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Countdown w/ DGC
Things Guitar Hero Can Learn from Rock Band
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 11, 2009   |   Episode 75 (Show Archive)  

            
War! What is it good for? If we're talking about the all out battle between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it's good for keeping the developers on their toes and creating bigger and better games. With the upcoming release of both Guitar Hero 5 and The Beatles: Rock Band, we thought we might offer some unsolicited advice on how each company can make their product better. No matter which game you prefer, chances are there's something about the other product you wish they would steal. Be it the way the game looks or how you activate the overdrive, there's bound to be something the other game does better.

In this article we're going to look at the Five Things Guitar Hero Can Learn from Rock Band. We're going to be honest, hoping that in the not-too-distant future somebody might actually listen to us. And then when we're done with that, we're going to flip the tables and look at the Five Things Rock Band Can Learn from Guitar Hero. That's two very special lists in one day, a first for Defunct Games. So put down that fake plastic guitar and hang up your drum sticks, because we're going to spend the next three thousand word bitching about two of the biggest music games of all time!

Keep It Simple (and Gimmick Free)
No, I'm not talking about the pointless touch sensor on the Guitar Hero World Tour guitar (though, that certainly is a gimmick). Instead I'm tired of all of the useless clutter that pops up on screen while I'm trying my hardest to enjoy the music. First it tells me that I'm off to a good start, and then it tells me that I have 100

At least Activision has the Ozzy model ready in case they make Guitar Hero: Black Sabbath!
notes, then 200, then 500, then a thousand. It's just an endless parade of useless information being thrown on the screen when I'm trying to focus on the notes. I get it, I've hit a bunch of notes in a row. You know how I know I've hit a bunch of notes in a row? Because I was there. It's as if the game forgets that I'm the one that did all this stuff. If I wanted to see how many notes I hit, I could just as easily look at the note counter in the heads up display.

And while I guarantee that I'm in the minority on this one, I am sick and tired of seeing celebrity lookalikes jump onstage to play one or two songs. It was bad when Slash showed up in Guitar Hero III, but it's unbearable it's Sting, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Ozzy Osbourne, that chick from Paramore and so on so forth. They don't add anything to the game. In fact, I would argue that they take away from the experience. The idea of these games is to see a little band that makes it big and conquers the world with their music, but this storyline gets undermined when Ozzy shows up to sing La Bamba. Seriously, that's an imagine that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.

A Consistent, Weekly DLC Schedule is a Must
It's a fact, every week I look forward to Friday. Not because I can't wait to get off of work (the work of a games journalist is never done, after all) or can't wait for the weekend. Instead the reason I look forward to Fridays is because I know that Harmonix will announce a brand new set of Rock Band tunes that will go live the following Tuesday (or Thursday, if you're a PlayStation 3 gamer). It's the same reason I look forward to Nintendo's Virtual

Just as long as next week's DLC isn't Nickelback I'll continue to look forward to Friday morning!
Console announcement each Monday, it's almost a mystery that will either excite me or not. Sometimes I'm indifferent at the selection of upcoming songs. But no matter how bad that week's announcement is, I know that in seven days I'll be excited all over again for what's coming next. This little trick has kept me excited about Rock Band for close to two years, and I don't see my addiction to DLC waning any time soon.

Sadly that is not the case with Guitar Hero. While it's true that Activision has offered a solid amount of good downloadable content for their Guitar Hero World Tour, the way they go about it always feels a bit anticlimactic. Early on the release of DLC was sporadic at best, and even now it's not always clear what content is supposed to hit the network. The other problem is that most DLC announcements are made weeks in advance, usually all at once. It's not uncommon for an email to hit my inbox that maps out a month's worth of content all at once. Instead of checking in each and every week, I look at the schedule and forget about it. This PR move fails to drum up any excitement about the content. It's even worse when I find that I'm not interested in the content that month. At least with Rock Band I'll keep coming back week after week to see what's new, but if I see that there's nothing I want for a month, I'll likely forget all about it for thirty days. And what am I doing in that month? Not playing Guitar Her World Tour, that's for sure.

Better Music Integration
Say what you will about the Rock Band franchise, music integration is one of the things they managed to get right from the get-go. There's no reason for a Rock Band Smash Hits, because just about every song ever made for

Guitar Hero: Metallica will not play nice with Guitar Hero 5!
this franchise is available for play in Rock Band 2 (and Rock Band 3, if Harmonix is to be believed). As many gamers already know, importing songs from the original Rock Band into the sequel is a breeze, instantly boosting the number of songs to close to 150. The same goes for people that picked up AC/DC Live or any of the other Rock Band Track Packs. While most discs come with a code that allows you to download the songs, the end result still involves you adding a bunch of music that can be played in Rock Band 2.

Unfortunately Guitar Hero World Tour was not built that way. The only way to play all of those fun Metallica songs is to put the Guitar Hero: Metallica disc in your console. The same holds true with the recently released Guitar Hero: Smash Hits (and I suspect Guitar Hero: Van Halen will follow suit). And even if you could integrate these songs into Guitar Hero World tour, there still wouldn't be much to do with them. The game's single-player campaign doesn't seem very interested in incorporating the DLC into the actual game. And if these new songs don't play well with the other Guitar Hero games, then why bother buying them in the first place? At least when I buy a Rock Band Track Pack I know that I'll play the songs more than once.

The Power of Teamwork
It's funny how Guitar Hero started its life as a single-player experience. Sure there was a multiplayer component, but it paled in comparison to the single-player campaign. Fast forward a few years and suddenly everybody thinks that the music genre is all about playing with friends. These days it's the hip thing to pull

These people aren't nearly as exciting when there's not a camera present!
out when you have a bunch of drunken slobs over looking for something to do. There's no doubt about it, both Rock Band and Guitar Hero are party games. But I'm not sure somebody told that to the developers of Guitar Hero World Tour, since there is very little actual teamwork involved.

The concept behind Rock Band seems deceptively simple; you play as a team and work together to earn a high score. If somebody is about to fail, somebody else can step in and activate the overdrive to help them regain their footing. If somebody fails out, the other musicians can revive them a couple of times. Heck, you even earn extra overdrive juice by working as a team. But none of that is present in Guitar Hero. Activating overdrive is a selfish event, if one person fails the whole band does and you earn overdrive juice independently. As I played through Guitar Hero World Tour I couldn't help but feel disconnected from the other musicians, almost as if I was playing by myself. That's the complete opposite of how I feel with Rock Band. I know that if I'm playing Rock Band with a neophyte I can make sure and activate the overdrive at just the right times and save them if needed. We are connected as a band, working towards the same goal. If Guitar Hero wants to be the ultimate party game, they better pay attention to how teamwork changes people's perception.

A Compelling Campaign Mode Is A Must!
Hey Guitar Hero, do you want to know why I go back to Rock Band a year after its release? It's not because of the track list or the downloadable content, both games have that. Instead it's the story mode, a lengthy world tour that allows me to simulate all of the highs and lows of being on the road. This is a mode that will take any gamer dozens (if not hundreds) of hours to beat, and thanks to the implantation of

Give my avatar something to do other than play a list of songs and he'll come back month after month!
DLC, there's incentive to go through it all over again when you're done. I've managed to go through this mode several times, both solo and with friends (online and off). This is a mode that offers a stunning variety of set lists, including the always popular mystery set list, which take from your entire music catalog to create a unique concert each and every time. And just when you think you've done everything there is to do, all it takes is a trip to the online music store to make the story mode new again.

But Guitar Hero doesn't offer anything like that. While it's true that they made some major changes to Guitar Hero World Tour, the story mode still amounts to nothing more than an excuse to play a bunch of songs in a row for no reason whatsoever. In other words, it's basically the same old boring campaign, where you go down the list of songs trying to beat each and every one of them with the best score possible. Boring. Heck, the game doesn't even keep track of how well you do in any given venue, just in case you want to go back through and beat your old scores. This mode is as bare bones as they come, and I suspect it plays a big part in why I gravitate towards Rock Band over Guitar Hero. It's not just about mystery set lists and making my own concert. It's not just that I am earning fans and risking them by swapping the final song for something harder. It's not any one of these things ... it's ALL of these things (and more). Harmonix has found a way to keep me glued to their game months after its release, and as far as I'm concerned Guitar Hero needs to catch up.
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