dwelling completionist, but may annoy you if you're armed with nothing but guitars and feel excluded. A guitar specific challenge for each song in a future sequel wouldn't be unwelcome.

It's Guitar Hero, Again: Guitar Hero, as a formula, is fun. This is Guitar Hero, with a five at the end of the title. Therefore, it is fun... if you still like music games.

Hated
The Soundtrack: The list is long and varied, but the list of songs I found myself actually wanting to play (and play again) was a very short list, partly because of the attempts at ever broader appeal—and in part due to personal preference. Fans of Children of Bodom may have little interest in playing the songs of Peter Frampton and vice versa. But more important, while I personally enjoy selections like the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", it's not particularly enjoyable to play, possibly because it's not a guitar driven song. Actually, the inclusion of some songs in a Guitar Hero game, in which you play electric piano, organ or the horn section on a guitar controller, are highly suspect.

Character Editor: Again, this is personal preference, but the Guitar Hero 5 avatars one can customize I find range from unattractive to ghastly. While the digital rockers tend to lean closer to caricature, they veer far enough toward photorealistic to manage to be disturbing. Guitar Hero 5's rocker creator often gives the player too much rope to hang themselves with from a customization standpoint, but offers too little in other areas, missing key options that fall between bland and outrageously over-the-top. At least some of the real-world characters, like Shirley Manson and Carlos Santana look good.

The Creepy Touch: If seeing Johnny Cash or Kurt Cobain prance about while singing the songs of other artists doesn't bother you, carry on. But if you find the virtual corpses of Cobain or Cash reanimated as marionettes performing, say, Rammstein or John Cougar Mellencamp on the tackier side—as I do—then you might object to how these artists can be used in the game. Of course, how they're used is totally up to the player. But I found the implementation crude and a mark against the game.

Guitar Hero 5 is a solid enough entry to recommend to the Guitar Hero fan wanting a level of feature refinement or anyone who finds themselves regularly playing with a group of friends. From a soundtrack perspective, I'd have a hard time praising it, largely for a lack of welcome hits and too much in the way of filler. There's also little in the way of new discoveries, curated classics or tunes that surprised me with their level of enjoyment to play.

Despite my personal preference for the musical offerings on hand, Guitar Hero 5 is a solid foundation upon which to continue to build the series. I personally have little interest in digging any further into the GH Tunes music creator, instead hoping that Activision offers better downloadable content selections in the future. Because the tools with which to play those songs are stronger than ever before.

Guitar Hero 5 was developed by Neversoft and published by Activision for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation and Wii on September 1. Retails for $59.99 USD ($39.99 USD on PS2). Played all soundtrack selections, tested all modes online and offline with a maximum of three guitars, one drum kit, one vocalist each with the PlayStation 3 version.

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