Guitar Hero 5

Year: 2009
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Genre: Rhythm
Review Date: 5/20/10
Rating: ***

Despite the welcomed improvements in gameplay, my first experience with GH5 was a bitter disappointment. Of all the songs I wanted to play, Iron Maiden's "2 Minutes To Midnight" was at the top of the list. My excitement turned into complete dismay when I discovered that they bleeped some of the lyrics out of it, creating an unforgivable audio stumbling block. Not only is it painful to listen to, but it's also completely inexplicable. The two words they bleep are "kill" and "children," and they don't even occur in the same context. The song was never edited on the radio or MTV, so why did they decide to alter it for Guitar Hero? This also raises an even more important issue: Why use a song for this game if you're going to bleep it? Why not choose a different song? It just makes me angry and sad.

Apart from that, GH5 goes out of its way to be the most accessible game in the series and all of the songs are unlocked at the very beginning. The game encourages casual players and favors a party environment with all of the options it has. Building on GH4, it supports guitars, drums, and microphones in any combination for up to four players. The Free Play mode allows you to assemble a play list of up to six songs and play without penalties, which is a great way to get casual and inexperienced players into the game. There are also cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, and a career mode where you can earn cash and unlock venues, characters, and clothing. And perhaps most importantly, there are no dreaded boss battles.

Taking a tip from "Rock Band," GH5 includes a character editor so that you can create your own custom rocker. While this is a neat feature, it's ultimately pointless since you never get to see yourself performing. Sadly, the only people who benefit from the game's visuals are the people who aren't actively playing. It's nearly impossible to create an attractive character given the options in the editor, which is disappointing. Another disappointment is that the stock characters look like they were also built in the character editor, which causes them to lose their unique personalities and visual signatures.

Other presentation issues cause the game to suffer as well, and the new venues are dull and uninteresting. Some of them are downright annoying and a complete visual mess. They lack the charm and color of the previous games. Of course, all of these enhancements come with a price, and that translates into longer load times. While I'm sure that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions perform much better, the PS2 load times are nearly unbearable and the character editor is a severe exercise in pain and patience.

Ultimately, the enjoyment of any "Guitar Hero" game boils down to whether you like the music or not. The song list contains 85 songs and I only recognized 18 of them. It covers a wide range of music from the 1960's through 2009, but it tends to favor songs from within the last five years. The sound tends to be mostly modern punk, but then you also have oddities like Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and King Crimson thrown into the mix. There's also a small helping of 80's rock, which is what I had the most fun with. Most of the songs feature the actual vocal tracks, but there are a few covers that are noticeably off. Overall, if you can deal with the censored lyrics, the load times, and the visual presentation, "Guitar Hero 5" represents the most diverse offering of the series and may be the only GH game you need.