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Guitar Hero 5
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local); 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Guitar Hero is back again, with Guitar Hero 5. The graphics are better than ever and the Character Creator seems to allow more customization than ever before. When you start tweaking things such as eyes and nose, you'll find a wide variety of adjustments that can be made. In addition to custom-created characters, the old familar characters from earlier Guitar Hero games are all here to be chosen from. Additionally, there are several unlockable characters, including Kurt Cobain and (a young version of) Johnny Cash, among others, and the likenesses of these characters are pretty well done.

All of the venues in Guitar Hero 5 are new, interactive venues, with various pyrotechnic effects occurring as you play new songs in the venue.

At the end of the day, however, the most important aspect of a music game is, of course, the music. Typically, I find that the Guitar Hero series primarily selects music that's really not my cup of tea, as I'm more of an alternative / electronic / dance / pop sort of guy who doesn't really listen to much classic rock, punk or metal. That being said, I was able to find enough songs that I did like to easily continue progressing. For that matter, I was introduced to (and like) a few songs that I wouldn't have listened to otherwise.

If you have Guitar Hero: World Tour or Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, you can enter a code and download songs from these games into Guitar Hero 5. There is still a nominal fee for downloading this content, but it's about the same cost as downloading a song or three and you get an entire game's worth of songs which have even been upgraded to support "Band Moments," a new feature in Guitar Hero 5.

Guitar Hero 5 is another full-band game, allowing four players to play guitar, bass, drums and sing together as a band and even allowing up to eight players when playing online. With the ability to import songs from World Tour and Smash Hits, the ability to purchase additinal songs (DLC) and the ability to jump straight into the gameplay with the new "Party Play" mode, Guitar Hero 5 is, arguably, the Guitar Hero game to pull out at parties. The game actually opens up directly into Party Play mode when you start it up, and begins playing randomly selected songs with accompanying visuals of a band playing the music. You can simply let the music play and you've got a virtual jukebox, of sorts, playing in the background at your party. Then, when someone gets drunk enou- um, decides they want to sing or play along, they can simply jump in and play the song, without stopping the music. If their friends like the song, they can jump in and join them, or drop out and leave at any time. This is a truly cool idea for using at a party. Unless, of course, you party with a lot of die-hard Guitar Hero players. Then, they'll want to be working their way through Career mode to unlock stuff - something you can't do in Party Play mode.

For those more serious (or when you're not having a party), there is the Career mode, which has you playing songs at a venue to earn stars, which will unlock new venues when you gain enough. The requirements are reasonable, meaning that you don't have to play all the songs at a given venue or make all possible stars on the songs that you play before you unlock the next venue. Additionally, the venues are opened based on the total number of stars achieved, so stars earned at any venue add towards the unlocking of the next venue. In other words, if you play every song on every venue, getting all eight stars, you'll be unlocking venues long before you get to them.

You may have noticed I said "eight" stars above, not five. This is due to the addition of "Bonus Challenges." Basically, each song has a certain special challenge to be attempted, either specifically for one of the instruments (bass, guitar, drums or vocal) or for the entire band. These will vary from seemingly generic challenges involving continuous note streaks, Hammer-on Pull-offs, Star Meter filling or other particular elements of playing the song to very specific challenges, such as the vocal challenge for Fame (David Bowie), where you have to nail the descending "Fame"s at the end of the song. In addition to giving you more chances to earn stars (to unlock venues) with songs you like, winning the Bonus Challenge on Diamond also unlocks new customization items.

It's worth noting that the Career mode is just that - the one and only Career mode. There's not Single Player Career and Multiplayer Career... you simply select Career and then whoever's playing plays.

There are five different difficulty levels to choose from in Guitar Hero 5: Beginner, Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert. I found that the range of difficulty was both widespread and aptly named. The Beginner is truly for beginners, while the Expert is really, really tough, indeed. To give you an idea of exactly what Beginner means, when you play vocals on Beginner, your pitch isn't scored. Since the game can't recognize what lyrics you're singing, you will get points as long as the microphone detects sound when there's a word to be sung when in this difficulty level. This reduces the challenge to pretty much zero, but it will let a young child or a drunken adult play, despite any musical skill they may not yet have developed or may have temporarily washed away.

Game Mechanics:
One added mechanic in Guitar Hero 5 is a new Band Moment feature. In this feature, certain sections of the songs feature burning notes, which result in a scoring multiplier if they are correctly played by the entire band in unison. This is similar to the Unison Bonus found in Rock Band.

Guitar Hero 5 seems to be a more forgiving iteration of the game when it comes to game mechanics. The difficulty is still challenging, if you select a challenging difficulty, but Guitar Hero 5 features a Band Revival feature that allows your bandmates to use Star Power to bring you back into the game - something that had previously been only found in Rock Band.

Also, the progression through the game seems paced well, but doesn't force you to play every song to proceed. This means that if you don't like every song in the setlist, it's not a deal-breaker. Of course, to access the last venue, you have to beat the game, so completist bastards still have something to work toward.

The GH Studio is present in Guitar Hero 5, with a visual and user interface makeover, making it prettier and easier to use. Now, instead of the studio visuals, the background is a trance-y visualizer. The controls are all based on the fret buttons, making it a more intuitive interface with which to work.

All-in-all, Guitar Hero 5 brings a lot to the table, not the least of which is refinement, born of the experience gained from the reception of the previous games in the series... a certain maturity, if you will. If you're a long-time fan of Guitar Hero or if you're just looking at jumping in, I would recommend Guitar Hero 5, and if you're looking for a Guitar Hero game for using when you have parties, Guitar Hero 5 is just the game you're looking for.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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