Things We Like
Getting Better: Activision definitely learned a lot from last year's mediocre Guitar Hero World Tour (and, for that matter, from Rock Band 2). The interface for Guitar Hero 5 is much simpler and more logical. The whole game received a graphical facelift and the over-the-top venues take plenty of playful inspiration from Iron Maiden album covers.
Pay to Play: It's great that Activision is finally getting on the bandwagon and letting you import songs from previous games. For a small fee - about $5 - you can import a selection of songs from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Smash Hits. Unfortunately, the list of importable songs is short (fewer than half of each game), but if you own both games, importing the older songs really helps beef up the GH5 track list. Add that with the decent list of downloadable songs (which are also transferrable from World Tour to 5), and there's a lot of material here to play for some time.
Complicated: The difficulty curve, which, in some previous Guitar Hero games, has been frustratingly precipitous, seems about right here. The window you have to hit a note when it's crossing the strum area is generous, so mistakes are usually your fault, not the game's, although there is a significant jump in difficulty on the last four career venues. That said, singing is harder than it should be because the pitch indicator is too small.
Bang a Gong: Drumming on the Guitar Hero drums is amazingly satisfying and completely immersive. The Guitar Hero hardware is the best in the industry. Very little was added on the hardware front this year, so your old GH3 Les Paul will work just fine.
Start Me Up: The game does everything possible to get you started playing immediately. You're given the opportunity to hop into a randomly chosen song before you even see the main menu. Better yet, all songs are unlocked in quickplay mode from the beginning, so if you're having a party, there are no hoops to jump through to unlock all the songs.
Dancing on the Ceiling: It's great that the game lets multiple players choose any instrument and difficulty, even if someone else is already playing it. No one wants to play bass on Smells Like Teen Spirit or Dancing with Myself, and, for once, you don't have to.
Studio Luv: GH5 brings an upgraded version of GH Studio the in-game studio software that lets you sequence and upload custom tracks for free download. It's complex, but if you're into that kind of thing, Studio is an endless sandbox and the ability to download an endless supply of free, homegrown songs is a nice bonus if you can weed through the mediocrity.
Check out Guitar Hero 5 in action:
Things We'd Change
The Ugly Truth: The character designs range from the amusing to the completely grotesque. I know that the usual cast of characters (Axel Steel, Judy Nails, etc.) are a long-standing part of the Guitar Hero experience, but it's time to retire them. In fact, the whole "heavy metal" aesthetic of Guitar Hero is wearing thin, and a few skulls go a long way.
Thriller: The game comes stocked with several celebrity avatars, including Garbage's Shirley Manson, Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain. This, gently put, is a horrible idea. The game's weird-looking character models don't lend themselves to depicting real people, and the choice of reanimating deceased music icons wasn't wise. I don't pretend to know what motivated Kurt Cobain in life, but I feel some assurance that he is spinning in his grave about being an unlockable character in a video game.
East Bound and Down: The downside to having all of the songs unlocked from the beginning is the career mode is barebones almost to the point of being nonexistent. You play through a succession of humorously themed, but basically identical, stadiums. You can play the songs in the venue in any order, and -- for better or worse -- you don't need to complete all of the songs to continue. It's nice that the game is made less hardcore, but there are really few rewards for going through the career mode, unlike Rock Band with its fans and earnings spread across multiple cities around the globe.
All the Small Things: The in-game interface is pretty standard, but the status indicators are so miniscule that it's not always immediately evident how you're doing or how much star power you have. And when will one of these games show you visually how much of the song is left?
Turn It Up, Man: Song list is always a subjective thing, but there are a bunch of songs here that are just bland alt-rock. Activision brags that much of the music is recent, but that's missing the point of a game like this. Fire up a music game at a party and most people will get excited about the big rock bands of the 70s and 80s: Journey, Boston, Bon Jovi.
Islands in the Stream: Even though you can import songs from previous games and download them from the Guitar Hero online store, added songs aren't merged into the career gigs (except for sets where you get to choose a song yourself). It's disappointing to have a much bigger song library than the career mode implies and makes the mode feel that much more limited.
Money, Get Back: How many GH titles can Activision release in a year, anyway? Within 12 months, we've had World Tour, Smash Hits, Metallica, GH5 and, soon, Van Halen. These games basically print money, but too much of a good thing will kill the golden goose.
What Do You Want?: Where's the Def Leppard? The first music game to host Pour Some Sugar on Me gets my MS Points and my eternal admiration.
Guitar Hero 5 does a lot right, and it's easiest the best Guitar Hero since II. Unfortunately, it still doesn't quite live up to the standard set by last year's reigning Rock Band 2. It would be nice if you could actually import the entire set lists of Guitar Hero World Tour and Smash Hits, but the partial import suggests that Activision will hopefully make that a standard feature in the inevitable sequels. Bottom line, if you enjoy these arthritis simulators and you find the track list to your liking, you'll want to pick up GH5.
-- Review By Lee Clontz
- 04:31 PM ET 09.11
Things We Like
Across the Universe: The Beatles are undoubtedly one of the greatest bands of all time. If that statement doesn’t compute with you, then The Beatles: Rock Band probably isn’t in on your radar. For those of us with ears, though, this game, played to the tune of a never-ending torrent of appreciation for the little band from Liverpool, hits a sweet spot in our collective music conscience. While this game essentially runs the same engine as Rock band 2, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a 21st century technological tribute to The Beatles, and the majesty and timelessness of their art.
I Am The Walrus: Unlike past iterations of the Rock Band series, you won’t be creating bands comprised of customized characters decorated with ridiculous attire and axes. In this game you simply play as The Beatles. The Fab Four (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison) are the characters, and the centerpiece of the game is a career mode which takes you through key moments in the Beatles’ careers. If you've played other rhythm games, you'll be familiar with the dynamic, as you’ll play set lists in venues as you attempt to match color-coded notes in time with the music. The venues range from an opening gambit at Cavern Club in Liverpool en route to the last stage, a rooftop concert at the Apple Corps building. Along the way you’ll play sets at iconic locations from Shea Stadium to the Budokan in Japan to the Abbey Road Studios. In all the game offers 45 playable songs.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds: The game features stunning visuals that kick off when you fire up the game to an animated sequence that takes you through the world of The Beatles. The look in the game is reminiscent of the style of the 1968 animated classic, Yellow Submarine. The rest of the art work around menus and as transitions during the career mode is all very well done. And when you’re playing at specific venues you’ll surely appreciate the sights and sounds of swooning, screaming throngs of fans swaying to the music and the gyrations of the fellas on stage. Some of the songs even have custom dreamscapes. For example, during Octopus’ Garden you’re treated to the band playing underwater, and during I Am The Walrus they all don animal costumes. It’s a very cool addition, though the first few times you play a song with a dreamscape you’ll be distracted and miss notes.
And Your Bird Can Sing: In the past, Rock Band games have been limited to four people playing at once, with a person on lead guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The Beatles: Rock Band ups the ante by allowing three people to handle the vocals. It should be noted that you’ll need at least one wireless mic on the Xbox 360 for three singers, as wired mics each take a USB port. Some songs are designed for two vocals and others three, but in reality anyone with a mic can sing the lead vocals and multiple people can sing them together. At certain points within a song, mostly for choruses, the game judges your ability to synch with one another. At other times the vocal tracks will diverge with each person singing different lyrics.
Things We’d Change
Taxman: As noted above the game features 45 playable songs. Fans will quickly find some of their favorites missing from that list. I was particularly distressed as the game uses a cue from Strawberry Fields, but the song isn’t in the game. Not cool! When compared to other rhythm games that total clearly doesn't measure up. You can purchase songs and albums online, but it will cost you $2 per song, which adds up pretty fast. I get that this is a business and money is the endgame, but another 15 songs would’ve gone a long, long way.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps: In addition to the game being pretty short, for the most part it’s easier than other versions of Rock Band. That said you can play the game on any difficulty you want, from Easy (which includes the no fail mode for beginners and coordination-challenged folks) to Expert (for the hardcore).
Yesterday: As you progress through the game you unlock rare photos and clips of the Beatles. Items are unlocked based on how well you perform in the game. That content is all great, but I can’t help wanting more history of the band baked into the game. More info about the songs themselves and more of a true timeline of their careers would’ve added a lot.
This is the ultimate digital Beatles experience. The game has been timed to coincide with the release of the re-mastered Beatles catalog collection, so all in all it's a fantastic time for fans. Folks familiar with the Rock Band franchise should be aware that this game is completely self contained and doesn’t interact with the other games or any non-Beatles songs.
--Reviewed by Rory Moore
Things We Liked
Highlight Real: You're probably sick of hearing this every time Madden hits the shelves, but this year's build is the most realistic yet. Really. Trust us. We really mean it this time. Thanks to a new animation technology called Pro-Tak, the players look and act like they would during a real game. Pile-on at the end of a plays, drag helpless defenders into the end zone, lose your footing while dropping back to pass in the rain. The CPU also gets an upgrade in areas like clock management -- when you're playing solo, you'll notice your opponent will bleed the play clock on fourth down in late half-time and end of game situations. All of these little wrinkles make the gameplay feel the most natural it has in Madden's 21 years in existence.
Copy Cat: Much in the same way just about every team implemented some form of the Wildcat formation into their playbook last year, Madden NFL 10 has added Tony Sparano's quirky set to the game. More than just a fun add-on, the formation comes in very handy on 3rd and Goal. Apparently EA really takes that whole "It's in the game" motto seriously.
Scrum's the Word: The new button-mashing mini-game that helps you fight for fumbles is awesome. If there's a loose ball near a big group of players, you can now influence who gets possession. As soon as the pigskin pops loose, you're prompted to hit a series of buttons as fast as you can in order to tip the scales in your favor. The only way EA can improve on this feature is if they include an eye-gouging option next year.
Fine Line: A new set of moves for defensive linemen will have you foaming at the mouth on defensive snaps. Using the right analog stick, you can now bust out swim moves and an assortment of other jukes to manhandle the opposing offensive linemen and knock the quarterback on his back. The new level of creativity infuses a much-needed element of aggressiveness to the defensive side of gameplay.
Online Franchise: That dull roar you hear is coming from wives and girlfriends across the nation as they find out about Madden's new Online Franchise mode. In case you were worried you weren't wasting enough time playing Madden, logging on and filling out an entire 32-team league with friends around the world should gobble up the last couple minutes of your free time. It's even got an upcoming iPhone app (out on August 18th) that's sure to ruin millions of romantic dinners before the 2009-10 season is over.
Break in the Action: Unlike Fox and CBS, the halftime shows during franchise mode in Madden actually serve a purpose. You get highlights from your game as well as a quick check-in throughout the league, including scores and stats of all the simulated action going on. You get an even more thorough recap of where your franchise stands on a weekly basis from the Extra Point Highlight Show.
To show we will stop at nothing to get you a crackerjack review, we taped an entire half of Madden NFL 10 game action for you:
Things We'd Change
Subtract the Ads: The one area that's a little too realistic in Madden is the constant barrage of sponsors. Prepare to have Snickers ads shoved down your throat, whether it's load screens or the cheeky "Chewse Wisely" graphic during the coin toss. Sprite also gets into the mix and the constant corporate logos can grow tedious. Especially considering how much time you'll want to spend playing Madden.
Quiet, Please: The soundtrack is a nice mix of recognizable hits and the crowd noise ebbs and flows with the action on the field. However, Chris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond (Did you ever think you'd miss John Madden's ramblings?) don't hold up over repeated plays. It feels like this comes up in just about every sports title -- the commentary gets repetitive very quickly and anecdotes are often misplaced during the action. Can we get a committee together to fix this across all sports games once and for all?
Mini-Games, Big Problems: The mini-games are a big bust. Confusing controls and boring competitions will have you scurrying back to manage your franchise. Do you in any way ever need to play the mini-games? No. So does it matter? Not really. Just had to throw it out there.
After 21 years, EA faced a stiff challenge: improve the world's most popular sports video game franchise. Somehow, they did. While in the past it seemed like EA was just piling on pointless bells and whistles, this year the developers focused on key elements of the game. The new Online Franchise mode adds replayability to an already addictive title, while the smooth action on the field keeps those millions of replays fresh.
-- Reviewed By Paul Ulane
Things We Like
Retooled for '10: You know the NFL season is right around the corner when a new Madden game hits the shelves. With Madden NFL 10, the developers at EA Sports have rebuilt the engine from the ground up. And for the first time, a Madden game for the Wii feels like a Madden game made for the Wii -- not just a port of a game designed for a more powerful console. Embracing a much more arcade-type style compared to its hyperrealistic PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts -- highlighted by five unique body types for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers, linemen -- the latest Madden effort for Nintendo is likely to repel audiences hoping for the classic Madden experience. But it's sure to please those willing to embrace a different style of game which plays the Wii's strengths.
All-Play improved: The pick-up-and-play "All-Play" mode, which debuted with last year's edition, was always a nice idea in theory -- but the execution in Madden NFL 10 has finally caught up to the concept. The innovative "Huddle Up" feature -- described as the "perfect father-son, boyfriend-girlfriend cooperative mode" -- enables one user to control the players while the other controls lead blockers and pass protectors.
Showdown sensation: The grand new playing mode in this year's installment is Madden Showdown, a tournament mode for one to four players consisting of 11-on-11 or 5-on-5 scrimmages -- spiced up with eight different playing options like "All Running Plays," "All Passing Plays," "Tug of War" (when you only have one play to advance the pigskin before turning it over to your opponent) or "It's Alive" (when play doesn't stop for regular dead-ball situations like incomplete passes). Care to make it a little interesting? Both participants and observers can wager Showdown Points on the outcome of the game (as well as various statistical categories) with a detailed and engaging Prediction System. Can't speak for the long-term replay value, but the first several go-rounds were a blast. There's never been anything quite like it in a football video game.
Shots hits the mark: Remember "Call Your Shots," the best new feature from last year's edition, where a player could conceive Wii-mote drawn hot routes prior to any passing play -- from slants to deep routs to reverses? It wasn't the most realistic feature, but it sure was addictive (and it fit nicely within the game's arcade-style concept). Well, EA Sports has introduced an identical feature for the defensive side: Choose a player and change his defensive assignment on the fly, from man to zone to spy to blitz. "Call Your Shots" gave the offensive player such an advantage in last year's game that it was almost unfair. This year's defensive addition is a great -- and necessary -- equalizer.
Online mode: It's unchanged, for the most part, but without the frame drops and general slowdown common to the online modes of many previous EA Sports titles for the Wii.
Things We'd Change
Road to nowhere: "Road to the Super Bowl," an "experience" for one to four players that enables a group of friends to play together through an entire NFL season, proved underwhelming. My enthusiasm for this feature was high when reading advance press materials about it -- but it ended up a half-baked disappointment. No trades, no practicing, none of the bells and whistles of the most rudimentary season mode -- just games. If your performance during a game is substandard, you can get benched and the computer will take over your place. That's fine -- if somewhat annoying -- if you're playing cooperatively with a friend. But it's not so much fun to watch the computer if you're playing by yourself.
Franchise? Superstar?: Hunting for the Franchise and Superstar modes I'd come to enjoy in recent Madden installements for the Wii, I experienced two stages of shock: an initial jolt when I discovered these have become bonus modes which a player must unlock -- and a second and more jarring shudder when I discovered they've changed nothing about these modes from Madden NFL 09 besides updating the rosters -- not even the much-improved Wii-friendly point-and-click menu interface from the main menus. It's kind of a buzzkill to go back to the D-Pad.
M.I.A.: Real-life commentators Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond call the action. The commentary is fine. But a Madden game without so much as a peep from the man himself? What gives?
EA Sports typically overhauls its franchise engines, like they've done with Madden NFL 10, once every three years. It's debuted in Year 1, tweaked and refined in Year 2 and, in theory, perfected in Year 3. The first Madden game of this three-year cycle is going to strike veterans of 07, 08 and 09 as vastly different in many different areas. If you can get beyond these improvements, you'll find a very palatable and accessible gaming experience. But those enamored with the true-to-life simulation days of Madden games from previous years (and for other consoles) are setting themselves up for disappointment.
-- Reviewed By Bryan Armen Graham