Guitar Hero: World Tour
Serving as Rock Revolution's opposite, the first band-oriented Guitar Hero will have nothing but original tracks, and shall include Activision's first compliment of instruments. RedOctane's origin as an enthusiast's DDR pad manufacturer is showing more than ever, as they're strutting their stuff Bemani-style by adding prettier bells and whistles than the competition. It's too bad Neversoft can't make the character Midori look nearly as nice as anyone in the female Bemani lineup, but that's beside the point.
What's most important here is the gameplay, and while Activision didn't attend E3, they did hold their own shindig in Los Angeles during its run. There is a healthy variety of tracks in World Tour which can't yet be extensively discussed, but they do include a lot of unexpected entries, both modern and classic. To live up to its name, it features plenty of songs as performed by artists all over the world, though they're mostly going to be in English. It could've done with some more linguistic flair, but trying to challenge the average North American to sing in another tongue could be asking too much.
A wire-free drum kit is already a big boon, and RedOctane's baby has several advantages over Harmonix's vanilla offering. The silicone pads are both forgiving and resilient, inviting drum rolls of the finest digital order, and more dynamic sound. With the latter, I'm referring to the fact that this set is velocity sensitive; smack it hard and it'll produce a louder bang, while a tap gives off a softer sound. This further shows off that it's more like a digital kit than a toy, and can withstand almost any amount of power you beat it with.
'Course, that's only impressive when it's compared to Harmonix's aforementioned "vanilla offering." Rock Band 2 is going to have its somewhat upgraded kit, and a special edition release with a bona fide digital drum set, which really rocks socks. As far as the actual game goes, Guitar Hero: World Tour's level of challenge wasn't far off from RB's. Though the guitar's always tougher in GH (due to the unusual inclusion of power chords that put the real songs' tabs to shame), the other instruments are on fairer grounds, which is welcome.
Sadly, there wasn't much to test it out with, and its roster of tracks doesn't compare to RB2's gargantuan list. When Harmonix said that exclusivity contracts hurt everyone, were they right? Looking at how Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and the upcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica are going to require a bit of song exclusivity themselves, I'm inclined to agree. Activision is going to be competing with itself by continuing to release band-focused off-shoots, probably restricting DLC for different games to separate releases, and that's going to hurt their band-related entry in the end.
Rock Band 2
Following in the original Rock Band's big footsteps, RB2 is improving on its predecessor's faults and polishing its strong points. As the first home-based band game to provide a set of instruments, its reception was mixed, with the worst criticism being fired at its drum set. Harmonix has worked to alleviate this problem by reinforcing the center of the drum pads, and strengthening the foot pedal with a metallic insert. Both of these moves are important, but they were predictable. They could've gotten away with leaving the guitar alone, but they catered to the most dedicated members of their user base and fixed that right up, too.
Outside of eliminating the sliding and squishiness of the original Stratocaster's fret buttons, the newer, sunburst model is a heartier make overall. As I thrashed through some of RB2's new songs on Expert, I felt more confident about my play and instantly fell in love with the plastic beast. As if that weren't enough, I watched someone drop the new Stratocaster three times on a solid floor, and it wasn't even cracked. Better still, it performed normally. Its build quality is impressive, and I'm dying to get my hands on one for keeps.
The fanciest instruments in the world wouldn't be of any use if the game itself weren't great, and RB2 wowed me there. When MTV Games's representatives were showing off the new menu system, I was amazed, and that's saying something. It was a thing of beauty, and with its plethora of options yet prevalent ease of use, it proved that its tremendous song list won't burden users. You can sort titles by alpha, type, genre, instantly skip ahead to specific letters or eras, create set lists that won't eject you to the menu between each song, and more. And if you were already hooked before the "and more," I'll bet you can't wait to see it now.
Additionally, you're likely familiar with Rock Band's in-game store, and how you can view the individual difficulty levels for each instrument when you're viewing a song's details. Harmonix smartly added this deeper breakdown of difficulty to every single song in Rock Band 2, so you'll know if you're in for a bunch of intense drum rolls or some easy, rhythmic tapping.