Yeah, Activision sure have published a lot of Guitar Hero titles. Not to ruin the surprise or anything, but they're going to keep publishing a lot more as well.

The reason for this is the same reason why I'm not about to explain to you how the game works - you already know. They've done such a good job at educating the public as to how the second largest video game franchise in the world plays, that all that is really required is to document the differences between each successive release. After all, the set list is entirely subjective.

I think it's fair to say that we were all so blind-sided by the Guitar Hero World Tour hardware when it was released, it was rather easy to overlook deficiencies in the software. Matchmaking was always a hassle, invariably someone would hit the back button by mistake and you'd all have to sign in again. You also couldn't jump in or out whenever you wanted, and the difficulty curve was designed to let anyone play without fear of failure - after all, failure came without any real band notification and there was no way for your band members to rescue you. Even the multiplayer wasn't really cohesive, it always felt as if someone had just ripped out the Guitar Hero 3 foundation and added multiple instrument support.

In a rare change of course for the Guitar Hero franchise, Activision and development partners Neversoft have gone back to basics with Guitar Hero 5, and in doing so, have shown us that they're still capable of understanding what social gaming is all about. Gone is the ridiculous requirement that each band member must play a different instrument. Gone is the boring career progression that requires you to unlock songs in order to play them in quickplay mode. Gone is the shared star power - hell, if you have too much it now spills over to your band mates - and if you thought Boss Battles were a tedious and frustrating waste of your time, don't worry, because they're gone too.

After stripping away the accumulated overheads that dogged Guitar Hero World Tour, Guitar Hero Metallica and Guitar Hero Greatest Hits, Activision were probably surprised to discover that at its very core, Guitar Hero isn't about unlocking challenges, pimping avatars, or even anything to do with emulating playing a real musical instrument. No, drill down far enough, and Guitar Hero is simply this decade's version of Simon Says - hit the pretty colours at the right time, and you'll be rewarded by not hearing a horrible sound. Much like any other primeval, endorphin-giving experience, the method of delivery and speed at which your brain can access this instant, self-affirming display of your own talent is crucial for an addiction to take hold, so it's little wonder that a new drop-in, drop-out feature has finally appeared on the scene.

The way this works is simple - as soon as the game loads, it'll start cycling through songs, much like any kind of media jukebox. At any point, you and up to three others can jump in and play the song, on whatever instruments and difficulty levels you select. If one of you should happen to fail, they can be brought back time and time again, so provided you don't all run out of talent at once, you stand a pretty good chance of completing even relatively tricky songs on higher difficulty levels. But the best part is that you don't have an annoying lobby that needs to be accessed every time someone decides they're sick of the drums or the vocals.

There's no point in avoiding the elephant in the room, especially as when it comes to DLC, Rock Band has always had the upper hand. Fortunately, this latest Guitar Hero release actually allows you to use over 150 of the DLC songs available for World Tour, as well as supporting the importation of a decent chuck of the primary set list of both World Tour and Greatest Hits for a small fee. Sure, Activision may still have a long way to go to catch EA's prodigious outpouring of music, but with Guitar Hero 5's slide towards software enhancement, there's at least another angle to consider before choosing one or the other.

Let's face it, few people are going to buy both Guitar Hero 5 and The Beatles Rock Band, but that's really not a bad thing. They may look outwardly like the same game, employing the same gameplay mechanics to achieve the same end, but they're really remarkably different, and rely on not only a different social setting to be successful, but even the participants are quite likely to be a varied bunch too. An indoor/outdoor BBQ on a Saturday afternoon with a group of thirtysomethings lends itself well to The Beatles Rock Band. Revisit the same setting a few hours later and take a decade off the average participant, and you're probably more likely to find yourself surrounded with the Guitar Hero crowd. The Beatles Rock Band is an easy game that applies itself well towards vocals and synchronised strumming. Guitar Hero 5 has the occasional death metal track. Enough said.

For a lot of people, it's all about the set list - you'll find this on the next page. Personal favourites include Du Hast (the final twenty seconds of which will earn you a round of applause from even the most Guitar-skeptic person in the room, should you happen to nail it perfectly), Sultans of Swing (it's cheesy, but the alternating chords and the excellent solo at 90% are just too much fun) and Smells Like Teen Spirit (finally, a Nirvana song that isn't a walkover). As there are 85 songs however, it's a fair bet that you either won't like, or won't have heard of the majority of them. Sometimes it's not easy to know whether unlocking the set list completely at the beginning of the game encourages you to listen to new music or not.

If you pick up the bundle, you'll receive a newly revamped guitar, which includes a modified strum bar and neck tap notes. It's lost the annoying vague strum feeling that the World Tour guitars had, and although I'm not ready to declare it to be superior over the excellent Les Paul wireless guitar from Guitar Hero 3, it's certainly on a par, and a worthy addition to the ever-growing stable of peripherals available for these music games. It's even red and sparkly.

It's pretty easy to get lost within the world of Guitar Hero, but all you really need to know is that Guitar Hero 5 is easily the best guitar-orientated experience since Guitar Hero 3. People who have no interest in drumming or vocals will really appreciate the ability to play with three other guitarists, as will most spectators. Even die-hard fans that have played every World Tour song to death as part of a band or solo will enjoy the new drop-in, drop-out multiplayer mode, and despite the lack of focus on vocals this time around, there's plenty on offer with additional song challenges and a set list that features some truly tricky numbers for a change.

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Continue to the next page for a full track listing.

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