Rather than writing a long and possibly sucky review, I'll just go with the important points. (I got the 360 version, if it matters to you.)
- The new wireless guitar controller is a big improvement. Yes, wireless is always better, but this baby has a more solid feel to it and a stout, thick neck that is actually a reasonable facsimile of a real Les Paul (one of which I happen to own). Much more comfortable to play and hold, and connects to the 360 with zero problems.
- Track list is well-rounded. There's something for everybody, and the bonus songs aren't writeoffs.
- It looks really good in HD.
- Battle mode is fucking retarded. You can throw powerdowns at the other player that you earn by hitting Star Power-like streaks. They range in effectiveness from mildly annoying (upping the difficulty level of the song) to bullshit and cheese sandwiches (double note, lefty flip, etc.) The game randomly picks which powerdown you get, introducing a very unwelcome element of luck into the nice pure game of skill. To make things even better, the three battles you're forced to do in career mode interrupt the flow; the AI never misses notes unless it's suffering a powerdown, and it always seems to know when to hit you with one. Frustrating as hell and zero fun. Fuck you, Neversoft.
- Art direction. There's a lot of color in this game. A LOT. Venues are bigger but not better; blinding wouldn't be a bad description. The character art ranges from silly to ridiculous, and not in the fun way. A new Japanese girl rocker wears eye-hurting shades of intense pink or green. Judy Nails has been turned into some kind of ugly-ass goth wannabe. Casey's now an anorexic Lindsay Lohan lookalike. Lars' spikes and shoulder pads are now bigger than he is. While Harmonix knew how to design for humor and silliness while still retaining a subtle sense of taste, Neversoft has adopted "louder is better" and thrown any sense of proportion to the winds. It's just lame.
- Co-op career is a nice touch, but why the hell can't we do it online?
- We're on Guitar Hero game #4, and pausing STILL split-second freezes in the middle of the song? Who thought this was a good idea? It makes pausing worthless, since you're forced to miss notes unless you're in a dead spot in the song. Would it kill them to give you a two-count back in or something? Of all the shit Neversoft chose to fuck with, they decided to leave in this idiocy.
- Is it really necessary to throw big wiggly "50 Note Streak!" and "100 Note Streak!" text at us while we're playing? All it does is distract you. Basic rule of interface here, people: a popup is designed to interrupt the workflow and get the user's attention. This is a GAME -- his attention needs to be on the note chart and should not be interfered with. If the user wants to know what his streak is, he can see it under his score. The popups don't need to be there.
- The approach is starting to get a bit old. The next game needs some serious rethinking. Maybe Rock Band is going to be that game, but since Guitar Hero is now a cash cow, Activision's interest in tweaking the game (and possibly annoying the legions of Don't-Change-It-Ever) is probably close to zero.
**** (4/5, irritating flaws and lack of anything really new remove perfection from its desperate clutch)