There’s really only one question gamers need answered about “Guitar Hero: World Tour”: Is it better than “Rock Band?” The newest installment in Activision’s pioneering music game franchise explicitly apes MTV’s competitor by adding drums and a microphone, and the only fair evaluation is to call it a draw. While “World Tour” beats “Rock Band” with an innovative music creation and sharing system and a more realistic drum kit, it lags behind in subpar animation and the racket those drums make. Sales will be solid, but by only matching its competition, the “Guitar Hero” franchise may see its dominance slip.
With “World Tour,” Activision and developer NeverSoft’s intention is clearly to stop “Rock Band” — which has won the hearts of most hardcore players but lagged far behind in sales — from gaining ground, by matching it feature-for-feature and adding a few new tricks. Gameplay wise, there’s almost no difference between the two. Players sing, strum a guitar controller or bang a drum in time with notes scrolling onscreen to a variety of popular rock songs. The only shift in the equation is “Guitar Hero’s” drum kit, which features three pads and two cymbals, compared with “Rock Band’s” four pads. Introduction of cymbals draws players even more into the music experience by adding a dash of realism and more challenge. However “Guitar Hero’s” drum kit is also louder and not as sensitive to softer taps, making drum playing an ear splitting affair that sometimes out-blasts the music.
There’s a wider variety of online options for the new “Guitar Hero,” including competitions of one-on-one, two-on-two, and four-on-four players. However, music afficionados will probably prefer the song- and artist-specific contests that “Rock Band” developer Harmonix updates daily, even if there aren’t as many ways to challenge friends on the spot.
“Guitar Hero: World Tour’s” major innovation is that it brings the rock experience into a studio. The game has a powerful and well-designed music-creation mode where players can compose their own songs by jamming or by using a software program called GHMix to alter tunes note by note. Just as in the real world, jamming is more fun, particularly with the huge variety of effects and instrument types built in. Producing anything worth sharing with the world, of course, is quite hard and GHMix, while useful, is awkward compared with computer programs like Garage Band.
Players can share their compositions with others via the GHTunes community, through which songs can be uploaded, downloaded, and rated. It’s a fantastic idea, though the popular tracks have thus far leaned more toward remixes of the “Super Mario” and “Legend of Zelda” theme songs than anything original. Truly talented composers will inevitably be spending their time with real instruments and mixing software.
Still, “World Tour” continues “Guitar Hero’s” tradition of bringing together a broad variety of top rocks songs from the ’60s through to modern day. This is no second-rate collection, with tracks like Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” among the 86 songs on disc. Players can also download new songs, though thus far “Guitar Hero” has a paltry 18 compared with “Rock Band’s” 200-plus.
“World Tour” also maintains “Guitar Hero’s” somewhat cartoony visual tradition that’s more akin to album cover designs than anything realistic. The new game adds a power character creator that, along with the expected tricks like punk haircuts and tattoos, even lets players give their avatars multi-hued skin. On specific songs, there are nicely timed animations, such as a singer doing the moonwalk during “Beat It.” But overall, “World Tour’s” character movements are stiff and don’t always match what the player does, making it a bit tougher for to feel like a rock god onstage.