-->
Reviews

Guitar Hero 5

The year that Guitar Hero finally succumbs to Rock Band in terms of publicity (and perhaps sales) is also the year that Guitar Hero may well be the better game.


Guitar Hero 5

Publisher: Activision
Format: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2
Price: $59.99 standalone, $99.99 with guitar
Players: 1-8
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Neversoft
Release Date: 2009-09-01
URL

The ongoing battle between Activision/Neversoft's Guitar Hero series and MTV/EA/Harmonix's Rock Band series has become one of reputation and sales with Rock Band coming out on top in the former, and Guitar Hero using its name to continue dominating the latter. While Guitar Hero's near-constant release schedule and clumsy use of licensed property (see: Kurt Cobain) almost guarantees that it will be making no headway in the reputation department, this may be the year that the tables are turned in the sales department -- Guitar Hero 5 was released to the sound of crickets chirping, while The Beatles: Rock Band released an all-too-short week later, was released to near-universal chatter, good vibes, and the full support of The New York Times.

An informal poll on Destructoid tells you all you need to know about the two franchises' balance of power in the battle for public opinion; that poll was even from before the release of The Beatles: Rock Band, and one can imagine an even more lopsided result now. Oddly, for perhaps the first time since this genre competition started, this may actually be the year that Guitar Hero actually deserves a far more even split than it's getting.

Look at The Beatles: Rock Band for a second. It is exactly what you would expect. It's Rock Band with 45 Beatles songs, a whole lot of Beatles imagery, and a healthy helping of hero worship. There is no booing, there are downloadable tracks but they are only Beatles tracks, and you cannot play these songs in the other Rock Band games.

It is in this last aspect that we see the seeds of the most troublesome element of the recent wave of Rock Band worship. Specifically, The Beatles: Rock Band is, if anything, a step back for the franchise. It's true, any backward movement in the direction of the franchise was most certainly a product of the concessions that Harmonix had to make in order to land the most popular band on the planet -- a band so difficult about licensing out its music that it's not even available on iTunes -- and by any account, every concession Harmonix granted has been worth it. Still, aside from three-part harmony (a feature that could potentially be a great addition in all future Rock Band titles), there is nothing new about The Beatles: Rock Band other than the music and the personalities. If it weren't for the presence of digital versions of the Fab ones themselves, you'd almost be hard pressed to tell The Beatles: Rock Band from, say, the AC/DC live song pack.

Neversoft, on the other hand, put millions of dollars into updating the Guitar Hero series, adding so many new game modes, such a tremendous setlist, and even a new graphics engine that truly sets Guitar Hero 5 apart not only from all of the Guitar Hero games that came before it, but from any rhythm game yet released.

And yet...crickets. That's all it gets. When the ad geniuses working on this franchise can't do anything but trot out censored naked people and Hugh fucking Hefner (playing insultingly to the lowest common denominator of stereotypical gamer culture), you know that they're not even trying. Really? You had to use Risky Business for inspiration again? When the last time you used it was for the sake of promoting what is unarguably the worst game in the series? That's hack, that's what that is.

Here we are, 600 words into what is ostensibly a review of Guitar Hero 5, and hardly two words have been mentioned about the game itself, likely because the game itself hardly matters anymore. The momentum caused by the court of public opinion has put the Guitar Hero franchise in something of the same boat as the Madden franchise, a franchise for which EA could replace all the players with flying penguins and the playbook with pages from Ulysses and the basic assumption of 95% of those who see it on the shelf would be "oh, look, they updated the rosters again". It's not a bit fair, but market saturation and poor PR invite the mess, and once the mess is made, it's awfully hard to clean up.

Guitar Hero 5 is everything you should expect in a current-generation rhythm game. Right from the outset, you see a difference in the presentation, in that the visuals have gone through a massive overhaul -- the character models, particularly, no longer look like the cartoony, uncanny valley-baiting character models from the last couple of games; these characters -- that is, the fictional ones -- look appropriately larger than life, and their mannerisms and attitudes throughout the game complement the over-the-top look that Neversoft is apparently going for. The narrative has been pretty much entirely ditched, save for a quick intro scene and an equally quick ending; this, finally, is about the music more than it's about saving rock 'n roll or some other such nonsense.

The engine used for vocals has finally caught up to Rock Band with a phrase-centered play style over a note-centered one to boot. The guitar parts, where they are actually guitars (and not, say, trumpets or pianos), are well-charted and appropriate, and the difficulty level ramps up in a gradual, welcoming way. The added challenges tacked on to career mode don't feel as though they took much work to implement, but their inclusion adds a new level of "achievement" to the mode, encouraging a multi-instrumental approach like never before, not to mention the near-necessity of playing every song. Sure, you can get away with playing less than half of the songs here to "beat" career mode, but that's not going to cut it if you're going after some of the more challenging achievements or trophies.

The multiplayer approach that Neversoft has taken is a mixed bag -- on the plus side, it's fantastic that any combination of instruments is allowed. No more fighting for the guitar, no more "but I don't wanna sing" when you pull it out at a party, and going to town Slipknot-style with multiple drum sets is as chaotic and hilarious as it sounds. "Party Play" is also perfect for those cases in which spectators don't even want to commit to a whole song, because let's face it, the buzz starts to wear off on "Do You Feel Like We Do?" at about the seven-minute (of almost 14) mark. On the other hand, there are so many competitive multiplayer modes -- Pro Face-Off, Band vs. Band, Battle, and a whole host of "RockFest" modes, which allow for a number of parameters to be set (or not) as to how the competition will play out -- that it can be nearly impossible to find someone online who wants to play the exact same way that you do.

All of this is to say that if you presented someone who has neither played a rhythm game nor tracked the recent trajectory of the two dominant series to date with those two series' latest entries, there's a very good chance that Guitar Hero 5's content-heavy, feature-heavy approach would win out over the artist-baiting of Rock Band. Unfortunately, you cannot erase context, and Rock Band clearly has the momentum right now; how unfortunate that the tide seems finally to have turned so drastically the year that Guitar Hero has the better game.

7
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image