Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
Thank goodness for Rock Band. Without Rock Band we would not have Guitar Hero: World Tour, and without Guitar Hero: World Tour we would not have the best Guitar Hero ever made.
Competition seems to have bought out the best in Activision and Neversoft, and forced the publisher and developer to not just contend with Rock Band, but try to find somewhere new to take the series. That this Guitar Hero would feature bass, drums and vocals for the full band experience was only to be expected. That it would provide would-be Guitar Heroes with a way to create their own music was not, and while Guitar Hero: World Tour still has a few failings, it's the combination of these features with a still excellent single-player mode that makes it such a compelling proposition.
In many ways, Guitar Hero's instruments are an improvement on Rock Band's. The Microphone remains wired, but the drums are wireless, velocity sensitive and swap one of the Rock Band kit's four pads for a high-hat and cymbal. From memory, the rack is also a little easier to put together and a bit more rugged in use than the Rock Band equivalent. The wireless guitar, no longer a Gibson copy but with a look close to a gorgeous Paul Reed Smith, is probably the strongest axe peripheral yet. It's larger than GHIII's Les Paul, the strum bar is slightly less clicky and the whammy bar has a nicer feel, and most importantly it has a new touch sensitive area on the fretboard designed specifically for high-speed hammer-ons and pull-offs - even tapping - during solos. Don't despair, however, if you're too strapped for cash to upgrade your old six-string. The slidebar, as it's called, can only be used in a few specific sections, and from personal experience you tend to score higher if you use the regular five, colour-coded buttons instead. Maybe it just takes getting used to, but I found it weird and unpredictable.
Interestingly, World Tour doesn't go too far in copying Rock Band's model. Where Rock Band felt like a dedicated multiplayer game that could be slimmed down to suit a single player, World Tour feels like a single-player game that has been opened up to include three additional players and their new instruments. Structurally, the single player and band career modes are broadly similar to what we saw in Guitar Hero III, though this time there's less of a 'life of a band' narrative. Instead we just get a selection of gigs taking place at different venues around the world. With the storyline a little of the tongue-in-cheek rock myth humour has gone, but in recompense we get more star cameos - this time Billy Corgan, Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde, Sting and Ted Nugent, among others, do the honours - and a longer, more satisfying game.
Why? Well, obviously there are more songs and stages, but the game's success really comes down to the tracklist and the note placement. At times, the way GHIII laid out notes on the scrolling fretboard seemed to be more about making the player's life difficult than giving you the feeling that you were actually playing the song. In World Tour, the placement is usually more logical and more intuitive. The tracklist, meanwhile, is probably the series' best, covering all the bases from eighties rock (Living on a Prayer, the Eye of the Tiger) to soft rock classics (Band on the Run, Go Your Own Way, The Joker) to nineties alt-rock (Nirvana's About a Girl, Smashing Pumpkin's Today, Jane's Addiction's Mountain Song) to British hits (Some Might Say, Love Spreads) and even country (Willie Nelson!).