Here we go again. For the third year in a row I'm back to compare Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero. The past two years, Rock Band has won, and of course, I received many an attack from fanboys defending their games. You've already read the reviews for both games (John Breeden's take on Beatles: Rock Band and Kelly Adams' review of Guitar Hero 5.) Now I've been warned by many on staff, especially Kelly, about doing my take, but I'm still going to do it. This is my opinion, and I stand by it.
When Guitar Hero World Tour came out, it was the first of the series to come out with a full band package. At first I claimed that it was just a way of jumping on the Harmonix/Rock Band bandwagon, and despite it having some issues (namely drum pad sensitivity, the addition of tap notes and too easy vocals,) it was adequate in doing the drum experience.
However, this year, Neversoft got it completely right. Not only is the full band experience more streamlined and easier to get started, (no more of that "must have three band members" that we saw in Guitar Hero: Metallica,) GH5 was designed primarily for multiplayer gameplay. Having the ability to have up to four players play the same instrument was an act of genius. I don't see any more fighting over who is going to play lead and who is going to play bass.
In addition, the new Party Mode is also pretty sweet. Just after the game intro finishes, the songs start to play, and anyone can just jump in and out of the game whenever they want to. I hope to see this occur in future releases, such as Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
As usual there are the appearances of several well known musicians. This year we have Shirley Manson from Garbage (and Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles,) Carlos Santana, Matthew Bellamy of Muse, Johnny Cash, and most infamously of all, Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. Criticism came in the addition of Cobain as an act of commercialization, although Activision claimed they received approval from Courtney Love, Cobain's widow, to include him in the game. Love herself took exception to this and posted on Twitter how she is threatening to sue over the character. Even former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic spoke their mind over Cobain. In their case they wish for a patch to come out so that Cobain would only perform the two songs by Nirvana in GH5 (Lithium-Live and Smells Like Teen Spirit.)
As for Beatles, the gameplay is pretty basic. Think of it more as a standalone mission pack for Rock Band 2. The heart of the gameplay comes in the Story mode, which centers on the Beatles career in eight chapters, starting from their early days at The Cavern Club in 1963, followed by live performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, and the Budokan.
Then there are three chapters that center on their work at the Abbey Road Studios, where the band performs their songs accompanied by visually alluring Dreamscapes (which I will get to later.) The final chapter takes place on the roof of the former Apple recording studio building, in reference to the movie Let It Be. Completing each of the chapters earn pictures, bonus videos, as well as challenges to get at least 5 stars in each song set, which varies in length from four to seven songs.
I will admit though the notes on the Beatles were much more lenient on when I hit them, while on Guitar Hero 5 they were much more strict. This came as a surprise because it was usually the other way around. It got to the point that going back to GH5 caused me some frustration when I started, but then got used to it.
Of course, being a game based on the Beatles, it also features the on-screen appearance of the Beatles, changing their appearance as they progress through the years. I will go more on this later, but in terms of new features, it's obvious that GH5 gets the nod.
WINNER: GUITAR HERO 5
ON-DISC SONG SELECTION:
Guitar Hero 5 features 85 songs. All except two bands (the previously mentioned Nirvana and Tom Petty) have one track, making a total of 83 artists. The soundtrack this year is broader, featuring a lot of current tracks. According to director Brian Bright, 25% of the songs are "fresh," as they are songs that have come out in the past 18 months. Therein lies my problem with the soundtrack. I'm more of a classic rock person. Always was, always will be. Anything from the 60s to the early 90s is my preference.
After checking the song list, despite my co-host knowing 67 of the songs available, I could only recognize 40 by title. It wasn't just me; I did an experiment. I asked ten people of various music tastes (one who even part times as a DJ) to count how many songs they knew by title alone. The average also came out to about 40. I will admit though there are songs on here that I was very happy to see; I never thought that Rammstein's "Du Hast' would ever be added to the list, especially the original German version. The addition of the live version of Peter Frampton's ‘Do You Feel Like We Do" is one of the rare exceptions I make about favoring a live track over a studio master, and GH5 includes it, talk box and all!
However, there are some songs I felt were better on other releases. While I enjoyed playing Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash, I found it way too easy, and was able to get a full combo on Expert both on bass and lead. I actually favored the harder Social Distortion cover that is available as Rock Band DLC.
Then we get to the other songs I am not at all familiar with or do not like at all. For starters, Coldplay should never be in a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game. They are more appropriate for SingStar or Lips. Then I need to ask who are some of these bands? Rose Hill Drive? Brand New? (Obviously, I never heard of them) Band of Horses? Children of Bodom?
Yes I know I'm going to get a lot of heat from fans of these bands, but I'm sorry, I don't know them, and not really interested in playing them. I will give GH5 credit for one thing. They may have added the White Stripes, but at least it's not that damn Doorbell song that was played ad nauseam on BBC Radio 1.
Beatles' track list is much smaller, weighing in at only 45 from twelve of their albums recorded during their EMI tenure. There are also six non-album songs plus the mashup of "Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows" that was on the 2006 Love album. There were a couple of songs I didn't know here either, such as Boys and I Want You (She's So Heavy) but the rest I can make out by name. The only problem with the Beatles songs is they are perhaps too easy to play. In my first run of the Story mode, I was able to gold star 10 of the songs.
Still it's a decent collection for any Beatles fan, even though I think they could have easily truncated the ending of I Want You as the last three minutes are perhaps the most tedious in any track I ever played, Rock Band or Guitar Hero.
Here my decision comes in the percentage of the song list I am familiar with and want to play again. GH5 seems to only have half the songs on the disc I have an interest with, while Beatles feels more like 90%. I'm going to have to go with the Beatles on this one, and I'm putting my flame shield up right now.
In the past, I always favored Guitar Hero's graphics over Rock Bands for one reason: the frame rate. Don't get me wrong, both games always looked great but I just favored how smooth GH was, especially Metallica, which I still consider the best looking of the series. Guitar Hero 5 still looks pretty darn good, even with what they did to Kurt Cobain, but I have to ask, why Neversoft? Why did you make the game run at only 30 frames per second? In doing so, you lost that extra visual polish that I always favored.
Now the Beatles looks amazing. Not only do they recreate all four members perfectly, even with that cartoonish "Rock Band" touch, they made them look like they did as they went over the years. We see John Lennon start off with his mop top and clean face at the Cavern eventually evolve to the rebel we knew him as, long hair, glasses and beard and all.
The settings are also meticulously re-created. The Ed Sullivan stage features the same yellow tint (done to enhance black and white video) that was used in the original 1964 broadcast. But what really makes the Beatles' visuals shine are the amazing Dreamscapes that take place during the Abbey Road recordings. We go from the subtle of "Here Comes the Sun" to the acid trips that are "I Am the Walrus" and "Helter Skelter." I especially love how they did Yellow Submarine as we see all the Beatles looking and dressing the way their cartoon counterparts were in the titular movie. Same for the Dreamscape used for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends." Each of them fit the song perfectly, and definitely much better to watch than four people rehearsing in a studio.
Some people have complained that they were unable to see the notes with the Dreamscapes playing in the background, but I didn't have any issues. Maybe I have some sort of "Rock Band Myopia" but I still think it looks amazing and doesn't detract my gameplay.
Looks like this year, Rock Band wins in visuals.
Needless to say, both games sound amazing, as they should be. Master tracks aside (which is almost a must these days,) Guitar Hero 5 has followed up on Rock Band by adding crowds join in, and while some people might not like it, I actually do.
Beatles took a more "preservationist" approach to the music. There are no additional sounds, such as crowd joining in or booing, or the use of the Rock Band guitar's effector switch.
Drum fills are also not available. There is no fail out segment either, as the game just fades out into a "Song Failed" screen. Sure there are the sounds of screaming girls and introductions by the likes of Ed Sullivan, but again, this was done to protect the integrity of the Beatles' recordings, and this will be one of the exceptions I will make about having the immersion of the crowd joining in.
However it is nice to hear actual recorded bits of the band as they are warming up, and hearing John Lennon's finish to Get Back, "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and myself and I hope we passed the audition," is a great way to end the game.
In the end, both games win in the audio category.
Beatles: Rock Band is not compatible with Rock Band or Rock Band 2, nor can their songs be transferred, and vice versa.
Guitar Hero 5 allows transfer of 35 songs from World Tour, a far cry from the 55 RB1 songs than can transfer to RB2, as well as 21 from Smash Hits. In addition, all the downloadable tracks (except for the Jimi Hendrix songs) could be transferred.
This is pretty much a no-contest.
WINNER: GUITAR HERO 5
As mentioned before, GH5 already has a strong list of songs available for download. Since its launch, there have been an additional 14 songs available for download (including the Rolling Stones, AFI, Street Sweeper Social Club, the Editors, the Faint and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)
Beatles only has one song available as DLC currently (on 360 at least,) and that is All You Need is Love, with its proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. Over the next three months, full album downloads will be available. The first will be Abbey Road on October 20th, followed by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in November, and Rubber Soul in December.
So it looks like right now, Guitar Hero 5 will get the win in terms of downloadable content. But I am curious to see how the Beatles albums will turn out.
WINNER: GUITAR HERO 5
So it looks like in the end, Guitar Hero 5 wins by a very small margin. I would favor Beatles more because of the on-disc song selection compared to GH5, but they are both excellent games, and the truth is no one can go wrong with either. And if you don't like them, there's always that copy of Rock Revolution going on sale at Best Buy for the unheard price of $1.99! (Translation, you're not a music game fan!)
Currently Playing; NHL 10 (360,) Halo 3: ODST (360)
Waiting For: Forza Motorsport 3 (360)