This is not Rock Band.
I need to get that out of the way right now. I also need to state that we are playing this game on Xbox 360 with the Rock Band 2 drums and microphone, but the Les Paul Guitar Hero III guitar. I have to admit that I went into GHWT thinking of it as a Rock Band 2 expansion pack. I quickly learned how wrong I was.
The art style of GHWT is animated and over-the-top, and each instrument and type of play has a series of hysterical cutscenes that just scream “rock”. The characters, both the pre-made type and the ones you can create are the colorful distorted, exaggerated “Judy Nails” types you’ve come to expect from GH. The venues, both real and imaginary, are fully rendered and complete down to the broken chairs and half-eaten wings. Maybe the venues are a little TOO realistic, as they are festooned with in-game advertising for real world brands. I understand having Sabian cymbals and Marshall amps, but do I need to be told which fried chicken to eat while playing?
The controls and setup are so-so. Despite promises to the contrary, the Rock Band drums do not map perfectly onto the GHWT songs. Drummers are encouraged to hit silver-topped notes harder for more points, but the velocity sensitivity is variable at best. It is nearly impossible to deploy Star Power, as the regular set requires you to hit the Green and Orange cymbals together, and those two notes don’t usually show up together in the drum track. The tutorial is not available for drummers that aren’t using the GH set, either. We aren’t using the GHWT set because having tried them both at PAX, we found the Rock Band 2 set to be crisper, quieter, and more responsive, with a good spring in the pedal. The GHWT set we played was mushier, louder, less accurate, and just all around not as good as the Rock Band 2 set, though it was an improvement over the original Rock Band drum set.
Vocals are a nightmare. There is no “Tambourine Hero” fill section during long instrumental solos. Instead vocalists have fills which seem to be randomly inserted passages of swirls in which you can earn multiples of 9 points by saying “la” over and over and over. Vocals Star Power can only be deployed through hitting your microphone or holding your controller the whole time and hitting a button. It lasts for about five seconds, and then you have to go back to hitting buttons like a rat hoping for a food pellet. There is no musical staff guiding your pitch adjustments, but rather one line for you to follow the whole time through. The accuracy level and pickup are just plain bad. I scored about 15% lower in GHWT on songs that I have completed perfectly on Hard in Rock Band 2.
All of that being said, if you’ve enjoyed Guitar Hero before, keep on keeping on. You’ll probably enjoy this game. The Guitar and Bass work just fine. If you are new to GH, or are trying it after Rock Band, keep in mind that GH is significantly different, and don’t count on the manual or the early tracks to help you find your way. The manual is eight pages long and barely goes farther than “turn the game on and play”. If you are eligible to play a tutorial, good luck finding it. You have to search around through stacks of menus to find the tutorials or anything else in the game.
I was disappointed in Guitar Hero World Tour. I guess I expected more after I saw the excellent track list. I did enjoy the cameos from rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Zack Wylde, and the game is fun to watch in general, but I’d almost rather watch than play, and that’s a bad sign. Maybe they’ll get it right on their inevitable next time out, but on their initial foray into the full band genre Activision has put too much focus on being different for difference’s sake and not enough on streamlining and gameplay.