Friday 16 October 2009

I've got blisters on my fingers!

After a vigorous evening of highly scientific testing with Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band 2 I’m ready to present my paper Upon The Differences Between The Second Full-Band Plastic Instrument Based Entertainment Software Released By Harmonix And Neversoft, and my neighbours are ready to call the local council regarding a noise abatement order.

Guitar & Bass
There isn’t much difference between the two games for guitar and bass gameplay; hit the five coloured buttons and strum, collect “star power”/”overdrive” in certain sections with a whammy on held notes for a bonus, tilt guitar to activate. I slightly prefer the circular “gems” on the note track of Guitar Hero vs the rectangular blocks in Rock Band, but I suspect that might just be a case of being more used to the Guitar Hero games; the other visual thing on the note track is that Rock Band adds some swirly background colours when in overdrive that I found slightly distracting, though not to the point of missing notes particularly.

Each game has a slight nuance; I quite like the Rock Band solo sections that offer bonus points depending on the percentage of notes hit, and in Guitar Hero hammer-on chords and open notes on the bass work quite nicely, but overall it doesn’t make a massive difference. I declare… A DRAW!

Though mostly playing guitar and bass, I do like to flail around like a madman now and again. And also play the drums, ah! There’s a more obvious difference between the two games here, Guitar Hero 5 continuing the World Tour setup of three drums pads (red, blue, green) and two cymbals (yellow and orange) compared to the four drum pads of Rock Band that represent different drums and cymbal as needed.

Playing Rock Band with the Guitar Hero drums I haven’t had any major issues, as most songs so far have been based around red being snare and yellow being hi-hat, which maps naturally to the GH drums. It does feel slightly odd sometimes with the blue pad often doubling as a cymbal (the orange cymbal of the GH kit can be used in addition to the blue pad, but I’m usually having enough trouble remembering to hit that pedal thing at the right time to worry about anything else), and a couple of songs seem to go a bit crazy and mix the drum mapping up even more, but I’ve generally been doing fairly well on the same Hard level I’ve been playing in Guitar Hero 5. I’d turn to a rather better drummer for a more considered view, though.

Aside from the pad layout the basic gameplay is again pretty similar (“HIT PAD WITH STICK FOR POINTS!”), though there’s a difference in star power/overdrive activation: in Guitar Hero at any point you can hit the yellow and orange cymbals at the same time to activate star power, in Rock Band the game leaves you a space for a drum fill, following which you can hit the green pad to activate overdrive. In theory the GH method sounds better, giving the player full control of when they want to bring star power in for either a score boost or to help out for a trick section, but in practise I’ve found I’m usually a bit busy actually hitting the proper notes to take time out and kick star power in; if I try and go for it, I almost always end up missing a few notes, resetting the score multiplier and slightly defeating the object.

With the overdrive activation counterbalancing the occasionally odd pad layout, I declare… A DRAW!

I try not to inflict what could very loosely be termed my “singing” upon the world in general, but I have caterwauled along to a few songs in both games. Once again with the broadly similar gameplay, words appear on screen and you attempt to vibrate your vocals chords in such a manner as to produce a sound wave of a frequency in keeping with what the game’s expecting.

I could make a half-decent stab at quite a few World Tour tracks, but Guitar Hero 5 is either less forgiving or I’ve got worse (or the songs are harder), as even on Easy mode I’m not putting in very good performances; in Rock Band 2 on the other hand I’ve hit 100% in a couple of songs (though perhaps its Easy mode is closer to Guitar Hero’s Beginner). Rock Band 2 also has percussive sections, where the singer hits the microphone in time to the music a la tambourine or cowbell, which is quite welcome, especially in songs with lengthy instrumental sections; in Stranglehold on Guitar Hero World Tour you could sing a couple of verses then wander off, whip up a light salad, clear excessive leaves from the guttering and construct a rudimentary pot from clay while Ted Nugent noodled around on guitar. Guitar Hero sometimes counters the boredom with “freestyle” sections, where, as the name suggests, you can freestyle (hiphopopotamus style) and apparently gain points for fitting in with the general pitch and rhythm of the song, but I’m not entirely sure much of the rock oeuvre lends itself to going “shooby dooby bop bop do ba ba” at random intervals.

This would’ve been a victory for Rock Band 2, then, but it blows it with the overdrive activation. In Guitar Hero 5 you can activate star power by tapping the mic, or more usefully pressing the A button on the Wiimote at any time. In Rock Band 2, you have to wait for an appropriate moment (when you’re not supposed to be singing), and… shout. Or go “woo!” or something. I’m quite self conscious enough about singing at the best of times without needing to draw extra attention to the whole business. At least the rock-tastic nature of most of the songs means it isn’t quite as daft as in The Beatles: Rock Band (“here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun, and I said… right let’s activate Beatlemania YO LONDON ARE YOU READY FOR THE SUN LET ME HEAR YOU WOO!”), but it’s also not terribly precise. I’ve taken to coughing to activate overdrive (*ahem*, sorry, don’t mind me, just overdriving here), but being able to push a button at any time is a much better idea, leading to vocals being… A DRAW!

Musical Selection
Very personal, this one, you’d need to decide for yourself. There’s some cracking songs in both games, and as per usual they’re introducing me to some interesting new stuff, none of which I’ve (really) hated. Yet. After careful consideration, I’d have to declare… A DRAW!

Downloadable Content
While not strictly speaking DLC, Rock Band allows users to export most of the songs from Rock Band 1 to play in Rock Band 2… on the 360 and PS3. Not for the Wii, unfortunately, partly no doubt because Rock Band 2 came out before the Wii had SDHC support, limiting it to 2Gb cards. Guitar Hero 5 does support SDHC, and you can download some of the World Tour and Greatest Hits content if you have those games (only around half the set list in each case, though), which just claws back enough points to stop it being utterly obliterated in this category.

In terms of actual DLC, Rock Band already had a massive head start of a back catalogue when Guitar Hero World Tour was released, and though Neversoft have been churning out three songs most weeks for Guitar Hero World Tour and now 5 the gap keeps opening with Harmonix regularly adding 10 or more Rock Band tracks, it’s really no content (especially as the crown jewels, in my opinion, of World Tour DLC, the Hendrix tracks, are the only ones that can’t be used in GH5).

The only potential fly in the ointment was for us poor old UK Wii users; the music store wasn’t available at release (fair enough, it took a couple of weeks for the Guitar Hero 5 store to be available), and we had the promise of “over 250 songs available on disc and for download by early 2010”. My suspicion was that there’d be a gradual trickle of songs over the next couple of months, but in fact the music store turned up last Tuesday with a veritable Texas Flood of hot rocking action, 170-odd songs to choose from. While that’s only around a quarter of the total library, it’s a damn good start made damnably gooder by the fact that one of those songs is Still Alive by GLaDOS and Jonathan Coulton, and damnationally goodest of all, it’s free! Naturally this renders Rock Band 2 an instant triumph and furthermore great success, so I declare the winner to be ROCK BAND 2!

Finally, the career modes. I touched on these a bit previously, very generally Guitar Hero 5 being a more linear progression through difficulty with achievement-centric challenges for each song, and Rock Band 2 being a sort of RPG-ish development of your band travelling around the world earning money and fans. Both games allow you to branch out from the on-disc songs, which is very welcome, Guitar Hero has an open challenge or two in every venue for which you can pick any song, including DLC and imported songs, and Rock Band 2 venues have a variety of gigs options including choosing your own setlist.

As well as picking your own songs Rock Band 2 offers various mystery setlists, which have all the usual advantages and drawbacks of randomness. On the plus side, if the 100-odd songs on offer lead to paralysis of indecision when it comes to deciding what to actually play, you can let the console decide for you. On the downside, the console is deciding for you, and might like to have a laugh and finish off every sodding set with SODDING RATT.

Overall, I really couldn’t pick between Rock Band 2’s money and fan accumulation and Guitar Hero’s challenges, I suspect they’ll both keep me coming back for as long as I’m interested in either. Yup, I declare… A DRAW!

Get both games, buy whatever DLC appeals, and LET THERE BE ROCK!

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