FACT: Rock Band out-rocks Guitar Hero: World Tour

P1000956_Medium 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.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. Dammnit, missed my chance for 15 minutes of faux fame :).

  2. My flatmate purchased both games, and we both agreed that Rock Band had better gameplay than GH4. A few reasons:

    – When an instrument track is failing in RB, the entire highway flashes red, making it obvious to the player. In GH4, you have to watch some easy-to-ignore thing on the side
    – In RB, when an instrument fails, it can be saved by a teammate's star power (I refuse to call it “Overdrive”). In GH4, Star Power needs to be applied *before* a teammate's failure for it to save the player. This difference seems to make RB more of a fun party game, and makes GH4 seem like it's still stuck in the old paradigm.
    – GH4's instruments do seem to have more features: the drum's kick pedal is less easy to break (I snapped RB's one) and it's got an extra pad, and repositioned closer to where you'd expect the hi-hat and crash cymabl to be. However, RB's drums definitely feel more responsive. I haven't played the guitar much on either game, but the extra slider option in GH4 looks cool, but I'm told it's not really used much.
    – RB's sound mixing is much better. The GH4 error sounds are more annoying than informative, and the tracks are quite quiet compared to all the other sounds (menu's, or errors). In RB, the tracks are just as loud, if not louder, as the menu which makes it easier to hear.
    – The drum samples in RB's drum fill ins are cooler and more rocky than the quiet inoffensive ones in GH4.

    A things in favour of GH4:

    – Bigger song selection, especially since my flatmate's PS2 doesn't offer downloadable content
    – RB, although more fun overall, also provides less challenges. GH4 has a wider variety of difficulty which is good for players who are bored with the levels of difficulty (my flatmate can finish the expert songs without focusing too much in RB, whereas there are definitely songs in GH3 and GH4 that he could not finish).

    There's this known issue in the PS2 version of Rock Band, where sometimes if you keep using the instruments while it's trying to load a song, it stays stuck in pre-song mode, in which the drum's are in free-style mode. I actually like this bug, cause it means I can play around with freestyling on the drums for as long as I want.

  3. I should elaborate when I say “The GH4 error sounds are more annoying than informative”:

    – the RB's error sound plays a sharp (although not necessarily loud) mishit sound for the note(s) you missed, so you know that the note you hit was wrong. It still plays the louder drum parts you hit correctly on top as well, so you know which part you got right
    – In GH4, the error sound overrides the drum sounds in volume so you may not be immediately sure which note you mishit, plus the soundbyte seems to be that of a guitar note being missed, which sounds weird when playing the drums. In addition, the timing of the error sound seems a bit off, but I think that's cause the error sound actually sustains a bit.

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