Guitar Hero 5 Review

Guitar Hero 5 LogoA host of new and improved features and refinements to the visual presentation highlight Guitar Hero 5. Developer Neversoft has also stripped away layers of frustration and clutter from the experience, making this the best main installment in the prolific rhythm game series since Guitar Hero II.

Perhaps the biggest addition is Party Play mode. Upon launching Guitar Hero 5, the game will randomly start playing a song from your library and allow up to four players to jump in at any time and select their instrument and difficulty level without the song ever stopping.  Players can also make difficulty adjustments or even swap instruments without interruption. Read More…

Party Play is unsurprisingly great in a social setting and was an immediate hit among the people I fake-rock out with, though we did find ourselves skipping quite a few songs either because we didn‘t know them or because the game randomly selected them two or three times in a session. The are are no on-screen meters in Party Play and No Fail mode is on by default, making it a very casual and pressure-free experience that boils down to simply having fun with your friends.

There really aren't any flat-out “bad” songs among the 85 included in Guitar Hero 5, but the game tries very hard to cater to every subgenre of rock music instead of almost singularly focussing on hard rock and metal like in games past. The result is a rather eclectic soundtrack that few people are likely to enjoy outright.

Xbox 360 Players can Rock Out as their Avatars

This was likely a move to appeal to the large Rock Band audience that tends to skew to the more casual side of the market. However, as a Rock Band player that has been building a customized library since the game was launched nearly two years ago, I felt constricted by a relatively tiny song selection that was too varied to put a really cohesive, fun setlist together.

There is an option to export a number of songs from both Guitar Hero: World Tour and Guitar Hero: Smash Hits though it will cost you 280 Microsoft Points and require a 290 MB patch to be downloaded. Of course any DLC purchased in Guitar Hero: World Tour can be played in Guitar Hero 5 as well, including the Metallica Death Magnetic content. Any other DLC you may have purchased in Guitar Hero II or III cannot be used in Guitar Hero 5.

All 85 on-disc songs are unlocked from the moment you start Guitar Hero 5, so players that just want to rock out in the Party Play or Quickplay modes without progressing through a career can do so. Of course, there is a career to progress through and it is vastly improved over that of Guitar Hero: World Tour. The Career mode falls somewhere in between the standard setlist progression of earlier Guitar Hero games and the tour mode in Rock Band

As you complete songs, you will earn stars. As you earn stars, new venues and gigs become unlocked. I unlocked the final song in the final venue when I had around 300 stars. That may sound like a lot, but I had only played approximately 65 of the songs at that point. By taking this approach, Neversoft has eliminated being stuck on a particular song or boss battle and made it easier for casual players to complete the Career mode. Much to my delight, boss battles were removed completely from Guitar Hero 5.

Song Challenges Add Replay Value

Players can begin their career as a solo artist, but you are free to switch instruments or add members to your band at anytime. In fact, completing each song’s challenges will require you to play with all four instruments and get a band of at least two people together.  Completing the challenges will earn you up to three more stars on top of the five possible for your performance. These challenges appear at gold, platinum and diamond levels and involve things like alt-strumming as many notes as you can, maintaining Star Power for a certain length of time and using the whammy bar during sustained notes.

I play plastic guitar games using the lefty flip option and found the whammy challenges to be very frustrating because of the way the standard, right-handed guitars from Red Octane and Harmonix are designed. How a left-handed “guitar” hasn’t made it to market yet, even with The Beatles: Rock Band is beyond me.

There are plenty of Competitive multiplayer modes to play outside of Career, all of which can be played locally or over Xbox LIVE. In addition to Party Play and the standard Quickplay modes, players can take part in Pro Face Off, Momentum, Streakers, Do or Die, Perfectionist and Elimination matches. RockFest  makes players face off in a series of songs using the rules from the other Competitive modes.  Between the Competitive modes and their team-based variants, as well as the challenges for each song, there is plenty of replay value and enough variety to keep things fresh; even with a limited number of available songs to play.

The GHStudio also makes a return and is a much more user-friendly experience this time around. The GHMix 2.0 interface is easier to use, making custom song creation more intuitive and accessible than before, especially to those familiar with sequencing software like Fruity Loops. The GHJam mode is really quite fun as well, allowing you to simply pick a style of song and jam away with the option to record your session.

Guitar Hero 5 looks great compared to previous entries in the series and in my eyes, even has a level of polish beyond that of Rock Band 2. Absolutely everything looks better. Character models are refined and move more fluidly than before. The menus and results screens have been made sleeker and more appealing and the note chart even looks better thanks to the removal of “fretboard” backgrounds. This makes it not only easier to see notes, but to differentiate the regular ones from hammer-ons and pull-offs or the opaque tapped note sections.

A Re-Animated Kurt Cobain is One of Four Celebrity Guests

The tapped note sections seem more prevalent in Guitar Hero 5 than they were in World Tour, often representing keyboard, piano or organ riffs. These sections are fun, but I have trouble using touch strip effectively and they remind me how much I long for a real keyboard controller to become a part of my plastic-instrument collection.

Players new to the franchise that have cut their teeth on Rock Band 2 or The Beatles: Rock Band should note that Guitar Hero 5 is a more difficult game than those titles. The level of difficulty is toned down from previous games, but is still markedly harder than the Rock Band games. I play Rock Band 2 guitar on hard and played through much of The Beatles: Rock Band on expert, but still had difficulty getting five stars on a number of songs at the medium level in Guitar Hero 5.

I enjoyed playing Guitar Hero 5 more than any instalment in the series since Guitar Hero II. The new features and improvements to the visual presentation go a long way and breathe new life into a series that was well on its way to becoming stagnant. It’s not quite enough to make me switch from Rock Band and start buying DLC for another game just yet, but it certainly puts pressure on Harmonix to keep pace in their next main edition of Rock Band. Both in terms of features and dare I say it: presentation.


+ Custom Rockers and Avatar Integration
+ Vastly Improved Presentation
+ All Songs Unlocked from the Start


- Track List is Too Varied
- Audio is Quieter than Other Rhythm Games

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Game Forward Score: 4/5

Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward


Guitar Hero 5 (Xbox 360) Quick Facts:

Genre: Music/Rhythm
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Publisher: Activision Blizzard, Inc.
Release Date: Sept 1, 2009
Price: $59.99 US/$69.99 CAN
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)