Guitar Hero: World Tour First look

We get our first look at Guitar Hero's foray into the multi-instrument scene, including a glance at the surprisingly deep song-creation process.

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We've known for some time that the next iteration of the Guitar Hero franchise would feature multiple instruments, but it's been anyone's guess as to how Activision and Neversoft would attempt to put their stamp on their inaugural entry into the multi-instrument genre. Thankfully, much less guessing is required now that we've had the opportunity to see Guitar Hero: World Tour in action. Members of the Neversoft development team treated us to a performance of some newly announced songs, filling in extended breaks between sets with a little bit of the character-customization process and a whole lot of the song-creation options.

This isn't faulty wiring. This is hard rock.
This isn't faulty wiring. This is hard rock.

Neversoft began the demo with an overview of its new hardware. The drums look just as they did in the photos that recently made the rounds: three eight-inch pads, a kick pedal, and a pair of elevated cymbals combining for six full inputs. What we didn't know is just how soft these pads look. Neversoft stressed the work it has put into them, relying on plenty of silicon to provide a strike both quiet and responsive. As for the cymbals, they seem to have a surprising amount of give. Far from an elevated, stiff drum pad, they oscillate nicely while still registering quick taps. The drum kit will be wireless, but it hasn't yet been decided what sort of batteries will be required. They're aiming for a pair of AA batteries just like the wireless GH guitars, but that's still very much up in the air.

As for the microphone, it's a standard wired Logitech mic. There's nothing terribly fancy about it, but weights have been added to give it the feel of a much more expensive piece of hardware. Aspiring vocalists shouldn't expect to see much different from what they've experienced in Rock Band, both in terms of hardware and gameplay. The singer's chunk of the screen looks very familiar, with words scrolling from right to left and a pitch gauge telling you just how well or poorly you're matching the original singer.

And we certainly can't forget the instrument that made this series famous. The guitar is no longer modeled after the iconic designs of the Gibson company, instead taking the form of a license-free body that struck us as particularly heavy metal. It's a bit bigger, too, falling somewhere between the old Guitar Hero models and the Rock Band Stratocaster. The big new addition is what Neversoft is calling the "touch strip." Essentially, it's a touch-sensitive section of the guitar neck right next to the standard, multicolored buttons. The touch strip doesn't stand out from the rest of the neck, so you might not even realize it's there if you're not familiar with your new hardware. What this touch strip does is act as a multipurpose tool for several inputs and effects. One use is finger-tapping guitar solos, but you can also swipe your finger along it, side-to-side, to mess with the sustain on your held notes and provide a sound very different from the whammy bar. You can also use it to affect the synth sounds during songs with heavy keyboard usage. Finally, a new button has been added to the bridge to let you palm mute chords.

Added silicon gives the drums a soft feel.
Added silicon gives the drums a soft feel.

With hardware introductions out of the way, Neversoft took to the proverbial stage. It began with Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell," later performing The Foo Fighters' "Everlong" and "Santeria" by Sublime. Other bands that have been officially announced include Linkin Park, Van Halen, and The Eagles, but no specific tunes related to these groups have yet been made public. The way each band member occupies the screen should feel familiar to anyone who's played multiplayer Guitar Hero or, closer still, Rock Band. The drummer, guitar, and bass occupy the bottom of the screen, with the drummer's note highway sitting right in the middle. The singer's lyric ticker is located at the top of the screen, while the band's progress and multiplier information is quartered off in the top-left area of the screen. The biggest difference in user interface between World Tour and Rock Band is the band's progress meter: Rather than having every instrument bouncing up and down on one gauge, all four get their own slightly smaller meters to tell them how well they're doing overall. As for what happens when a band member sinks to the bottom of that bar and fails out, the Neversoft crew was a little too good to let that happen, so we'll have to wait to see how that particular mechanic works (but our guess is on Star Power).

Soon after the first song, we were treated to a rundown of the game's rock star creator. Here, you'll be able to design your own avatar with a wide array of options. Neversoft's been at this sort of thing since Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 way back in 2000, so it has learned a lesson or two about the process of crafting your own virtual doppelganger. You choose a name, attitude, age, and then move on to the finer details. These include sculpting the look of your rock star's face and physique by adjusting dozens of sliders, making them as photogenic or hideous as you like. Then you can top off your rock star with a new hairstyle and outfit. Custom tattoos and body decals will also be an option. The ability to choose which animations you'll see at the beginning of a set and which you'll see when you succeed or fail at a song are options you can choose from as well.

The new axe features a touch-sensitive strip.
The new axe features a touch-sensitive strip.

The really interesting part is that customization isn't limited to the physical attributes of your rock star. You'll also be able to design your own personalized instruments. With the guitar, you can mix and match bodies, necks, inlays, and headstocks. You can also decide on smaller touches, such as the pickups, dials, and pick guard. Drummers can design their own kits as well, including a custom logo to slap on the bass drum, and singers won't be left out, either. They can customize the look of their microphone and mic stand. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to include the ability to add Steven Tyler-esque scarves, but beggars can't be choosers.

In terms of gameplay modes, there will be five possible careers from which to choose. You have guitar, bass, vocals, drums, and a band mode that works both offline and online. As for how you'll be progressing, Neversoft wanted to stress that it wouldn't be the same linear, venue-to-venue path taken in previous Guitar Hero games. When learning a tough new song, you'll need to practice in the smaller clubs before you take to the stage in a giant arena or what have you. A new level of difficulty has been added to the proceedings, an ultrasimplified beginner level, which is one step below easy. You can also adjust the difficulty levels of songs midcareer, meaning road block tunes will be less of an issue (provided you can swallow your pride and bump yourself down a notch, however temporarily).

Neversoft capped off its demo with a detailed look at the song-creation process. There's actually two ways of doing this: the standard song creator and a streamlined "New Song Wizard" option. In the latter, your options are simple but limited: You choose from three tempos, add a few rhythm loops, and record the instrument of your choosing (minus vocals, which has had recording disabled due to myriad legal reasons). One thing we didn't expect to see was the guitar being used as a drum machine. With this option, you can record drum loops with the guitar buttons after selecting a genre and kit type, then tweak the loop by dropping certain elements of it with various movements on the touch strip. It seemed pretty complicated but a nice way to add some nuance to otherwise robotic-sounding loops.

If you don't want to mess around with loops in the drum machine, you can still record with the guitar and drums the way they were meant to be played--relatively speaking, of course. With the guitar, you can choose from several different scales and arpeggiate away with single notes, or you can set your guitar to play either power chords or full chords. If you really want to get tricky, Neversoft has teamed up with Line 6 to reproduce the guitar and amp effects used in its popular guitar pods. The drums are a bit easier because it just maps what you're playing, though you can still choose from different kit sounds. The note highway is then automatically mapped based on what you've played through the instrument. Your original recording will always be the hardest difficulty level; the game will only scale it down for later play-throughs.

If all this sounds a bit confusing, it's probably because the song creator looks to be rather deep. And it doesn't stop there. You can also head into a mixer to isolate certain chunks of your song to repeat or swap them around. Once you're pleased with the song, you can design album cover art and throw it onto the "GH Tunes" online content-sharing service. This is where players will be able to download other peoples' songs and rate them (which is mandatory whenever you download another person's song). Frankly, the whole song-creation process has turned out to be far more detailed and involved than most people probably would have expected. As such, we're looking forward to taking another look so we can explain it in much better detail.

Jump into the studio and drop a few tracks.
Jump into the studio and drop a few tracks.

Finally, we can't leave you without dropping a few more miscellaneous details. Quickplay has been tweaked to where you can create up to six song sets, even earning cash for unlockables. Previous Guitar Hero controllers will still work with World Tour, albeit with limited functionality. The Wii version will support both downloadable content and the GH Tunes service. And last but not least, the final tracklist is expected to clock in at about 85 songs, each and every one a master track. You can expect to see more Guitar Hero: World Tour coverage in the very near future.

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