You don’t need to do much in the way of research to work out that 'Rock Band' won the PR wars against 'Guitar Hero' from last week’s big battle of music gaming launches. Hardly surprising, since MTV Harmonix’s property had pulled out the ultimate rock trump card – 'The Beatles Rock Band' - rendered and re-mastered for their first digital outing anywhere (that iTunes announcement never came, did it?)
Even standing opposite the biggest pop group ever, 'Guitar Hero 5' had a tougher time. I’m sure that the giant that is Activision don’t care about a few indie boys squabbling with Courtney about who allowed the Kurt Cobain sprite’s unlockability – and it’s impossible to contemplate that they wouldn’t have sorted out the legal ramifications – but the row did rather rule the conversation last week.
For the record, and call me a cyborg or whatever, but I see no problem with Kurt being rendered as a gaming avatar – far better for a new generation to be exposed to his music than to protect the foibles of a few ageing purists.
Anyway, part of the reason that GH5 launched soft (well, as soft as a multi-billion-dollar industry can launch) is that this time, there isn’t really any huge innovation they’ve been able to go all out with. Last year’s World Tour iteration bought it up to date with rival 'Rock Band' by adding bass, drums and vocals. And next month’s 'DJ Hero' takes the same creative leap that they did last time. (And check this awesome trailer for the DJ vs Guitar mode).
All GH5 could really do this time round was tweak – and there are only two of these minor changes that you’re really going to be interested in.
First is the choice of songs themselves. If you’re reading NME.COM you’ll find the 86-track songlist tailored far more to you than previous HARD ROCK iterations. There’s plenty of Megadeth and Rammstein and Motley Crue as well, but it’s a far indie-er set than we’ve seen in the past. Arctic Monkeys (‘Brianstorm’), The White Stripes (‘Blue Orchid’) and Vampire Weekend (‘A-Punk’) all turn up for the first time, and TV On The Radio even get in on the act with their darker-than-hell ‘Wolf Like Me’.
Welsh noiseniks Attack! Attack! even got to release their new track ‘You And Me’ exclusively through the game. Expect this stylistic expansion to continue even further with the forthcoming tween-centric 'Band Hero'. We wonder if the chance to rock out as Hannah Montana will field as many complaints?
The other innovation is Party Play, which won’t appease Bill Wyman or Chad Kroger or any of the other people who have been decrying these games' relation to real-life axe-wielding, but should appeal to the households who might have a couple of guitar handsets knocking round the house, a mate with the drums or whatever. Party Play basically shows reality the trap door, and allows up to four people to play any combination of instrument during any song, on any difficulty level, dropping in and out whenever.
That’s some clever programming, since every part automatically adapts to the number of people and combinations playing. Confused? Safe to say you’ll probably be less confused when gathered round with your mates knocking back tequila on a Saturday night.
There was none of that last Friday morning of course, when I (ahem) rocked up to the HMV on Oxford Street for a GH5 world record attempt. The idea was to have as many people playing on continuous session in the same 24 hours, throughout Europe. Number one popstrel Pixie Lott was there to kick off the London leg.
And yes, we hear you, it’s a rather specific honour to be named, as I have, as one who ‘took part in an attempt to set a Guinness World Records-recognised achievement for the largest number of participants to play in a single Guitar Hero 5 session over a 24 hour period’.
But the experience did give me hands-on experience of the game itself, and it does mean that I can show you this stupid video of me ‘rocking out’ to ‘Send A Little Love Token’ by The Duke Spirit.