Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Guitar Hero World Tour Review Part 3: Getting Started - Vocals

I can't prove it with research, but my general impression is that singing as a form of spontaneous cultural expression has been on the decline since the early 20th Century. Records and radio have doomed family sing-alongs, and by extension work songs and praise songs, to relatively small niches of the population. Most people get no vocals training or practice, and when we do sing, our crooning is held up against the high standards of professional studio recordings so polished that many pop singers can't replicate their own music live in concert.

So it's nice to see rhythm games give the music back to the masses by providing a sanctioned framework for being able to sing, developing singing talent, and evaluating your singing. Karaoke has been around for a long time, of course, but Rock Band brought singing to a whole new demographic.

Getting started on vocals is relatively simple, as long as you have a free USB plug on your console, and can stand close enough to it to reach it with the cord. I skipped the tutorial, picked Hard difficulty, and jumped straight into the rudimentary storytelling interface, just like the drum career mode. This time, however, I noticed that you do, in fact, play the first gig of your career in what appears to the be the basement of a frat house, so there is some sort of venue progression as you pay your dues.

In Original Rock Band (ORB), I found that the only way I could 5* hard Hard and most Expert songs was to hum quietly and continuously throughout the song. This seems pretty stupid, until you learn that humming different vowels is how opera singers warm up. It's a good way to develop your head voice and other core aspects of your vocal production. Humming quietly, on the other hand, is incredibly boring, and usually doesn't go down well in band play. That's what Medium is for - it's "Fun Mode" for vocals.

GHWT seems to have replicated the vocals experience from ORB, with a few twists.

There are now two types of sections that give you points or star power for singing whatever you want, and star power is activated by "clapping" rather than singing during a short activation section. I found "clapping" the mic to be extremely unreliable, so I ended up with my mic in my left hand and the Xbox controller in my right, ready to take advantage of the frequent opportunities to activate.

The most interesting difference for me was the way your pitch indicator leaves a long ghost trail that helps you understand how your pitch jumps around as you transition between different notes.

It's not immediately clear whether spoken-word sections are scored differently in GHWT, but my stellar performance on the obligatory Beastie Boys track suggests it's pretty lenient compared to ORB.

There were no tambourine/cowbell sections, which is a bit of a relief, but on the other hand makes those long guitar solos a serious yawn-fest. One of my first songs had an instrumental section so long the controller lost its wireless connection twice before I got to sing again. This is the drawback of singing in rock music-oriented games, at least when you're playing solo. When rocking out with friends of a certain type, you can always leap about and do whatever lead singers do when the axe-men are thrashing.

The GHWT star system seems more liberal than Rock Band's. The combination of the big "You Rock" fanfare, the gushing flow of money, the achievements for trivial performances, and the somewhat liberal star grading made even my most abysmal singing performances seem more like a good night for Pavarotti in his prime. The percentage of notes hit, however, told the true tale.

GHWT's score details, with notes hit by phrase and other metrics, promise to be extremely useful for the aspiring singer. I'm hoping the training mode, which I'll cover in a later part of my review, will allow the singer to start anywhere in the song.

After I sang my two sets, I decided to play around with the non-performance aspects of the game a bit. I was unable to find a song list that showed my score on all songs, the new songs that were available, etc. The "seedy bar help wanted board" interface does give you a number of song options, including build-your-own gig, but there is no central, dedicated song list like in Rock Band - at least not in career mode. I'm sure that once I get around to reading the manual or running through the tutorials, or playing with more savvy gamer friends, it will turn out I've missed something obvious. However, for solo mode, the default behavior of the GHWT interface is very different from Rock Band.

Buying clothes and dressing up is similar to ORB, but lamer (if that's possible). GHWT has awesome face configurability, and good body configurability, but it doesn't support color options for hair or clothes, so you end up with even fewer, even lamer clothing options than those in ORB.

Once again, the non-performance gameplay and metagame seems to be an afterthought for this new generation of rhythm games. However, I'm not up on all the details and latest news, so I'll withold judgment until I can research this more.

1 comment:

John said...

There are color options available on most of the clothing and hair - although it's true that a small percentage cannot be tinted. I think you pick [YELLOW] to bring up the color wheels (note you can only change color on something you already own - so you can't try out colors while shopping.)

The things I note about GH:WT's frosh attempt at vocals:

1. Every phrase you nail apparently gives you star power. It's probably a boon for full band play to have this endless well, but in solo, it was harder to keep up with than a farm cow on rBGH.

2. There are now both "awesome" and "perfect" ratings, and either will maintain your multiplier, but you need all perfects to get 100% on a song. RB just requires you to be on pitch long enough to fill the circle, but GH wants you to be on pitch ("inside the tube") at all times, which is generally not humanly possible.

3. I want my tambourine hits back.