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Video game previews
Guitar Hero World Tour preview for Nintendo Wii
 
Guitar Hero World Tour Nintendo Wii box art
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In case you missed it, Activision recently let the cat out of the proverbial bag by confirming the entirety of Guitar Hero World Tour's 86-song tracklist. We had the chance to play through a good chunk of these songs earlier this week when Activision held a Guitar Hero press event in Santa Monica, with every song in the game available for Quick Play fun. In addition, we were treated to a demo of the Music Studio mode by members of the Neversoft team, and a run-through of the basics of the Wii-exclusive Mii Freestyle mode from the folks at Vicarious Visions.

The recently unveiled tracklist is a behemoth that spans an eclectic mix of music. At one end of the list are laid-back tunes such as Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and The Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man," whereas situated at the other end of the spectrum are more frantic, aggressive numbers such as "One-Armed Scissor" by At The Drive-In and the borderline schizophrenic "B.Y.O.B." by System of a Down. And to make sure you're not overwhelmed by pure rock and roll, wildcards have been thrown into the mix as well, including Michael Jackson's "Beat It," the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and Los Lobos' "La Bamba."

Another item of note about the soundtrack is the number of repeats. Whereas Rock Band had only one song per artist in the original game (before adding to an artist's stable of tunes with downloadable content later on), Guitar Hero has isolated a few artists for special attention right out of the gate. Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tool all feature more than one song in the game--two each for Jimi and Ozzy, and three in the case of Tool.

Many have been clamoring for a "No Fail" mode in Guitar Hero World Tour, and though the game won't offer one per se, there are a few alternatives that we picked up on during an evening spent watching a large number of people getting acquainted with the game's new setup. For one, there's the beginner difficulty level that sits even lower than easy. This one is monumentally difficult to fail out of, and though it makes playing the actual instruments a touch on the boring side, it gives you the ability to embellish your singing quite a bit without suffering a substantial penalty. Another option to approximate No Fail is the ability to change your instrument's difficulty in the pause menu without exiting back out to the song-selection process. Just hit start, raise or lower the challenge level, and the song will start over.

World Tour's Music Studio mode stands as one of the most interesting weapons being wielded in the escalating battle between multi-instrument rhythm games. Whereas Rock Band 2 has a massive catalogue of DLC songs going into its release, World Tour adds the ability to create your own music and expand the game's tracklist with a virtually infinite number of player-created songs. In the past, we've seen this feature demonstrated numerous times by members of Neversoft, but this was our first time getting the chance to run through it on our own. What we didn't realize before is the tiered level of accessibility to the Studio. Prior indications led us to believe that the Studio was more for the hardcore crowd, but after spending some time with it, we can see that's not necessarily the case.

Much of that has to do with the way the Music Studio is broken down. It's divided into three primary areas: GH Tunes, GH Studio, and GH Mix. Thanks to GH Tunes, casual players don't even need to hit the record button to reap the benefits of the Music Studio. Through this content-sharing service, players can download songs made by other people for free. To help the cream rise to the top, the best music will be promoted in a number of ways. On the main GH Tunes hub, there are categories such as "all-time best," "hot this week," "rising star," and "top artist" to help you find the best material most easily. And to help tip the balance in favor of talented artists, the number of upload slots given to you will gradually increase as your work gains popularity. By default, users can upload five songs, but the best artists can upload an album-length 15 tracks.

For those willing to take the plunge into making their own music, GH Studio is the most accessible option. This is where up to four players can jump into the proverbial recording room and record live performances. Each instrument can be tweaked in a variety of ways. You can change the sound of your drum kit from standard rock to NES-style blips to even robot voice sounds. Guitar is broken down to lead and rhythm; lead can play either single-note riffs or multinote arpeggios, while the rhythm guitarists offer some depth with either full or power chords. Both guitarists can select from a variety of guitar and amp sounds from the virtual Line 6 pods available to them, and the key can be changed in all sorts of ways with all kinds of scales available to select. You can even record keyboard using a guitar controller, and the keyboard melody can later be sung by a vocalist when the song is performed in-game. (Vocal recording has been disabled for myriad legal reasons.)

Finally, there's GH Mix, which offers the most depth and therefore the biggest learning curve. You can think of it as a MIDI mixing board that one player can go into and record multiple tracks and then edit them to perfection. There are two ways of doing things: live record and step record. In live record, you pick guitar, bass, keyboard, or drums and record your own performance, much like with GH Studio. But here, you have a ton of options at your disposal, such as the ability to fix your own less-than-perfect timing by snapping notes to intervals like the 8th, 16th, and 32nd notes. If you're happy with what you've made, you can use a copy-and-paste tool to turn that section into the chorus, second verse, or anywhere else you want it repeated.

But let's say that you're not happy with the way a recording turned out. That's when the step recording comes in handy. This feature lets you go and nudge individual note icons into their ideal locations, or just drop in new ones over an existing recording to make your original work sound far more elaborate than it really was. With this ability, you're able to overcome the fact that there's only one recording track per instrument by layering new notes over existing recordings to make a given part sound far more vibrant. Of course, some poor soul is still going to try to play these surgically enhanced recordings on expert-level difficulty, but that's the price you pay for sweet music.

A somewhat similar mode to Music Studio exists only on the Wii version of World Tour. Known as Mii Freestyle, this mode presents a chance for a guitarist and drummer to jam alongside one another with a pair of Miis standing in place of the usual Guitar Hero characters. You can't record what you play like in the Music Studio, but it does provide a more accessible form of spontaneous music-making than its more feature-laden counterpart. You begin by picking one of three musical genres: metal, rock, or blues. This choice affects the sound of the instruments that you play and the instrument loops that can be layered into the mix. After that, you can start jamming freestyle or to the advice of the riff suggestion chords displayed at the top of the screen.

As you would imagine, the drumming part is the more straightforward of the two. It's just a simple matter of laying down any old beat for your buddy to play over. Then the person manning the guitar can improvise over that beat by playing any combination of single notes or chords based on how many fret buttons are held. Three tilt zones affect the sound of the guitar: holding the neck down low will provide a low octave, holding it level will put you in the medium octave, and holding it up high will give you access to the sorts of embellishment-heavy riffs that you'd hear way up the neck. In addition, playing chords in the high-tilt zone will drop a guitar loop into the mix that can then be taken out at any moment by hitting the minus button. Given that you can't play bass guitar, bass loops are available to turn on or off in the settings menu.

It's a safe bet that Guitar Hero World Tour will be a huge hit, but we're especially eager to see what sort of community develops in the wake of the new Music Studio feature. Some of the example songs created by the Neversoft team (10 of which will appear in the full game) were quite impressive, displaying everything from reggae to a metal cover of "Flight of the Bumble Bee," so we're anxious to see what sort of tunes will be created by diehard fans of the series. We'll find out when the game arrives on store shelves on October 26. Stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the release.

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