In 2005, Harmonix Music Systems partnered with video game publisher RedOctane to create a fresh, plastic guitar-wielding, colored button-bashing, rhythm/music game called Guitar Hero. But that is oh-so-old news by now. To date, 23 million copies of games in that world-sweeping franchise have been snatched off store shelves and are currently playing at all hours of the night on an Xbox, PlayStation or Wii console near you.
Not that the story ends there. In 2007, Harmonix—having parted ways with RedOctane—created and launched a competing product called Rock Band. It was met with thunderous applause and made the genre a whole lot more interesting. The new kid on the block was the same kind of game, complete with customizable onscreen alter egos and lengthy playlists. But Rock Band raised the fantasy guitar-whaling bar by giving gamers the chance to also play drums and sing vocals—all wrapped up and sold in a neat (and pricey) instrumental box set. That salvo, shot across the mother ship’s bow, was heard round the world.
And speaking of the great big world, Guitar Hero: World Tour becomes the answering blast.
If all you’ve every played up till now is Guitar Hero, you’re going to need to stock up on instrumentation to catch up with the craze. The big-box version of World Tour sports wireless drums, guitar and wired mic. But Rock Band fans are in for an unexpected treat: You can actually buy the game disk for this newest rock ‘n’ roll fantasy separately and plug in with Rock Band instruments that may already be cluttering your family room. (Or the garage sale down the street.) To review the game, that’s the path I took, and everything worked glitch-free.
Singing a Different Tune
Other than the new instruments there are only a few minor changes, compared to early Guitar Hero games. Instead of unlocking new songs by mastering them a handful at a time, for instance, the game lets you pick from a list of gigs that each offer up a different set of songs. That way, you have more control over which songs you’ll be hearing and playing. This new approach also helps support the feeling of being a band on the road that’s expanding its repertoire as it books new events.
World Tour‘s music studio section lets you and your bandmates record (and share online) your own original song creations. No lyrics make the lead sheet and it’s a somewhat complicated process, but gamers can lay down all the color-coded note blips, drum-thumping beat patterns and even an optional piano accompaniment to immortalize their music-writing prowess. Well … to be honest, songs usually end up sounding a little clunky and more like a ringtone than a classic, but the studio and mixer sections are still creative additions.
The Same Old Song
What’s not so creative are encore performances from all the same annoying little content issues that we’ve raised an eyebrow over on past rock-sim games. Like other Guitar Hero games, World Tour is rated T for its lyrics and mildly suggestive themes—which include that whole rebellious, self-destructive, guitar-smashing rock star thing. Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne put in appearances. As do some sexualized female avatars. Visuals run the gamut from heavy partying clubs to devil-horned backdrops to the dark art of a rock act Tool.
Eighty-six songs range from Survivor’s reasonably respectable Eye of the Tiger to Van Halen’s drooling Hot for Teacher, Jimi Hendrix’ drug-blurred Purple Haze and the amputation-minded weirdness of At the Drive In’s One Armed Scissor.
So the band now taking the stage looks a bit like this: On lead guitar, toe-tapping group fun. On drums, some rotten lyrics and sleazy images. And on vocals, a pricey new toy backed up by a bit of good musical inspiration and instruction.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.