'Guitar Hero 5' promises expanded options

WASHINGTON: Activision, publisher of the best-selling music game series "Guitar Hero," is looking to expand its audience with this fall's "Guitar Hero 5," with new features designed for casual players and die-hard fans alike.

"We've enhanced the entire experience around social play," said Activision senior vice president Will Kassoy. Players will be able to jump in and out of songs and change the difficulty level on the fly. "GH5" will also allow any combination of fake instruments, so if everyone wants to play drums, they can.

For more serious shredders, "GH5" developer RedOctane is adding a variety of challenges that pit players against friends at home or online. One game, for example, eliminates weaker performers until there's only one rocker standing.

"Guitar Hero" is also enjoying its status as a star-maker for bands like Wolfmother, which got a boost when its "Woman" appeared on "Guitar Hero II." The Australian metal band rushed to finish "Back Round" to meet RedOctane's deadline for the new game. "They're just a perfect fit for `Guitar Hero,'" said Steve Sherr of Interscope, Wolfmother's record label.

Sherr said another Interscope act stands to gain from its first video-game appearance. TV on the Radio is one of the most acclaimed bands in the United States, but its sales haven't kept pace with its critical reputation. "`Guitar Hero 5' will expose millions of people to the band," Sherr said.

Others on the 82-band roster include the usual suspects (Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age), some fresh faces (Band of Horses, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend) and a few classic rockers who are new to the franchise (Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Elton John).

"Guitar Hero 5" will reach stores Sept. 1, a week before "The Beatles: Rock Band" from rival MTV Games.