When it comes to Guitar Hero sequels, it's generally a case of 'evolution, not revolution'. Every entry in the series has slight improvements over its predecessor which are always enough to make it the best version yet but never enough to make the others seem out of date by comparison. Stick on the original PS2 Guitar Hero and you'll see what we mean - it's not drastically different. The key question, therefore, is simple: does Guitar Hero 5 continue this tradition? Yes, it does.
This fifth incarnation of the series (or 11th, if you want to count spin-offs) features a set list of 85 songs, performed by 83 different artists. The only artists with more than one song are Nirvana and Tom Petty (who have two each), and the selection is more varied than it has ever been before. While the main meat of the content still consists of the sort of classic and modern rock you'd associate with Guitar Hero, there are some interesting additions that freshen things up a bit. Feel Good Inc by Gorillaz, for example, is surprisingly satisfying to play, whereas Coldplay's In My Place is perfect for slowing things down a bit. Then you've got some funk in the shape of Stevie Wonder's Superstition and there's also some country courtesy of the legendary Johnny Cash.
Speaking of Cash, Guitar Hero 5 once again continues the series' tradition of having real guest musicians in the game and the Man In Black himself is one of them (and has been expertly motion-captured by a Johnny Cash impersonator, we might add). As well as Cash, there are also appearances by Matt Bellamy from Muse, Shirley Manson from Garbage, Carlos Santana and (surprisingly) Kurt Cobain. No doubt many Nirvana fans will moan about the 'outrage' of Kurt's likeness being used for commercial gain, but we think it's a great way to honour the man.
All five artists look spot on and, in a nice touch, they become unlockable and playable in any game mode from the moment you first see them in Career mode. There's no need to save up crazy amounts of in-game cash to buy them. Indeed, the whole money aspect has been pretty much dropped from the game, with the stars you earn from playing songs and completing bonus challenges determining when you unlock new outfits and the like.
These bonus challenges are different for each song, and require you to perform certain tasks to earn more stars. This could involve getting a long note streak on drums, building the star meter up to a certain level or getting a full band multiplier for as long as possible. The challenges are worth up to three stars (depending on how well you do), meaning each song is worth up to nine stars - five for the song, three for the challenge and one if you hit 100% of the notes.
This is a great way to balance things. More casual gamers can just get the bare minimum number of stars needed to unlock the next venue and continue their career, whereas experienced Guitar Hero veterans can try to get nine stars for every song.
The career mode is also much more flexible now when it comes to multiplayer options. There's no solo career and band career here, it's just a career, plain and simple. Players can then join in or leave throughout the course of the career without you having to start all over again with a new band. We also like the added ability to play as your Miis in any mode, including career, since it gives a nice splash of personality to your band.
We Could Be Heroes
Indeed, it's the multiplayer modes in general that have been most improved in Guitar Hero 5. The ability to create your own long setlist and have players just jump in and jump out whenever they feel like it, changing difficulty levels and even instruments on the fly without even having to pause the song, is a lovely new addition, as is the fact that players now aren't limited to the standard 'one guitar, one bass, one drummer, one singer' format. Want to rock out with three guitarists and a bass player? Done. How about two drummers and a guitarist? No problem. Four singers? What are you, The Beach Boys?