Hmm, I really haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately, I seem to be playing catch-up with something or other whenever I’m at the keyboard (due in part, of course, to the fact that I’m at the keyboard less than I used to be).
However, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my opinion of Guitar Hero : World Tour now I’ve had a chance to play it 4-player at a friend’s place. The simple way to sum this up would be to say that what you’ve heard in most of the reviews seems accurate – that GH:WT is a solid music game, certainly an improvement on GH3, but which is lacking somewhat in places compared to Rock Band, particularly in multiplayer. The full story follows…
One way it improves on GH3 is that the tracks are no longer so obviously overcharted. They are still overcharted, in that you’ll occasionally be asked to play a chord when in fact it’s clear that it’s just a single note that’s being played in the track, and they choose to ‘fill in’ some sections with tracks from other instruments – like playing the synth part on guitar in Livin’ on a Prayer. Whether you like this or not is personal taste, it makes the tracks more ‘interesting’ at the expense of authenticity – I found in GH3 that it broke the immersion somewhat but the situation is not so extreme in GH:WT so while I noticed, and objected in principle, in practice I don’t think it would be a big deal (although I only played up to Hard in this case).
Another way is that you can now quickplay at any difficulty level without having beaten the career mode in multiplayer at that difficulty. I shouldn’t even need to list that as a feature improvement, but GH3 was supremely dumb in its co-op structuring, so it’s a plus that they realised that and changed it.
The track list is also good; on an entirely subjective level I’d say it’s on par with RB1/2 and the previous Guitar Heros, in terms of the proportion of songs I like. I particularly like the inclusion of 4 REM songs (1 in the set list, 3 as DLC which hasn’t appeared for Rock Band yet).
The Not So Good
The user interface in 4-player is frankly a bit of a disaster. They’ve chosen to stay with the ‘Rock Meter’ to represent your progress, which works fine in single player and probably even 2-player co-op (since it worked ok in Guitar Hero 2 & 3), but with 4 players it just doesn’t work. It’s tucked up in the top-left corner, which is really hard to look at quickly when you’re playing. If the choice of position wasn’t bad enough, it’s also really hard to decipher quickly – the status of each player is represented with a miniscule bar and a tiny icon which you have to squint to figure out which one you are. Star power is shared, and the ‘lights’ mechanism is similarly much harder to judge at a quick glance, so most of the time you’re just using it blind. The currently multiplier for the entire band is stuffed in there too, along with the score, and the result is a cramped and pretty unusable interface in practice. It also took me a while to figure out where the individual player multiplier was – it’s actually squeezed up the side of the fretboard , again tiny and very difficult to see easily. In practice then, when playing in a full band you pretty much feel starved of any information about how you and your band are doing, how much star power you have, etc, because looking for it is too difficult mid-song.
The visuals also feel a bit amateurish. I’m not talking about the characters & sets – whether you like the comic-book look is personal preference (I’m not that keen, personally), and in practice you don’t really see that when playing anyway. I mean the ‘play area’, the fretboards, the vocals section etc. When crammed into a 4-player set up the round ‘blobs’ feel less precise than the rectangular ‘gems’ than Rock Band switched to, and the visual feedback when you hit or miss the notes seems less obvious. The transition to/from star power and the feedback when completing star notes also feels a bit ‘weedy’ on a purely superficial level.
I actually didn’t mind the vocal ‘track’ interface – I know some people don’t like it compared to the Rock Band one, but to me it seemed to do the job ok, but it does seem excessively sensitive to small fluctuations. When you pronounce certain words for example, the act of making an ‘F’ or ‘S’ sound seems to throw the pitch measurement off into a crazy ‘wiggle’ which is a little distracting.
The Little Things
Maybe I’m just a sucker for the rock fantasy, but I love how in Rock Band the crowd starts singing along at signature parts of the song if you’re doing well. It’s a nice, totally thematically seamless way of giving you a pat on the back and just feels great. There’s nothing like that in GH:WT as far as I can tell.
The track selection screen is pretty basic, it’s the same approximate structure as Rock Band 1′s (Rock Band 2 improves vastly on it with album art, quick section jumping and per-instrument difficulty reports) but somehow manages to look a little more cluttered. Not a big deal, but lacks polish.
The lack of a tour mode or the album/artist/battle of the band challenges that Rock Band 2 has makes me think that the career mode in GH:WT would be a little less interesting to play too – although I didn’t actually play it, it sounds very much like the old Guitar Heros, which Rock Band has improved on twice already, so I’m not really sure why they didn’t try a little harder here.
Sharing star power is odd. In some ways it’s a good idea, because it means anyone can save themself using someone else’s cumulative star power. However, it also means that you’re a bit more hesitant to use it, because it’s not ‘yours’. Also to avoid people sapping all the star power, it only appears to use a portion of the star power when you activate it, so I found maximising the use of the star power was difficult because you couldn’t just activate it & forget, you kept having to check back to see if it was worth using it again afterwards. Also, since you can only save yourself and no-one else, the failing person has to use it themselves, and since the interface makes it hard to know when you are failing (and there’s no post-fail saving allowed), I could envisage some unnecessary failing of the entire band happening because of this. On balance, the Rock Band way of individual star power and being able to help (and save) others with it is less problematic, although when we were playing all 4 players picked suitable enough difficulty levels that it wasn’t a problem. I could see if we ‘pushed it’ like we do in Rock Band it might be an issue though.
Activating star power manually with the drums was plain weird. Because you have to activate it by hitting 2 pads of your own volition outside the scripted track, rather than with a cymbal crash at the end of a fill like in Rock Band, it’s easy to have your rhythm interrupted or for it to feel out of place. I found I could still do it without dropping a note by concentrating, but it didn’t feel quite as satisfying as an improv fill plus crash cymbal. There are pros and cons – I’ve been frustrated in Rock Band before that I wanted to save someone but a scripted fill section didn’t come along in time, but when it does it feels better than the ad-hoc GH:WT version. A wash maybe.
GH:WT’s difficulty has clearly had plenty of work done on it and it seems much better than GH3. However, it’s been reported before that GH:WT, like its predecessor, errs on the side of making the charting a little more complex, but increasing the ‘hitbox’ (the timing window in which it will accept that you did the right thing), and allowing you to use hammer-ons and pull-offs absolutely anywhere. In contrast, Rock Band’s charting is slightly less complex, but the hitbox is smaller so you have to be a little more accurate, and hammer-ons and pull-offs are only allowed where the song actually performs them. If you play guitar you’ll have seem that tabs typically identify strums and hammer-ons separately, and Rock Band does the same – if you try to hammer-on when the song required a strum, it’s a missed note.
Neither of these is better or worse, it’s just different. I quite like having to be more accurate, I think it means they can raise the difficulty based on having to accurately replicate the song rather than just adding more buttons, but other people like the less strict timing and more complex charts because it gives the impression of guitar hero-hood in a more forgiving way. YMMV.
Based on my experience I would say that for a single player, GH:WT is pretty close to Rock Band 1, since you couldn’t play tour mode in Rock Band 1 alone (so that advantage doesn’t count), and GHWT’s UI problems won’t be so much of an issue in single player – it’s really mostly the little things that I’d miss like crowd participation and the cleaner interface. So probably in single player vs RB1 it would come down to how much you like the track list. In party mode though, it falls behind even Rock Band 1, because the UI really starts to fall apart at scale and there’s no tour mode, just a ladder-based career. Rock Band 2′s challenge modes, very slick track selection view, single-player tour, drum trainer and even more polished UI means it leaves GH:WT a ways behind in all modes. And of course, the 500+ song choice is a definite advantage for the enthusiast.
But, GH:WT is certainly a pretty solid music game and a definite improvement on GH3. I personally wouldn’t buy it, because I play mostly co-op and I think Rock Band does the same game better – I’d prefer to buy more content for that instead. But, taken in isolation rather than compared to Rock Band and particularly in single player mode, it’s an improvement for the series and certainly quite playable, even if it is still a little rough around the edges.