It was a long wait (almost a full year) for Aussies to finally get Harmonix's magnum opus, Rock Band. In fact, it was so long that America actually saw a full-blown sequel with improved instruments before the first instalment hit our shores. It was amongst this tide of discontent that Activision saw their chance to launch the good ship Guitar Hero World Tour in Australia alongsideRock Band's release As the true follow up to Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, World Tour offers a full band's worth of gameplay (including lead singer, lead guitar, bass and drummer), 86 songs drawn from official master tracks, a 'revolutionary' music creation mode and improved instruments. With online play and downloadble content to boot, is there anything stopping this megalith of musical might?
World Tour is developed by Neversoft, the guys behind all those Tony Hawk games over the years, and is their second attempt after Guitar Hero III, after Harmonix were acquired by MTV to start the Rock Band franchise. As such, it's even more impressive that they've attempted something on the scale of World Tour with comparatively less experience. One look at the track list will tell you that it has some serious muscle, with Jimi Hendrix, Metallica and even Tool. There's also some popular favourites such as Michael Jackson and Coldplay rounding out the list, making for a game that's likely to have something for everyone.
As with all Guitar Hero games, the main draw of the title is the Career mode, which can be played either by yourself or co-operatively with others as a band. It plays slightly differently to previous entries in the series, as instead of playing one song at a time, unlocking new venues as you go, you're presented with a billboard which gradually fills up with setlists, which contain several songs. Upon choosing a setlist, you'll be required to play all of the songs on that list in order, without a break (excluding of course the surprisingly helpful pause function, which actually counts you down back into the song once you resume). You'll often unlock more than one setlist, so you're given some freedom in which songs you tackle first, but it's not exactly the most non-linear game ever made. It's a far cry from the ironically titled 'World Tour' mode in Rock Band, which is far more complicated and even has some RPG elements (such as gaining fans and stars). Career mode is perfectly adequate for parties and short performances, but offers little meat for gamers looking for a serious challenge.
Career mode is also spiced up a little with celebrity appearances from rock legends such as Ozzy Osbourne, Sting and a freshly re-arisen Jimi Hendrix. You'll sometimes be required to go head-to-head with these gods of rock, and if you succeed they just might join your performance for some real hardcore rockin'. However, if you're more interested in creating your own star, then you'll find ample room to experiment in the character editor. There's a vast array of customization options for your rocker, from body shape to clothes, tattoos and the component parts of the instruments you play. You can even choose opening and victory animations for your character, in a feature that seems to take notes from the extensive animation options in the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw series. Besides career mode, Guitar Hero World Tour also offers an easy to use Quick Play mode, as well as several head-to-head competitive modes.
Of course, the main addition to the Guitar Hero franchise is the ability to sing with a compatible microphone or smash out a rythmn with a compatible drum kit. The official drums are a sight to behold, offering a snare, two toms and two cymbals, as well as a kickpedal and a very cool design. Due to their velocity sensing feature, the drums can detect how hard you hit them, and some notes in-game actually require you to hit harder to score points. Unfortunately, there are some sensitivity issues with this kit, although Activision have responded by releasing a downloadable tuning kit utility to manually set these levels. The official guitar now has a touch-sensative panel, which is used both for 'tap strumming' regular notes and for touch-sliding along particular sections of a song, where the appropriate notes are connected by a blue line. It's a nice addition, although it can take a while to get used to. It should also be noted that the note-detection in World Tour feels a little more lax when compared to Rock Band, which may be good or bad depending on your viewpoint, but definitely makes for a different feeling game. Finally, the microphone works much as you'd expect it to, with no noticeable issues to speak of.
The last major feature of Guitar Hero World Tour is its music creation mode, which allows players to create their own music featuring lead guitar, bass and drums. Don't expect too much though, as the songs resemble MIDI tunes more than they resemble actual pieces of rock music. Using the Recording Studio, several people at a time can contribute notes on their respective instruments, which seems simple, but can be hard to get the timing completely right. For more precise control over your creation, you can head over to the GHMix mode, which is on the opposite end of the scale in terms of ease-of-use. It's hideously complicated, and will probably scare off anyone but the most determined would-be rock artists. That's not to say you can't get the hang of it eventually, it just takes a while to know your way around the interface without constantly having to refer to the help guide. On the other hand, it's quite easy to find other people's created content using the GHTunes option in the menu, as you can browse the most popular songs or just search for something in particular. Although, to be honest, most of the entries on there currently consist of Nintendo themes and Final Fantasy battle remixes.
The presentation of the game is a little hit and miss. While the scope of the game is epic, with impossibly huge stages and props which would never pass safety regulations, sometimes the graphics just don't seem to match up to the vision, with some blurry textures and some glitching that we encountered throughout later levels. However, the game does hold up at a very fluid frame-rate, and there are some nice touches throughout like the Gorilliaz-style animated sequences which bookend the Career modes. It also goes without saying that the sound quality is excellent for all of the included tracks.
Guitar Hero World Tour is an ambitious step from Neversoft as they try to keep up with Harmonix's Rock Band franchise. While Aussies still have to wait to see what Harmonix's sequel will bring, World Tour offers an unbelievable soundtrack in the meantime. Even if the more hardcore Dream Theater or Tool aren't your thing, there's still plenty to do in the game's several modes. It's a shame that the Music Creation mode is just too convoluted and produces subpar-sounding music, because otherwise it could have been a revolutionary feature. Little niggling issues throughout the game also drag it down, but when the game works, it works extremely well. There's still nothing that can beat you and three mates hitting star power just at the right moment to collect an insane amount of points, and if you're willing to risk some technical issues with its instruments, Guitar Hero World Tour offers a lot of rock and roll for your buck.