Guitar Hero 5 Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | Wii
Guitar Hero 5 box art
System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Vicarious Visions 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Activision / Red Octane 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sep. 1, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 (8 Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Rock Out with Your Mii Out!
by Jonathan Marx

Neversoft and Activision's latest entry in the Guitar Hero franchise looks to buck the slumping trend in music and rhythm gaming by giving consumers the very best it has to offer. Guitar Hero 5 coalesces years of trial and error and lessons learned into one cohesive, ultimate experience - signifying the maturation and perhaps pinnacle of the genre.

Guitar Hero 5 screenshot

Vicarious Visions and Activision's latest entry in the Guitar Hero franchise looks to buck the slumping trend in music and rhythm gaming by giving consumers the very best it has to offer. Guitar Hero 5 coalesces years of trial and error and lessons learned into one cohesive, ultimate experience - signifying the maturation and perhaps pinnacle of the genre.

Like millions of gamers out there, I've been picking up plastic instruments for years now. Honing my virtual musician skills across all platforms, multiple brands, and rising up through the difficulty levels was something of a badge of courage. Unfortunately, years of repackaged games with little more than new set lists and slightly tweaked peripherals have forced my six guitars, two drum sets, and four microphones to the back of closets, bottom of drawers, and dark parts of my basement. I rarely play any of my music games anymore. In fact, the only time I pull out all that jazz is when my noob friends and family members come over and demand a jam session. Without a doubt, music and rhythm games have lost much of their novelty for core players.

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Enter: Guitar Hero 5. Rather than appealing solely to casual gamers or to the hardest core of virtual axe slayers, the game synthesizes the best aspects of the genre into a user-friendly and seamless experience. For example, if you and your friends hate to sing and are bothered by the incessant banging of the drums, you can all play guitars. If you plan on having a party, the pick-up-and-play nature of Party Play is without equal. If you simply hunger to shred licks or blast through fills on your own, the challenging song list and perfectly mimicked note phrases will test your technical prowess more than ever before. This game really feels like the ideal amalgamation of qualities drawn from across the genre.

The most revolutionary aspect of Guitar Hero 5 has to be the Party Play feature. Imagine inviting a few friends over, effortlessly setting up lengthy playlists (before or during play - even mid-song), imbibing a few libations, and hopping on to play whenever you want without any risk of failure or waiting through load screens. The new Party Play mode allows you and your cohorts to jam however you want, whenever you want, in any difficulty setting, with any instrument combination, at the press of a button. In fact, if you never want to play, you can simply have the game spin in the background and let the tunes fuel conversation. It's the perfect party tool because it requires nothing from your guests while still adding to the ambience, just waiting for someone to hop on and jam.

Guitar Hero 5 screenshot

Furthermore, being able to play with any combination of instruments is an upgrade that is long overdue. I can't tell you how many times I've had friends bicker over the mic and guitars. Guitar Hero 5 lets you create the kind of band you want to play in. What's more, this option isn't just limited to Quickplay. This functionality is implemented across the board, from online/local co-op and competitive modes to Career and Party Play; the mix of instruments is always up to you.

This spirit and freedom of choice is found throughout Guitar Hero 5. The options menu alone is evidence of that. Truly, anything that you want tweaked can be adjusted to your liking. I especially liked the ability to mess with playback levels and import downloaded content via SD card from the Music Store. Being able to create your own rocker and even make and share your own music via an enhanced GH Studio and GHTunes is also nice.

Guitar Hero 5 screenshot

Having the import functionality is particularly significant, because the song variety in Guitar Hero 5 isn't ideal. This is perhaps my biggest gripe with the game. Sure, the game sports 85 original songs, but there aren't a whole lot of classic crowd-pleasers thrown in for old-timers. Outside of notable exceptions from Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, the music selection is geared toward modern music (Muse, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Vampire Weekend, The White Stripes, etc.). While these songs are an absolute blast to play through, they aren't so great for getting the entire party rocking. Moreover, despite all of Vicarious Vision's and Central Audio's hard work maximizing the sound quality of the game on the Wii, the hardware holds the title back - the fidelity isn't very good, after all. On the other hand, there is a lot of music for old farts to discover, and the addition of quality, master recordings of live performances (I'm thinking specifically of Rush's Spirit of the Radio) tend to smooth out the qualms a curmudgeon might have.

Screenshots / Images
Guitar Hero 5 screenshot - click to enlarge Guitar Hero 5 screenshot - click to enlarge Guitar Hero 5 screenshot - click to enlarge Guitar Hero 5 screenshot - click to enlarge

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