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Guitar Hero 5 GamesCom 2009 Preview

In the last few years Guitar Hero's popularity has increased enormously and now the game is arguably as famous as many of the artists featured on the series' soundtracks. Since the introduction of drums and microphones it has been hard to see what direction future instalments would take. Smash Hits also raised some doubts about milking the series through its "updating" of existing Guitar Hero tracks. After getting the chance to play Guitar Hero 5 at GamesCom this week it feels like a true sequel rather than an expansion or a cash-in.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 1

The most immediately noticeable change is the game's appearance which now boasts vastly upgraded graphics. It is now good to see the visuals reflecting the next-generation consoles' potential with much more detailed backgrounds and character models. While this is purely a cosmetic overhaul it helps to make the game feel fresh and to distance it from the impression of a simple expansion. Animations are also fluid and much more realistic with a slight movement away from the stylised and cartoony motions from the previous versions.

Alongside these aesthetic improvements are a wide range of additions and improvements to the tried and tested formula. The core gameplay of Guitar Hero remains true to form with the player tasked with strumming on time as a series of notes crosses the fret board. Whereas World Tour made several tweaks the gameplay, Guitar Hero 5 sticks to the series' conventions. Hammer-ons and pull-offs still feature prominently and there is now an expanded role for sequences of notes which require one to be held down while others are played. After working on the series for so long it now seems that the gameplay has struck the balance between casual and hardcore players and it doesn't seem necessary to make any more additions purely for a sequel's sake.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 2

Where Guitar Hero 5 impresses is in the new modes it introduces to help improve competitive play alongside making the game easier to get into. Perhaps the best new addition is that up to 4 instruments of any type can be used, so it is no longer necessary to have two guitars, drums and a microphone. This proves to be particularly useful as there doesn't have to be a scramble to avoid singing or a bitter argument over who is the real lead guitarist.

This compatibility was demonstrated in the new "Party Play" game mode where you can simply jump straight into a track from the main menu. As the group of us played through several songs, various players joined and left with very smooth transitions. Rocking out with four players on guitars felt a tad strange but ultimately fitted with the spirit of the game. It isn't possible to fail in this mode and looks ideally suited for people looking to have some fun with friends.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 3 

Most of the new additions relate to improving the range and scope of the competitive multiplayer modes which have, until now, been relatively restricted. During the preview I went up against a fellow gamer in the new "Momentum" mode which has both players begin at Medium difficulty. If you hit twenty notes consecutively you move up a difficulty setting, but by missing three you drop back down. The mode proved challenging due to the alternating speeds between Hard and Expert but felt satisfying.

The second mode we played was a particularly tense face-off between four guitarists in the "Elimination" battle. Here, the player with the lowest score is axed every thirty seconds or so. As the song ended and it became a duel between me and my opponent I really felt the pressure and in the end there were only a handful of points between our final scores. The "Perfectionist" game mode hands victory to the player with the most points whereas "Do or Die" locks a player out of the song until the next section if they miss several notes. Finally, "Streakers" gives players a greater multiplier the longer they can maintain a successful series of notes.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 4

This overhaul of the competitive aspect of the game is a welcome addition and provides more challenge than the simple "Face-Off" and "Pro Face-Off" modes from the previous Guitar Hero games. The songs themselves now feature a set challenge to complete to different degrees. For example in the song "Fame" by David Bowie the challenge is to sing the word "Fame" correctly as it changes at the end of the song. If you hit a set number you can earn either a gold, diamond or platinum reward and a new item. Different songs require various instruments and the variety of achievements and items helps to boost the replay value significantly.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 5

As ever, the set list contains a healthy mixture of songs with 85 included in the game with several high profile figures including Johnny Cash and Carlos Santana featuring as characters. The music is diverse with artists ranging from Rammstein to Elton John and the difficulty looks set to be a nice balance for players of all abilities. Most of the downloadable content from World Tour can be played in Guitar Hero 5 and some tracks from Smash Hits and World Tour can be transferred for a fee. Another nice innovation is the incorporation of Xbox 360 avatars into the game, including any clothes they are wearing, which adds a personal touch.

If Guitar Hero 5 can maintain the combination of entertainment and accessibility that the series is known for, then this latest chapter will continue to keep it at the top of the genre. The biggest danger that Guitar Hero faces is to keep pushing out new titles too frequently, but with strong DLC support hopefully this won't be an issue. The title will be released on September 11th for the PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360, so dust down your guitars and prepare to rock.

Guitar Hero 5 Screenshot 6

evilgiraffeman | 20th August, 2009

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