Guitar Hero's fourth chapter is in an unenviable position: trying to emulate but not flagrantly copy the mechanics of its rival, Rock Band. The solution: straddle party and hardcore appeal with a varied track list that includes Michael Jackson and Tool while adding new, unique details to the experience of miming music.
To that effect, the redesigned guitar controller includes a touchpad that allows finger-tapped solos and crude slide-guitar passages, but the pad is difficult to use well. The new drum pads register hits of varying power to allow accented sounds, while long "held" notes indicate fast rolls on tom-toms and cymbals. The pads are quieter, springier, and more realistic than Rock Band's, but the kick pedal doesn't attach to the kit's stand, so it tends to move around a lot during play.
While a beginner setting makes play even easier for newbies, higher difficulties see dense, challenging note charts. Vocals are no exception; have some hot tea ready for hard and expert sessions. As in Guitar Hero III, expert charts often include too many notes to feel like realistic songs, but the high-level drum charts do a beautiful job of modeling syncopated and complex drum playing.
World Tour's primary failure is presentation. The menus lack elegance, and the career mode is a simple progression through the song list. Onscreen displays such as score multipliers are hard to read. Even good efforts, like the unique arena for playing Tool's songs, feel quickly done and clunky.
Beyond the game: World Tour's big unique feature is the music studio through which you can play, record, and edit songs. But with limited note samples and no allowance for vocal recording, the results aren't stellar. Creating tracks takes a lot of editing, thanks to the way the game handles banks of guitar sounds and swapping scales, and the results sound too much like a coarse MIDI track.
Worth playing for: Challenging drum charts and the additional realistic touches to guitar and bass.
Frustration sets in when: Struggling band members cause the whole combo to fail a song. Though the game is forgiving about missed notes, the lack of a Rock Band 2-like no-fail option is a real buzzkill.
Final judgment: Like a talented but awkward session musician, World Tour isn't quite ready for the big time.