It won't be long now until the name "Guitar Hero" becomes an odd relic of the past, given that the forthcoming World Tour is introducing drums and vocals to a series that originated as a six-string simulation. But just because the name might begin to feel a bit funny doesn't mean that the new instruments need to feel funny. In fact, the new hardware seems to have turned out quite well. This is something we can finally attest to, having just had the opportunity to get our hands on both the new drum kit and guitar during a visit to Activision's Games Convention booth in Leipzig.
To kick things off, we sat down at the drum kit and set up a six-song quick-play playlist. The ability to quick-play more than one song at a time is one of the game's new features, and a very welcome one considering how much time it saves when bouncing through the menus. Some of the songs available in the Leipzig build included Michael Jackson's "Beat It," Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer," Interpol's "Obstacle 1," and No Doubt's "Spider Webs."
It didn't take us long to realize that we really like the feel of the new drum kit. It begins with the surface material. The drum heads and cymbals feel nice and quiet with the thick rubber and silicone coating, but there's still plenty of bounce-back. The cymbals don't seem to have quite as much give as we initially thought, but they don't exactly feel stiff, either. Moving between the two is easy thanks to the surface area of each drum head, which allows for a friendly margin of error. In addition, the kick pedal feels quite different from Rock Band's version. The pedal itself doesn't seem to require quite as much pressing, given that the default position of the pedal surface is a little closer to the base. This tends to make it a bit easier to do quick double taps, though without anything to attach the pedal to the base, we noticed it sliding a bit more than the Rock Band pedal.
When you first begin playing the drums, the addition of an extra input makes the notes on the screen seem a little daunting, but we felt right at home with the new display in just a matter of minutes. Once we got the hang of the basic playing, we ventured off into some more advanced techniques. Activating your star power is done by hitting both cymbals at once, which is a feat that requires clever timing because you need to hit an extra cymbal at a moment when the game prompts you to hit just one, lest you throw yourself off the beat by going for two cymbals when the game is telling you to just stick with the drum heads. There are moments when the game prompts you to throw in some freestyle fills just like Rock Band, but these are done more for your own fun than anything else, considering that they're not linked to your Star Power activation.
The one thing that we noticed about the drums is that the overall difficulty in our admittedly limited sampling of songs seemed to be a few notches below Rock Band's. This may be simply because the songs that we played were taken from early in the game, but there was a noticeable difficulty gap; it's almost as if the two games have become symmetrical opposites, wherein Rock Band features tough drums with easier guitar and Guitar Hero has just the opposite. However, we're perfectly willing to hold final judgment on this until we get to play more songs.
Of course, it wasn't all drums for us. We also took a stab at the guitar. The biggest new addition is the touch strip, which functions as a second set of buttons on the neck. It's not just for solos; you can play the entire song using the touch strip if you like. Bassists can play in a slapping funk style, whereas guitarists can go with a finger-tap technique. You can also rub your finger on it to produce a wah effect during sustained notes, and there are certain parts of songs in which notes are connected with a wavy line that requires you to connect them with sweeps on the strip. Beyond this strip, the strum bar has been lengthened, and the start button has been shrunk and placed next to the bridge to reduce accidental pausing. Overall, we like the feel of the new guitar, but we can't help but suspect that the new additions are best appreciated in the song-creation studio, which we were unable to try.
After this hands-on session, we've suddenly become very fond of Guitar Hero's new hardware. Although the guitar additions seem to have a lot of potential that you probably won't grasp right away, the drums steal the show with their responsive feel and enhanced realism. You can expect to see more on World Tour in the near future.