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Guitar Hero 5 - Game Review

Perhaps This Should Be Named Calibration Hero?

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Guitar Hero 5

Guitar Hero 5

Activision

Pros: The bass arrangements are terrific, band games are always fun
Cons: Serious lag issues, isn't Beatles Rock Band.

I received Guitar Hero 5 the same day I received The Beatles: Rock Band, so I called up my friends and asked if they would like to come over and try out a little of both games. The first group of friends refused to play anything except the Beatles game, so I set up a second play date with the express understanding that we would give Guitar Hero 5 a chance.

The Problem: Lag

GH5 is a typical band game in which players with guitar and drum peripherals and a microphone play and sing along with a well-known song, pressing buttons, hitting color-coded drum pads or singing notes when the game tells them to.

My friends, Erica, Dave, Matt, Jeff and Mimi, did their best with GH5, but the game had the same frustrating drum lag issues I discussed at length in my review of Guitar Hero: World Tour. Once again, I was forced to play ahead of the beat. We tried GH5’s automated calibration system, which is supposed to deal with lag, but it didn’t help.

Lag is a problem that can arise in high definition TVs. The television has to process the signal, and this takes a few fractions of a second, which means the sound and video are displayed a little after the TV receives the signal. My friends noticed some lag in Beatles: Rock Band too, but it was fairly insignificant. The lag in GH5, however, was completely disorienting. Thus, after a few songs we gave up and played Beatles for the rest of the evening.

I hadn’t given up yet, so I invited David, Michael and Natalie over with the express agreement that we would not play any Beatles at all, but would simply focus on learning the intricacies of GH5.

David refused to believe the lag was a game problem, instead blaming the Guitar Hero drum kit, so we played a little of Beatles: Rock Band using the GH drums to see. They worked just fine. Then we got back to the game of the evening.

The Solution: Calibrate, Calibrate, then Calibrate Some More

We spent a lot of time working on the lag issue, because playing drums ahead of the beat feels all wrong, and because there was a similar though less severe lag with the guitars. There are two parts to GH5’s calibration, a setting for video lag and one for audio lag. I wasn’t sure what these two settings were supposed to do. David said he did understand it, but he was tired (eventually falling asleep on my couch) and seemed unable to adequately explain it.

First we tried automated calibration, in which you play a note when the game tells you to, but that didn’t help. Then we manually set the video to something quite high, but that didn’t seem to help much either. I decided to change the audio setting even though the game’s automated calibration hadn’t touchedit. That seemed to work; finally I could play on the beat and the game would respond appropriately.

The only problem was, every time one of us sang our voices would come out of the TV a second later. But that echo was a minor issue and I refused to spend any more time tweaking the settings.

Gameplay: At Least I Got It Working

Finally we had the game working well enough to play a few songs, although by then Natalie had run off to a dance class.

When it works, GH5 is not a bad little game. The song list is varied, with numbers from Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, Weezer, T. Rex and Vampire Weekend. You’re likely to find something you like, and a lot you’ve never heard of.

Like Guitar Hero: World Tour, GH5 has excellent bass arrangements. These are more interesting than those of the Rock Band games, primarily because of the use of open notes, in which you strum without pressing a button. If a player misses too many notes their instrument is disabled, and the other players must “win over the crowd” by playing very well for a while.

While there are a few nice touches, there are also some inconvenient design decisions. In quick mode you can play any song on the GH5 track list, but you have to set your difficulty levels before reaching that song list, and if you want to change the difficulty level for that song or another song you have to back out of the list (Beatles: Rock Band, by comparison, lets you set the difficulty level after choosing a song).

The game also offers a pointless career mode. While early Guitar Hero games simulated a sense of becoming a rock star - starting off in small settings, buying a van to do a tour – Guitar Hero simply offers a career mode in which you start with a few songs and unlock more songs and more venues as you play, without any colorful events or sense of unfolding adventure.

Conclusion: Too Much Hassle for this Rocker

The band game formula is inherently entertaining, and with some good songs and arrangements, Guitar Hero 5 can be fun to play. But the game’s technical flaws, poor design decisions, indifferent graphics and useless career mode all point to a game that lacks vision.

Eventually, David said, “I’m going to sit out the next song” and fell asleep, one of the drum kit pads stopped working and we decided to call it a night. I think it’s safe to say that if I ever want my friends to come over and play a band game with me, Guitar Hero 5 will not be much of a draw.

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