Buying Guide: Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour?

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Short Version: As music games go, both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour are impressive, fun, and either would make a great addition to any gamer’s lineup. But which one is best for you?

Overview and Methodology

We’ll take a look at Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour, both for the Xbox 360, and break things down within various categories. Both standalone games cost around $60, with full band kits going for just under $200. I have the full band kits for Guitar Hero World Tour as well as the first version of Rock Band – not Rock Band 2. Since the instruments have been updated somewhat for the Rock Band 2 kit, I’ll try not to make too many detailed direct comparisons aside from overall general differences.

Since music is a pretty subjective issue, keep in mind that your tastes might differ greatly from mine. I’m coming from the point of view of a 29-year old who’s formative years consisted of Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, AC/DC, Megadeth, Anthrax, Bon Jovi, and bands like that. In high school and college I listened to harder alternative and punk. So the viewpoint for some of the opinions in this guide is coming from someone who likes hard rock, metal, punk, and heavier/grungier alternative music.

As far as instruments go, I grew up playing drums, bass, and guitar — in that order of skill — and I played in 15-20 bands throughout high school and college. I sang, too. So now you know, and knowing is, indeed, at least half the battle. Now let’s get started…

Song Lists

Surprisingly, there’s a rather large amount of identical songs featured between the two games, yet I found the overall experiences to be quite different. Rock Band 2 has 75 famous songs plus nine bonus songs from relative no-namers, while GHWT has 86 famous songs. Here are some of the overlapping songs found in both games:

  • American Woman – The Guess Who
  • Everlong – Foo Fighters
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  • Feel the Pain – Dinosaur Jr.
  • Float On – Modest Mouse
  • Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
  • Lazy Eye – Silversun Pickups
  • Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
  • The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
  • Mountain Song – Jane’s Addiction
  • One Way or Another – Blondie
  • Our Truth – Lacuna Coil
  • Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
  • Today – Smashing Pumpkins

I personally enjoy the music in Rock Band 2 better than the music in Guitar Hero World Tour. I found most of Rock Band 2’s songs to be songs I liked and if I came upon a song I hadn’t heard before or didn’t necessarily love, I found that most of them fell into some sort of hard rock category, so at least they appealed to me somewhat.

GHWT, on the other hand, had some true musical gems here and there but I found myself agitated at having to play through long songs like Hotel California (which I believe to be one of the worst songs in the history of American music – can’t stand it), The Joker, Sweet Home Alabama, Stranglehold by Ted Nugent, and stuff like that. It’s harder to keep the adrenaline pumping with GHWT than it is with Rock Band 2.

If you’re looking for variety, GHWT has a diverse song list. You’ll find a little bit of everything, which will appeal to plenty of people. Personally, I wanna rock (rock!), which I found to be much more consistent in Rock Band 2. Oh, and you can import songs from the first Rock Band into Rock Band 2. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Presentation

Both games feature an animated group of musicians performing at some sort of venue. GHWT’s presentation is a bit more cartoony and fun, while Rock Band 2’s seems more gritty and semi-realistic. Once you get into a song, though, you’ll be concentrating on the notes far more than you’ll be checking out the visuals and animations.

You start out at small parties and dive bars and then work your way up to arenas as you progress throughout the game. GHWT features plenty of surprise guests in the form of actual musicians – Billy Corgan, Jimi Hendrix, Zakk Wylde, Ted Nugent, to name a few – which is kind of cool, although it seems more superficial than anything. Rock Band 2 has some guests as well, but not nearly as many or as famous.

Venues and locations in GHWT are relatively more elaborate than in Rock Band 2: you’ll play at a frat houses, a state fair, a farm, a church, recording studios, Times Square, AT&T Park, Ozzfest, the House of Blues, and other famous locations, so there’s definitely an air of realism as far as GHWT’s visuals go.

However, I found the actual feeling of playing in a band to be more realistic in Rock Band 2, overall. When you get cranking along on a song, the crowd starts to cheer louder and sing along with the words, which I think represents the feeling of playing an actual show more realistically. Again, there’s more adrenaline with Rock Band 2. The emphasis in GHWT seems to be on the venues and guest stars, while the performance experience tends to be emphasized with Rock Band 2.

Guitar Experience

Hands-down, I find the Rock Band guitar (I have the guitar from the first version, remember – the second version is apparently similar, with the added feature of being wireless) to be much, much better than the GHWT guitar simply because the buttons aren’t separated on the Rock Band 2 guitar. I was having trouble on easier skill levels with GHWT guitar (below, left) until I tried using the Rock Band guitar (below, right) instead. After making the switch, I was able to beat songs on the harder skill levels that I’d been failing before when using the GHWT guitar on easier levels.

IMG_0578

Anyone who’s played guitar before knows how much you rely on sliding your fingers along the frets. With GHWT, the buttons are far enough apart that sliding doesn’t work too well. The included guitar does have a trackpad-like section higher up on the neck that’s used for tapping, which is kind of cool, although I didn’t use it all that often. The Rock Band guitar has identical-but-smaller versions of the colored buttons higher up on its neck, which I found useful for soloing and complicated runs.

Drumming Experience

I much prefer playing drums in GHWT — above all, the way drumming is handled and scored, in general. I can’t speak to Rock Band 2’s actual drum kit, as I only have the first version, but my argument isn’t for or against the drum kits of either game, it’s more for how drumming is handled. Allow me to explain…

In Rock Band and Rock Band 2, you’re expected to hit each drum note in order to score – fair enough. Now let’s say you’re playing a song you know really well but you’re playing it on the Medium skill level and there’s a section of the song coming up that contains a certain fill-in or triplet or double-kick in the real-life version of the song but the Medium v
ersion in Rock Band/Rock Band 2 calls for a less elaborate fill or a single kick or something like that. If you play the more advanced, real-life rhythm, you’ll be docked points. Play the real, true version of a song but at a lower skill setting, and you won’t make it past the first thirty seconds of the song.

GHWT, on the other hand, lets you flail around to your heart’s content as long as you keep the overall general rhythm between the snare, kick, and hi-hat going. You won’t build any star power this way, but you won’t kill the song either. So it’s more fun for  drummers who know that real-life drumming is mostly about keeping songs popping along in four-four time, while just about any fill-ins, doubles, or triples are fair game.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion about the GHWT drums being faulty, but those issues were apparently linked to some manufacturing problems with early hardware. The drums I got didn’t have any trouble and current kits should be fine.

Singing

Ever done Karaoke? That’s about the extent of the singing experience in both games except your own voice is potted way down, volume-wise. The actual singing part is pretty similar between the two games. I found Rock Band 2 to be a little easier to follow but I found the star power feature in GHWT to be a bit cooler. All in all, though, don’t buy either game based solely on the singing feature unless you check out the each game’s song list first. Then buy whichever game has more of the songs you like.

Online Features, Extras

Online multiplayer is actually pretty similar on both games as well. You can hook up with your friends and play songs together and/or up to four of you can take on another four in a battle of the bands scenario. 

As far as downloadable content is concerned, the Rock Band franchise has a ton of songs right now. Guitar Hero’s list is slowly growing and will likely eventually catch up. If you want to download extra songs right now, though, Rock Band games have the most stuff available (as of December 2008).

Guitar Hero has GHTunes, though, which consists of user-generated songs created with the game’s music studio feature. You can create your own songs and upload them to share with other GHWT players. Rock Band 2 doesn’t have a music creation system but it does have a feature called Drum Trainer, which basically teaches you how to play drums. I’d give the edge on “extra” stuff to GHWT thanks to the music studio, but downloadable content currently goes to the Rock Band games. Both games’ online multiplayer features are pretty much a wash.

So Which One’s Better?

Probably Guitar Hero World Tour. No, wait, Rock Band 2! No, wait… this isn’t working!

If you’re looking for rock, rock, and more rock, you might enjoy Rock Band 2. If you’re looking for a more diverse selection of music, Guitar Hero World Tour is probably more up your alley. If you’ll be playing guitar most often, I prefer Rock Band 2 but if drumming’s your thing, I like how GHWT handles everything. Singing and online stuff can go either way, while there’s more to download with Rock Band 2 but more to create and upload with GHWT.

I happen to love playing the drums in GHWT but I like the music in Rock Band 2 better so, clearly, I’m no help at all. But this isn’t meant to choose one game over the other – they’re both great games. Hopefully there’s some information here that can help you choose which one would be right for you.

Rock Band 2 [Official Site]

Guitar Hero World Tour [Official Site]

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