How does Neversoft follow up on Guitar Hero World Tour, the game that introduced full-band instruments to the Guitar Hero series, which represented the single biggest advancement for any game in the franchise to date? If you're worried that the answer to that question involves adding yet more instruments to the mix, don't be. It seems that Guitar Hero 5 is all about taking the existing social experience of World Tour and refining it to a new level.
Right at the center of that refinement is something called Party Play, a new gameplay mode that aims to remove most of the barriers from jumping into a song and just having fun. Its main appeal is flexibility. You can start Party Play without any players and have it cycle through all of the songs in the game as a sort of jukebox providing background music at a social gathering. But if you suddenly want to jump into a song that's already started and play along, all you need to do is hit one specific button on your instrument and you'll hop right into it; your note highway pops up without any hitch in the music.
"After playing loads of music rhythm games at parties or family gatherings, it became obvious to me that one of the biggest stumbling blocks in getting people playing was the sheer number of menus that you would have to navigate to actually start playing the game," says Brian Bright, project director at Neversoft. And that's basically what Party Play is all about. Any combination of four players can drop in and out of a song, switch difficulty on the fly, and not have to worry about failing out. It's all done easily and painlessly, without stopping the music or forcing players to trudge through menus.
Another way in which Party Play will accommodate the whims of players is by adapting to instrument setups that don't necessarily reflect the song being played. You can choose to do the guitar-bass-drums-mic setup if you so choose, but for those with an odd assortment of instruments lying around the living room, Party Play will support any combination of four peripherals that you can think up. For example, having four bass players is just fine, as is two drummers and two singers. Party Play won't judge you.
That same do-what-you-feel approach to instrument combinations is being carried over into other modes. You'll even find it in Career mode. You needn't worry about creating a single character or band and having to stick with it all the way through the end. If you're a singer who is suddenly overtaken by a desire to play guitar in a four-guitar band, that's an acceptable career choice.
One other new feature focused on the multiplayer experience is a collection of competitive modes called RockFest. Anywhere from two to eight players can get together on the same instrument and go at it in a variety of modes not seen in previous Guitar Heros. The one mode that we saw live in action was Momentum, which changes your difficulty level on the fly based on how well you're playing. The goal is obviously to get up to and stay on expert difficulty, which nets you the most points and avoids the shame of having an easy-level note highway on screen. Besides Momentum, there's also Elimination, which periodically drops the worst player like in a racing game; Perfectionist, which scores you based on specific parts of each song; Do-or-Die, which forces you to take a brief timeout if you miss too many notes; and Streakers, which rewards you for every string of notes past 10 perfect ones.
Outside the realm of new gameplay modes, the basics of playing songs have been given a few tweaks. The focus with these modifications is on bringing the band together. One example is Band Moments, which are triggered when the band does especially well together. If the band pulls off a successful run of flaming notes, a pyrotechnics show lets loose onstage and your score modifier triples. On the other side of the coin is the band Revival Meter. If a single player fails out, the remaining members have to muster up the ability to work especially well as a group for a few critical moments. If they do that, the player is back in; he or she can't be saved by only one good player. Like Party Play, the common theme with these tweaks is making for a more group-friendly experience.
Finally, we certainly can't leave you without any information on the new soundtrack. Bright describes this year's soundtrack as the most diverse to date, with acts ranging from obvious classic-rock choices to somewhat less-expected entries that, for example, might fall under the category of '70s funk. Details on specific songs are in short supply, but a number of bands have already been released. However, eight additional artists that have been confirmed to us at this point include Band of Horses, Blink-182, Blur, Bush, Darkest Hour, Iron Maiden, KISS, and Wild Cherry. You can expect to see more information on the soundtrack and other gameplay enhancements in the coming weeks and months.