Is This Tour Ready to Go Global?
June 20, 2008 – It’s not a wild assertion to say Rock Band stole a lot of Guitar Hero’s thunder. Nor is it hard to understand why the instrument bias from Guitar Hero (please, just guitar and bass) was eschewed by Rock Band in favor of a full-on instrumental assault. Sure, guitar players get noticed the most in bands, but there’s that key word – “band.” The Rock Band development team just paid better attention to their source material – the average band has drums, bass, a singer, and of course, a guitar player.
Neversoft isn’t taking all this lying down. It seems the developer is determined to not only match Rock Band feature-for-feature, but also one-up its competitor in a few key areas – the first being instruments. The most obvious addition to this iteration of Guitar Hero is the inclusion of a wired microphone and a wireless drum kit. The microphone is licensed by the peripheral company Logitech and used in a way similar to Rock Band – the singer matches the scrolling lyrics displayed on the top of the screen. While this vocal addition seems to simply be playing catch-up with Rock Band, the drums flip the tables. One key feature of the drum kit (modeled after Roland V-Drums) makes them stand out: the crash and ride cymbals are elevated from the pads. This makes them a more comfortable fit for actual drummers. Also, the pads are made of silicone and velocity sensitive, allowing them to react to how much force you use; this is denoted during gameplay by the shape of drum notes on the screen – some notes have a more raised shape, signaling the player to be more brutal with their hits.
Now, it wouldn’t be a Guitar Hero game without a new guitar, and World Tour is no exception. Older Guitar Hero guitars will still work with World Tour, but Neversoft is adding quite a few new features to entice players to shell out for the latest model. This time around, the scale of the familiar 6-string is slightly larger. Players will also notice a new black bar below the iconic, jewel-colored fret buttons. This bar is called the Touch Slide. It opens up the way you play in quite a few new ways. You can tap on slide – this allows you to tap out each individual note instead of using the strum bar; you can add sustain by pressing down on the Touch Slide for an extended period of time; and you can simulate a slide guitar by running your fingers from one end of the bar to the other. Like past games, this guitar does double duty and can serve as a bass. To make bass playing feel like a not-so-dumbed-down version of guitar playing, Neversoft has added what they term the “open strum.” Instead of open bass notes corresponding to a fret button, players strum without pushing down a fret – it simulates picking an open string on a bass.
Not forgetting its Tony Hawk days, Neversoft has amped up its customization department. The Rock Star Creator allows you to tailor everything about your rocker – from gender to height and everything in-between. Character creation functions like an art studio. For instance, not only can you pick a head shape, but you can customize the jaw line, the shape of the chin, the size of the cheekbones, and even add face paint. There’s also a sizable selection of clothes, which you can purchase with money you earn from playing gigs. The developer teased a create-your-own-graphics feature – used for making things like custom face paints and album covers – but did not go into detail about how users would utilize this feature. Personalizing touches extend beyond your own rocker. You can use the Axe Smith feature to create a custom guitar complete with a unique finish, intricate fret inlays, and your favorite set of strings (these don’t affect gameplay). Even the background of the default fret highway can be changed. These personal tweaks also extend to drums (you can change a kit’s finish, skins, and sticks) as well as microphones (if you grow tired of the default stand you can swap it out for a more stylish one).
The most distinct new feature in World Tour is its full-fledged music studio. It functions like a console version of Apple’s Garage Band; players use the New Song Wizard to create custom tracks. You can keep things simple by just selecting a tempo (measured in beats per minute), some instrument-specific pre-recorded riffs, and a few drum loops. Should you want to, you can do things like play a drum loop but kill specific parts – like omitting a cymbal crash or cutting off a snare hit. You can also raise or lower the pitch of individual notes, change your instrument tone, use guitar custom effects (thanks to a Line 6 Pod application), and use an arpeggiator to create custom rhythms. During our demonstration, a Neversoft employee created a song featuring bass, drums, and guitar, using just the new controller. The demonstrator extensively used the Touch Slide to change the sustain of notes as well as titled the guitar to change the octave on the fly – it almost looks like you can act as a D.J. while you compose a song. For those with some music theory under their belts, there’s the option to change scales and select specific chords – should layering riffs not be your thing. Voice can’t be recorded – instead you compose a keyboard melody, which can then be played by any instrument. There’s also a midi editor (called GHMix) for those who want to get professional with song creation, but we weren’t shown much of this feature.
After a song is created, you put tags on it (such as name, genre, album art, etc.) and upload it to the game’s store. Users can keep up to 100 custom songs on their console, but can only have up to five songs-at-a-time uploaded to the store. Songs are ranked at the store and sorted into categories like fast-movers and all-time hits. Neversoft didn’t outline the process in detail but said there will be a voting system that underpins the rankings (similar to star ratings on Amazon.com). Neversoft plans on having the store live from day one and said if that was not the case, it would launch “shortly after” the game’s release. Master tracks should also be available for download on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii.
Career mode is the heart of every Guitar Hero game and naturally it’s back. All the new instruments can be used for individual career modes, and you can also meet up with friends online to do a band tour. Instead of gigs taking you from one venue to another, this time around a gig may encompass anywhere from five to six songs at one particular location with a new bonus: no load screens in-between songs. Neversoft said they heard the complaints about Guitar Hero 3 (we’re looking at you, boss battles) and has added the ability to dial back the difficulty at any time. They’ve also included a beginner difficulty. This mode doesn’t require fret precision and is purely a rhythm affair – you just strum the guitar and that’s it.
As of now, confirmed artists include Linkin Park, The Eagles, and Van Halen. Specific tracks included will be “Santeria” by Sublime, “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol, and “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. For those that who were never a big fan of the covers in previous Guitar Heroes, there’s no worries this time around; the game will ship with 85 songs total and all of them will be master tracks.
Guitar Hero: World Tour is shaping up to be more than just a by-the-numbers sequel. With its new instruments and extensive set of features, it looks poised to give Rock Band a run for its money come release.