E3 09: Partying With Guitar Hero 5

In previous years, the latest Guitar Hero game would at the top of my list of must-see games. But this year, a new GH game doesn’t really hold that same allure, because… what else can they do? In previous years, they added co-op, online play, switched from covers to master tracks, and then expanded to a full band. But now, there’s not much else to do but roll out new songs. So while Guitar Hero 5 will be a first-day purchase for me, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of my E3 demo.

My instincts were right, as Neversoft has added a few cool features to the game but nothing earth-shattering. The big bullet-point is “party mode,” where people can drop in and out of songs on the fly — the screen condenses and expands to accommodate up to four instrument tracks (and the vocal line up top). Band play has been tweaked so each player has their own Star Power (instead of the entire group sharing one pool), and a little meter has been added to the vocal area so you can see exactly where you’re hitting and missing within each measure. (It also looks like the god-awful song selection list from GHWT and GHM has been overhauled, and it’s about time).

On the multiplayer side, there are a whole bunch of new modes: along with Pro Face-Off, there’s a mode that rewards players by maintaining streaks, one where players start at a medium difficulty and shifts up and down according to how well you play, and several other modifiers. In some ways, it feels like Neversoft is taking the multiplayer in the same direction as games like Unreal Tournament or Halo: there will always be pure deathmatch, but they’ll keep adding simple twists which can be toggled on or off, and maybe a few will catch on.

But what I’m most excited about is the set list, with songs like Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” and Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” on it. Activision has already announced the entire artist list (Muse! Dire Straits!), and while the actual songs will come later, I feel pretty confident that, after GHWT‘s lackluster setlist, Neversoft is making things lean and mean and all parties involved are looking are focused on getting the best songs. It doesn’t seem like there’s much innovation left on the game side, so maybe what we’ll see now is a year or two of the big music game makers focusing on refining their games, and hopefully GH5 will be the first step in that direction.