Rock drummers don't have 'careers'

19th November 2009 – 5.34 pm

I finally bash my way through to the end of Guitar Hero 5, unlocking the last venue and reaching 500 stars. The career mode is far less rewarding than in its predecessor, Guitar Hero: World Tour. Whilst it is much better not to have to play unfavoured songs more than once, picking individual tracks rather than immutable set lists, which easily balances having to choose every single song to play, there is little to gain in repeatedly playing any one song in career mode.

Whereas World Tour rewards the player with cash for each gig played, building up a running total which eventually advances a player's rank, the stars rewarded in Guitar Hero 5 in career mode are only awarded once. The game obscures this feature somewhat, always appearing to add stars on to your career total at the end of a track, but first subtracting the relevant amount for the new total to add up. The only way to gain more stars is by improving on previous scores, attempting or improving on the challenges, or playing new songs.

With no new songs to play, no drumming challenges left, and most songs rewarding five stars, there is not much I can do beyond pick up a different fake plastic instrument or hope to score a perfect six stars on songs whenever I attempt them. What irks me the most is that Guitar Hero 5's career mode seems to reward lower skill levels disproportionately. I am more likely to get a five star rating on a later song if I play it on the medium difficulty setting, and a three star rating if I challenge myself on hard difficulty. But all stars gained are equal.

In World Tour, the harder difficulty settings reward the player with commensurately more virtual cash, letting the player advance in rank more quickly. This gives the incentive to continue playing the game in career mode, even tolerating less-liked songs, rather than playing in standard mode. But the situation is reversed in Guitar Hero 5. There is little reason to play in career mode once the majority of stars has been collected, instead favouring the quickplay option where saved player-created set lists of preferred songs can be loaded quickly, as no progress is likely to be made in career mode anyway.

It is curious to consider how much the lack of reward is affecting my choice to keep playing Guitar Hero 5. Although I probably play Guitar Hero: World Tour more in career mode because of the temporary nature of the set list creation, advancing my rock rank is always good incentive. Pushing my drumming up to expert difficulty in Guitar Hero 5 won't reward me beyond a sense of personal accomplishment, yet in World Tour the game motivates me by offering greater rewards for greater challenges. A three star performance on a harder difficulty setting will be more rewarding than a five star performance on an easier setting. But with all stars being equal in Guitar Hero 5 the game provides no incentive to push myself to improve my playing.

Indeed, although it is partly the metal tracks that I find tedious and uninteresting left to play, the poor career mode itself is the reason why it takes me so long to complete Guitar Hero 5. I could drop the difficulty down a step in order to breeze through the final songs, or even to go back and attain five stars in every song in the game, but to do so will only give an empty sense of accomplishment. I want my expert stars to be more meaningful than the medium ones. Looking on the positive side, if the game is not going to reward me artificially, I will probably end up practising drumming proper, which offers real skills and a much greater sense of personal accomplishment.

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