Another year, another Guitar Hero and while Harmonix look to tread new ground with Rock Band, piloting the genre in interesting and innovative new directions (keyboard anyone?), Guitar Hero is happy to sit back and stagnate.
Nevertheless Neversoft would have you believe you should be excited about its new “Quest” mode. So should you be?
The Quest in focus harks back to the glory days of Guitar Hero 1, 2 and 3. You play through a series of predetermined chapters (aka setlists), the hook being the inclusion of a story (a bit like Brutal Legend, incidentally). And by story I mean cliché-ridden account of RAWKING OUT narrated by Gene Simmons.
There’s no character creation tool, which robs the game of the only shred of personality it ever had. Instead, the usual patrons of the Guitar Hero universe turn up and you take it in turns to play through their unique setlists. Johnny Napalm, with his Mohawk, obviously has the lion’s share of punk songs from the likes of Bad Brains, The Offspring and The Ramones. Lars Umlaut, ever the heavy metal enthusiast, shreds anthems from Slipknot and Atreyu (among others). The application of this genre-segregation isn’t particularly effective, it means the songs you don’t like are likely to show up all at once. You’re free to play songs in any order but you only unlock new chapters after you’ve earned the required amount of stars by playing earlier character’s sets.
On the plus side you’re never forced to play the same song more than once, an issue prevalent during the World Tour mode of Rock Band 2.
As you earn more stars the characters evolve like a Pokemon into their “All Powerful” state. Lars, for example, mutates into a pig. I’m not sure why but it’s tied to a story that throws cut scenes and cheesy narration in the way of what should be unadorned simple fun.
Also getting in the way, and inadvertently empowering the superior QuickPlay+ mode, is the character powers. Each of the eight characters has their own unique trait, powers like 6x multiplier or star power generator, which make some of the chapters incredibly easy, while others quite tough. Once you’ve seen the quest through you have the option of replaying in your “All Powerful” state in which you harness the powers of all 8 characters at once. Each song has a limit of 40 stars so as long you remember to breath and flap your hands at least twice during the duration of the song you’re probably going to nail it.
It’s a gaudy feature that adds little to a formula that worked perfectly four years ago without super-turbo-star power and works no better for it now.
Luckily the Quickplay+ mode is there to pick up some of the pieces and provides the more traditional experience. Scores return and each song has a series of challenges to beat. Better than that though is the inclusion of a Trials HD-esque style leaderboard where the screen is adjourned with the score of either your friends or those higher than you on the global leaderboards and, if you’re skilled enough to beat the first score, another pops up automatically. While that might seem like a consolation in the wake of Rock Band 3’s mammoth offering, it’s still a slick inclusion that will appeal to the same people that played Through The Fire and Flames until they were so good they gave themselves a permanent erection.
GHtracks returns, and if you have the patience to sift the few quality interpretations from the endless quantum of chaff then there are a few gems to be found, although the lack of vocals is still disconcerting. An improved search function aids the sifting: a “showcase” handpicked by Neversoft and various popularity filters. It’s all redundant though; the Zelda theme, I Believe in a Thing Called Love and the Titanic theme tune have all been created so the quality bar has been reached, shut it down.
Guitar Hero is still Nuts to Rock Band’s Playboy, but this is a marked improvement over the fifth installment. A slick QuickPlay+ mode and an improved soundtrack go some way in lifting Guitar Hero out of the pits of insignificance; even if either of Rock Band 3 or the economic slump will more than likely force it back down.