Guitar Hero: World Tour Owes Me

My impressions of Rock Band Guitar Hero: World Tour are coloured by all the shit I had to go through to even get near the game.

It started with a broken BART train. This led to a cab, which I had no money to pay for. The next shit storm occurred when my flight was cancelled. And then, the later flight I got bumped to was delayed by an hour and half. Oh, but it gets better. I get to the hotel with a mere 40 minutes to go before the event starts and the room I'm given is being remodeled.

*Cue AJ's head exploding*

So, yeah. After all that, Guitar Hero: World Tour fucking owed me a good time.

And by God, I got it. I had to throw a few elbows and put up with the posturing bastards attracted by the competitive edge to Guitar Hero III, but I freaking got my good time.

Here's the thing - this game is Rock Band. No, don't give me that crap about how it's different, it's better, it's got six drumheads, so it's totally different. It is Rock Band. And who says that's a bad thing? I already knew how to play the instruments. Not well, mind you, but it's not like I needed a tutorial to find the fret buttons.

It's like having a favourite candy and then they come out with a sour version that fizzes in your mouth and has Tool songs. That's what Guitar Hero: World Tour is - the Warheads to Rock Band's Airheads.

There are some subtle differences in appearance - the in-game visuals are more lurid and less sparkly, the fonts and vocabulary are completely different, and the Tool-themed venues are just freaking awesome creepy. And the not-so-subtle differences from Rock Band aren't that jarring because this is still a Guitar Hero game, so it's perfectly natural to go through competitive modes and encounter devil-looking "bosses" as you plow through career mode.

The only major thing that sets Guitar Hero: World Tour apart is the make-your-own-music feature. On PS3/360, this is only in the Music Studio mode where you can record yourself jamming on whatever instrument (except the vocals) and edit it together to sound like a real track. This is part of Activision's strategy to reach out to the community in a way that Rock Band didn't; allowing you to record your own music and upload it to the web (where other people can download it and put it on their set lists).

The Wii has Music Studio, too, but it also has Mii Freestyle mode. And if just now, you're rolling your eyes and muttering "Wii Music, feh," I've got news for you: this mode was probably the most fun anyone had all night (next to getting sloshed and singing Michael Jackson's Beat It without shame or inhibition). Mii Freestyle is just like jamming in your friend's basement when you're young and don't know what you're doing - a carefree setup where there is no wrong and no right, with little cue cards and an optional looping drumbeat to get you going if you don't know where to start.

I tried this mode out after being savaged by my peers on the 360 version; it was the perfect salve to my wounded pride. It's not that I disgraced myself singing vocals on 360 - I may be tone deaf, but World Tour's Easy mode lets you get away with off-key murder (and on Beginner, you can just shout incoherently into the microphone). It's just that the attendees had divided into two groups without telling me - and the 360 version was for Hardcore Only. So because I didn't know the lyrics to Filter's Hey Man, Nice Shot and I wasn't alive during the 70s when Pretty Vacant came out, I wasn't "hardcore" enough to play with that crowd (even though it wasn't me that failed us out of Schism, it was the drummer).

That's my main problem with Guitar Hero: World Tour - the peer pressure from other gamers. Rock Band has its fair share of performance artist assholes that refuse to play with anyone who isn't rocking on Hard or above, but I think it was established by the consumers that Rock Band was for everybody and Guitar Hero III and beyond was for the hardcore (come on - boss battles?). Thus, I encountered way more competitive jerks in just three minutes on World Tour than I ever did playing Rock Band for an entire year. The people I was playing with on 360 wouldn't even let me try out Beginner and sneered at me when I chose Easy for vocals. Which is funny, since none of them wanted to sing at all.

After we scraped our way through Hotel California, my impressions of World Tour were all bad for a solid 10 minutes: "Fuck this game, it's just a rip-off of Rock Band - only assholes want to play Pretty Vacant. And who really cares about singing? So what if there're two extra drumheads to hit? I can just wait for Rock Band 2..." Etc.

It didn't help that there's still an emphasis on competition in World Tour. It's not as severe as in Legends of Rock where versus mode had you crippling your opponent with seemingly-random power-ups. That game was less about the music and more about the game. But it's still obvious in World Tour that you're supposed to be better than the next guy - or at least above reproach if you fail the song. Even the icons for each player's success speak to this; they're side-by-side instead of on the same line, enhancing the feeling that you've got to be better than everybody if you don't want to get made fun of.

I frown on this - and not just because I suck at guitar. Even if I could pull off the insane riffs without spraining my wrist, I would still scorn a game that takes all the fun out of pretending to be a rock star. So I salute World Tour for including Beginner mode - even if it's boring for the bassist to just press the strum button every so often and not go near the fret buttons. It's a way for a noob (or a girlfriend, or a kid) to play without forcing them to sing when they don't want to (and aren't particularly good at it anyway).

When I found my way to the Wii version, everything got better. It wasn't just the Mii Freestyle mode that changed my outlook; it was the gamers that gravitated to Nintendo's little white box. These were the guys and girls who didn't care who was playing on what mode and were patient as people combed through the song list over and over again, looking for that one song they weren't ashamed to sing (Eye of the Tiger was a big hit). And they didn't give me lip when I set vocals to Beginner so I could screw up the live version of Sweet Home Alabama (I have a Texan accent - I just can't say "Alabama" the way Lynyrd Skynyrd intended).

So maybe one stereotype is true - non-hardcore gamers prefer the Wii. But like Guitar Hero being a Rock Band clone, who says this is a bad thing? If the dev team on World Tour meant to make a game for everyone that had just as much appeal as Rock Band and maybe a little bit more (okay, kind of a lot more) content, then it looks like they've succeeded.

Or at least they got through to me. And by the end of the night, I was screeching my way through Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" (apropos, given the peer pressure I was under) with the best of them. But I swear, if you guys aren't already good at guitar, you're either going to have to play World Tour in secret until you get better, or play it on Wii.

P.S. I realise hardcore does not equate asshole. And I'm damn sure you guys are going to love this game with or without all that fancy-schmancy accessibility I was gushing over. The set list is solid, the difficultly ramps up smoothly so you don't hit any brick walls, the motion-captured celebrities look amazing, and the head-to-hea d face offs are now a fair fight of who is the better player instead of who gets the power-up first. Just try and remember this is a party game and not an opportunity to alienate all of your friends, 'kay?


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