Guitar Hero really blew the roof off the gaming world a few years ago, but maybe the time has come to move on from the plastic guitars and simulated rocking.

Guitar Hero really blew the roof off the gaming world a few years ago, but maybe the time has come to move on from the plastic guitars and simulated rocking.

In the last year alone, Activision's franchise has spawned four distinct games on consoles (not including handheld versions). While its main competitor, MTV's Rock Band, is experimenting with new formulas like musical documentary gaming, the new Guitar Hero 5 feels like more of the same.

It's a better game than its full-band predecessor, Guitar Hero: World Tour. In fact, it feels like a return to the series-high Guitar Hero III. The game includes more than 80 songs, with a track list that can be called, at best, diverse. In reality, it's all over the place.

Tracks by some big artists are included, and the music is beginning to expand a bit outside hair bands and heavy metal. This may grow the core audience, but it feels like a loss of focus.

While it's nice to see songs from Johnny Cash, Queen and Stevie Wonder, they feel out of place next to Nirvana, Rammstein and Kings of Leon. There just isn't enough of any one kind of music to set a solid tone for the game.

Usually, this sort of problem would be handled through optional downloadable content. Guitar Hero 5 supports importing many of the songs from World Tour and the recent Greatest Hits games, but not all of them. In fact, little more than half the songs from each game transfer.

Gameplay continues with the full band support found in World Tour - guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The game adds some minor tweaks to the scoring system and the ability to create a rocker and swap instruments between sets. Plus, a new pop-in-pop-out party mode makes the title far more suitable for Friday-night soirees.

Game difficulty is all over the map - some songs playing easier than expected, while songs that should be simple to play are challenging even on easy difficulty. The gradual escalation in chord complexity found in earlier titles is gone, likely a reaction to criticism that the previous games had gotten too simple for experienced players.

Basically, while the party-mode addition is nice, buyers should probably review the song list before purchasing - the musical offerings feel a bit schizoid.