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Video Game of the Week – Guitar Hero 5

The already-popular Guitar Hero franchise took a big leap forward last year with World Tour, incorporating vocals and drums and taking on MTV’s Rock Band in the multiplayer, multi-instrument field. Ever since then, fans of the competing titles have been eagerly awaiting this year’s updates to see what new twists are in store.

While MTV and Harmonix may have won the summer PR battle, building great anticipation for this week’s release of The Beatles: Rock Band (to be reviewed next week), Activision has more quietly introduced its latest iteration, Guitar Hero 5. However, fans of GH needn’t worry: Guitar Hero 5 is a gem of a game, retaining all the strengths of earlier versions while offering a whole lot more.  

Basic gameplay in Guitar Hero 5 is the same as before. Players attempt to match scrolling notes as they appear on the screen. Hitting the correct notes in time to the music increases the player’s score and builds their performance meter, while missing notes will cause the meter to drop. Players have a choice of lead or bass guitar, vocals using a microphone, or drums.  

A number of enhancements make the game more enjoyable and adaptable, particularly for first-timers. From the moment you put the disc in your system, you can access every song in Quickplay, which means no fiddling around with codes or set-up. Beginners can also be encouraged to hang in there while learning the game by eliminating those discouraging fail-out moments when you get booed off the stage!

However, the most significant new feature is Party Play mode. In Party Play, up to four players can join in at the same time, choosing whatever combination of instruments they want.  A guitar player, a drummer and two vocalists? No problem. Four guitarists? Absolutely! Each player has control of his or her own environment and can change the difficulty level, skip a song, or take a break, allowing a friend to take their place.

The result is a casual play setting that is relaxed and welcoming. It’s a great way to have friends join the fun without feeling any pressure and without stopping and restarting the action.
Expert GH players shouldn’t worry about the game getting too easy. There is still Career mode, which once again challenges you to rock your way through different songs and venues, earning stars and unlocking new outfits, playable characters, and even more venues. When you unlock new characters, they can join you onstage, setting up the possibility of unlikely but entertaining band combinations.

Guitar Hero 5 contains a highly diverse track list of 85 songs from 83 separate artists, guaranteeing that nearly everyone will find titles that they both love and loath. Featured avatars include Axel Steel, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana and, surprisingly, the deceased Kurt Cobain.

Activision and Red Octane are to be congratulated on retaining the spirit and challenge of a well-loved game, while making it even more accessible and enjoyable for another wave of newcomers.

Guitar Hero 5 is rated Teen, for rock and roll lyrics and some mildly suggestive stage behavior.

Publishers: Activision, Red Octane
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 3, Wii
RRP: $39.99 (PS2); $59.99 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for age 13 and older

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