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Games review: Guitar Hero 5

Tina Turner may have famously sung that ‘We don’t need another hero’ but Activision seem to disagree as they unleash a fifth generation of their guitar simulation series upon us.

Format: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii

Publisher: Activision

Price: £39.99-£69.99

Release: Out now

For the uninitiated Guitar Hero is essentially a disc full of songs of which you play along with using the guitar accessory that comes with the game. Fret boards and strings are replaced by five coloured buttons that are held down as the game demands, while more complicated guitar methods – hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides – are replicated by clever use of a combination of button presses. The hijinks don’t end there though as not only guitars are replicated these days, if you’re willing to pay the money for the extras then drums, bass guitars and microphones can also be hooked up to your console and used either by their self or all together.

The songs included can be perhaps most accurately described as a mixture of A-sides and B-sides – something to cater to everybody’s taste though perhaps not the mixture of ‘triple A’ titles you might personally desire. Of course with musical taste being such a personal preference, developer Neversoft would never be able to fill the disc to the specification of your favourite mix-tape. Additional songs from many more artists are however released on to the various console’s online stores to be downloaded at you whim. To name but some of the great songs available you will be able to pick from the recent: Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk and Wolfmother’s Back Round; rock classics: T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy and Sultans of Swing by Dire Straights and the sheer cool: Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil. Each song can be set to a variety of difficulty settings which effect the number of buttons you will utilise and the complexity of the ‘chords’ you will be expected to play during the song. Only on harder difficulty modes can the real high scores be reached though some of the songs are so complex and demanding at their highest difficulties that you could almost learn to play the song on a real guitar with equivalent effort.

Much has recently been uttered in the press about the presence of digital incarnations of a number of stars in the game, and most controversially the late Kurt Cobain. In purely gaming terms – to spare you the ethical debate of including stars who in life would no doubt have baulked at the prospect of their image being used for a corporation’s gain – their inclusion does enhance the action to great effect. Stars on show include Shirley Manson, who was in fine form during motion capture (see video below), as well as Muse’s Matthew Bellamy, Carlos Santana and even Johnny Cash. Care has been lavished on to their avatars making them surprisingly lifelike, costumes from the artist’s pivotal gigs being included for example. While the avatars look the part, how they sound is largely down to you and your skill at the game. Hit a wrong note and the song will miss a beat, miss several notes and the crowd start to boo, until eventually your band will be removed from the stage. In order to raise your score and save yourself from the embarrassment of the song ending prematurely ‘star power’ can be generated by hitting certain note sequences and utilised for bonus points. Player’s using ‘star power’ are indicated by a rather cool explosion of lightning erupting along the player’s fret board as the crowd goes wild.

In a world where karaoke bars are increasingly becoming the preferred nightspot for many, there can be little surprise at the series’ popularity. Like karaoke, Guitar Hero has always been at its best when played in a party environment with friends and Guitar Hero 5 is no different. Whether passing around the single guitar or combining guitar play with a microphone or drum kit there has seldom been a game better designed to please everybody in a room. If, on the other hand, you are having a quiet night in but fancy something different than simply playing solo you can also connect to the net and jump into the band of a like-minded player. This helps keep the game fresh and the new ‘Party Play Mode’ allows you to still pick the guitar even if other players in the online session are thrashing away on the same instrument. Before venturing online you might want to perfect your technique first on the solo-player game. Neversoft have created a host of venues where you can take you band to wow the fans, by successfully finishing songs at said venue you can earn stars; collect enough stars and the next venue is unlocked bringing new songs with it. A quick mention also has to go to the newly created menu system which serves to greatly cut the number of button presses necessary to get into the action making the whole process as painless as possible.

All-in-all then Guitar Hero 5 is a great buy for anyone new to the series and will provide a decent infusion of new songs to veterans. Credit must go out to the development team for taking the decision to allow guitars from Guitar Hero: World Tour and other games to be compatible with this latest release. The online options and number of unlockable extras on offer will also keep players coming back for more and then there’s the plethora of additional songs available to download; it would seem we do need another (guitar) hero after all.