"Guitar Hero 5": Hands On at E3

June 3, 2009 8:12 AM ET

"Music is universal... anyone from my six-year-old son to 60-year-old grandmother can enjoy it," explained Brian Bright, project director for developer Neversoft, speaking to Guitar Hero's continued popularity at industry confab E3 yesterday. (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr unveiled major competitor The Beatles: Rock Band on Monday.) Still, there's always room for improvement he asserted, promising a new approach for the brand's latest iteration, Guitar Hero 5, which ships for PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 on September 1st. "This time, we focused on making the game more accessible — easy to jump in and out of."

(Don't miss our list of the 50 Best Rock & Roll Video Games of All Time.)

Enter Party Play, allowing four players to jam using any combination of guitar, microphone, bass and drum peripherals (including multiples of the same instrument) to playlists up to 128 songs in size. Users can drop in and out of the action or swap instruments at-will, choosing to tackle tracks like Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" or pass on Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" as the mood strikes. By synchronizing responses with timed on-screen prompts, aspiring rock stars add harmony back to hit singles from starring acts including Elton John, Jimmy Eat World, Johnny Cash, Queens of the Stone Age and Kiss. (Check out more artists with tracks on the game here.)

Also demonstrated was a new RockFest mode, enjoyable with four band members locally or eight players online, expanding on the happy hour favorite's competitive elements. Five distinct flavors of action include such options as "Momentum," wherein successfully shredding 20 notes in sequence increases game difficulty, while missing three chords instead causes it to drop. Likewise, "Streakers" challenges players to consistently pound out flawless successions of notes, while knockout mode "Elimination" causes the lowest-scoring player to be dropped every 30 seconds.

During demonstrations, which saw live performances accompanied by animations of tattooed, kilt-sporting virtual avatars playing vast outdoor arenas in sprays of sparkling motes, Bright was also quick to assure existing Guitar Hero content's compatibility. "Downloadable songs [from predecessor Guitar Hero: World Tour] can be added instantly to party play, or enjoyed in all RockFest modes," he said. "The custom music creation studio application will also return, though we've revamped everything from featured sounds to the user interface." Additional extras will include bonus challenges (hit a 100-note streak, whammy for a minute, etc.) for every song, which, when completed, unlock secret characters and new venues.

Still, hard as the title appears to rock, Bright suggests life isn't all wine and only-green-M&M-filled contract riders for its creators just yet. "The worst part about E3 groupies?" he laments. "We don't have any."

Related Stories:

Guitar Hero 5 Exclusive: 10 Bands in September Game
Guitar Hero: Van Halen Confirmed, Game Due in 2009
McCartney, Starr Unveil The Beatles: Rock Band in L.A.

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