Guitar Hero 5

Five Alive

Guitar Hero 5 proves there's still a little juice left in the old formula, but it's just about tapped out.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 11, 2009
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I'm trying very, very hard not to turn this review into a tirade about how Activision is systematically, blindly running the Guitar Hero franchise into the ground. By year's end, there will have been seven games in the Hero line released in one year across all the major consoles and handhelds. One shouldn't need to tell the biggest publisher in the world what's wrong with that kind of rote market saturation, but apparently nobody high-up had the balls to do it.


The worst part about having to review a new one of these games every other month is that I can see improvement. Guitar Hero: Metallica introduced double bass and forever changed the way I play drums in these games, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits stoked the fires by adding more double-bass songs to some classic stuff I hadn't played since the original two games were released and now, finally, Guitar Hero 5 sort of brings it all together with a huge number of songs, the ability to play online with multiple players on the same instrument and an engine that's been refined enough that I honestly don't have any complaints.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. I found myself sucked into the series all over again -- a mysterious condition I hadn't really encountered since the days when Harmonix was still crafting their baby. Sure, Metallica was what drew me back from the brink, but Guitar Hero 5 has such an impressive list of songs (85 of 'em from 83 different artists if you're looking for the official line) that are consistently fun to play that I'm willing to call this the definitive version of the series, though bear in mind I made the transition from fake clicky plastic guitarist to loud rubber pad slamming drummer long ago and haven't really looked back.

Despite the ridiculous pace of development, it's clear that Neversoft took criticisms to heart; the interface is cleaner, the menus are infinitely less clunky, you can play every friggin' song right from the start if you're just looking to play with friends and the game runs at the smoothest clip with the most detail of any of the PS3 releases. Party Play Mode makes setting up a game in social gatherings a matter of hitting one button and drop-in/drop-out lets people come and go as they please. It's frankly rather stunning seeing how far the series has come since Neversoft took over, and I have to give them serious props for continuing to go back to the drawing board and listening to the fan base.

Sure, it took 'em five games to get here, but Guitar Hero 5 is such a rock-solid package that I can't help but whole-heartedly recommend it. It may well be the last of the Guitar Hero games that I can claim to back so easily given the shameless milking of the series, but Neversoft pulled off one hell of a personal curtain call, and I'm at least willing to give their next effort a shot before giving up on the whole plastic instrument genre for good.

For the most part, things are just refined and honed to the point of being exactly what you want; play with up to eight friends online in any combination of vocals, drums, and guitars or mix it up offline in the same freeform way. As you plow through the Career Mode, individual instrument and full band challenges have been added to songs -- everything from hitting a particular pad a certain number of times in a song to maintaining a streak to matching the proper pitch of a second while on vocals -- all of which can, in turn, earn you up to three extra stars (one for the Gold objective, two for Platinum, three for Diamond) on top of the five potential ones normally held in each song. More stars means more venues and songs, which means more variety.

Yes, it's the same system that's been in place for a while now, and the emphasis is definitely on allowing content to unlock as quickly as possible (those that choose to 5 star everything early on, for instance, will find themselves inundated with new venues and songs rather quickly).

In a nice little update to the classic forumula, you're no longer locked into a specific difficulty during your career; hit one of the inevitable brick walls for your instrument (especially when playing solo) and you can simply back down the difficulty ladder until you can pass the song, then jump back up. Likewise, if you see a song that looks like it would be cake for your instrument, you can jump up to the higher levels to give yourself a challenge.

It sounds like a small change, but it's incredibly important to keeping up the flow of progression, and at least for me, "I won't let this game beat me" mode kicked in and I'd often just retry things ten times until I could pass the songs anyway. Still, knowing there's an option or that anyone can help contribute to your career by jumping in and playing where they feel comfortable is great.
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