Activision’s Guitar Hero series and Rock Band as produced by Harmonix have come to be the two large contenders in a cultural explosion that is spreading across the world once again amid COVID-19 lockdown period with fervour – gamers across the globe rocking out to classic rock, heavy metal, and power pop in droves in an expansion of the previously cultish music rhythm genre, initially popularized by Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR.
Presentation, Visuals, Style, and Setlists
Rock Band was the first band experience game released for the current generation of consoles, competing primarily with Guitar Hero 3 : Legends of Rock at the time of sale. Allowing up to four players to fulfill the roles of vocalist, guitarist, bassist, and drummer reinvented the genre entirely – bringing much needed innovation to the table. Rock Band 2 scored an aggregate of ~92% on Metacritic, bearing universal acclaim. By comparison, Guitar Hero : World Tour possesses an aggregate score of ~85, a small but significant spread.
Guitar Hero features more angular, cartoonish characters and stylized fretboards – appearing to be more attractive to a younger demographic. The most recent iteration in the Guitar Hero series, Guitar Hero : World Tour continues this art style and presentation although it allows for an entire band experience, akin to the Rock Band product. The setlist contained on Guitar Hero : World Tour is heavily slanted towards more recent music and tends to stay within the boundaries – it is not often that an indie or cult band is referenced in the series. For younger gamers or gamers who are looking for a more casual, mainstream setlist – Guitar Hero may be more appropriate.
Rock Band, by comparison, features more realistic, grittier visuals that seem to be more in tune with the atmosphere of a rock or heavy metal show and a much more comprehensive setlist. Ranging from New Wave of the 1970’s and 80’s alongside modern glam metal produced by the folks at Harmonix – their is a bevy of eccentric and mainstream choices for the avid player. A great example of this would be “Cool for Cats” by Squeeze (1979) , or the inclusion of Bikini Kill and Stephen Colbert from the Colbert Report in an 80’s power pop satire.
With regard to production values, Rock Band does carry a slight edge. When a band member goes into overdrive, their instrument becomes much louder and more full – as opposed to Guitar Hero which does not boost your volume in the mix whatsoever when you engage Star Power. Rock Band also boasts a much stronger library with regards to downloadable content, or DLC (Over 400 songs available for download vs 100 for Guiter Hero : World Tour). The vocalist mode is significantly better on Rock Band as well, with much better backing vocals and support.
Final Thoughts and Room for Opinion
While Rock Band and Rock Band 2 do score significantly higher on almost all gaming review sites, and a significant lead in the aggregate scores – this is not to say that Guitar Hero : World Tour is a poor game. The title does boast some fantastic tracks that are exclusive such as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, Motorhead’s “Overkill”, and the entire Death Magnetic album by Metallica – and some may prefer the high contrast, bright neon visuals as well as the more forgiving hit detection with regards to striking the notes.
Overall the nod does have to go to Harmonix and Rock Band, however; a combination of note accuracy, realistic visuals and character models, and simply better sound mixing and production quality place it solidly in the lead for now. What will the latest incarnations of these two music game titans feature, however? Will Rock Band 3 include a spot for a keyboardist or, better yet, a keytar? Will Guitar Hero 5 include a death metal pack complete with a double bass kick pedal?