In a stunning turnaround, I have switched from a Guitar Hero fanboy to a Rock Band aficionado in the space of a weekend. After cutting my fake plastic rock teeth on Guitar Hero 3, I desperately wanted to like Guitar Hero: World Tour. However once faced with the facts, I have to come down on the side of Rock Band.
In the ultimate face-off, I scraped up a ragtag bunch of misfits and rock heroes (huge thanks to those that helped out) to thrash the two games over the space of a sunny afternoon. They ranged from your typical 13 year old freak of nature (playing on Hard difficulty after picking up the game 2 months ago), to complete newbies.
After swapping between games for a couple of hours, it dawned on me that Rock Band’s gameplay was better suited to rocking – as a band. World Tour on the other hand feels like a quickly thrown together hash on Guitar Hero III, with a drum controller. I’m sure the developers would say otherwise, with the addition of vocals, more input options on the guitar, and the custom track creator being a significant step up from Guitar Hero III. The truth is, additional features and content just don’t come into it if the core gameplay is limp.
It’s hard to put a finger (let alone four fast moving fingers!) on the problem, but several people commented that it was just much harder to get immersed in World Tour compared to Rock Band. Perhaps it’s the graphics? World Tour feels very ‘2D’, right down to the animated flames when you hit the notes. The ‘hit’ animations in Rock Band are real 3D particle effects, whereas in World Tour they are just simple 2D sprites. Surely that couldn’t be it? The music? I was just using the speakers in the TV because my surround amp has packed a sad, but both games were equally hobbled by the audio output. Even so, World Tour’s music did feel a bit more tinny and less rockful. Perhaps they have more separation between instrument tracks, and it does appear that missing a few notes has more of an impact on the music than it does in Rock Band.
So it really does come down to the gameplay. In Rock Band each player has their own reserve of ‘Rock Power’ and each instrument has unique features that change the way the ‘tracks’ appear, and change the way you score. On bass for example you can get into a ‘Bass Groove’ by getting a good run of notes – this improves your multiplier and turns your track blue. With drums, perhaps the most amusing instrument, you have your freeform drum fills to activate Rock Power. Smash away like a gorilla for a couple of seconds, finishing with a big cymbal clash, and you activate Rock Power. Lead guitar has the guitar break bonus score, and vocals have freeform sections and mic-tapping sections. All of this makes you feel like a unique part of the band using your own talent to add to the overall rockification.
In other words, the rocking feeling you get in Rock Band when all four tracks are rocking with rock juice is 100% pure ROCK.
Compare this to World Tour: each instrument’s track looks identical, and everyone has the same option to activate one shared reserve of Star Power. Basically you’re playing notes, or you’re playing notes on a sparkling blue track. Where’s the fun in that if I’m a bass player? I feel like I’m playing a standard Guitar Hero track with less notes. It just feels like the Guitar Hero developers haven’t done their research into flow and game psychology.
If there is one redeeming feature for World Tour, it’s the hardware. The drum kit has softer pads and a nicer ‘feel’ than the Rock Band set, albeit at the cost of feedback ‘ sometimes you’re unsure if your hits have registered. The guitar is also more substantial and – to my mind – has more direct feedback. Key point here: there is not a lot stopping you using the World Tour instruments on Rock Band, especially if you are playing on XBox 360 or PS3.
I feel like Ron Jeremy or something, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s not the quality of your hardware that matters, it’s the way you play with it.
I’m not alone in my opinion of the games either. Metacritic user ratings for World Tour and Rock Band provide just one of dozens of comparable views. This is not even mentioning that fact that Harmonix have already released a more refined Rock Band 2 to the North American market, which by all accounts is an improvement on the original. Unfortunately I can only assume we’ll be waiting a year for that down here too.
— For those about to rock, we salute you.