The battle of the band games has been going on for a while now. This time last year, you may recall, Guitar Hero World Tour was gearing up to take on Rock Band 2. Eurogamer loved them equally, slapping both games with a big fat 9/10. But it was Activision who won the battle for Christmas cash, in the US at least - Guitar Hero outsold Rock Band by more than 2 to 1 over there.
This year EA is sticking with the formula, but hoping to boost Rock Band's appeal by throwing in music from the greatest band the world has ever known (assuming you're not a Rolling Stones fan or Heather Mills). Activision is sticking with the formula full-stop. The boldest decision they've made with Guitar Hero 5 appears to be sticking the number in the name rather than adding a stupid subtitle, although we'll find out exactly what those new features amount to soon enough since the game's out in a fortnight.
At least they're also exploring a new musical direction with a brand new title, too. Activision has realised we've got enough plastic guitars and rubberised drum kits cluttering up our homes, thanks very much. What we really need is a plastic turntable with a rubberised disc spinner. Activision reckons loads of us will be willing to pay more than a hundred pounds for one, which is obviously ridiculous. That's like saying 18 million people around the world would pay 70 quid for a set of bathroom scales which measures how good you are at leaning and tells you you're a bit fat. HA HA.
The DJ Hero turntable is certainly a lot cooler than the Wii balance board. The design is sleek, sharp and neat, and sits on the right side of the line between realistic imitation and Fisher Price toy. There's a pleasing heft to it and the rubber turntable offers a good grip, while the crossfader moves smoothly and the buttons feel responsive. Which is all very nice, but is it worth a hundred pounds? That will depend on the game it comes bundled with.
Trying to convince us is Jamie Jackson, creative director at FreeStyle Games and conductor of our gamescom DJ Hero demo. He begins by showing how to adopt the position - right hand on the turntable, with index, middle and ring fingers on the coloured buttons set into the top. Your thumb rests on the side for added stability. The crossfader is operated by your left hand, but more on that later.
Just as in Guitar Hero, coloured notes scroll across the screen and your job is to press the corresponding buttons at the right time. However, here they scroll around a spinning record rather than down a fretboard. Some notes, or "taps" as they're officially titled, just require a single button press. Others are played by holding the button down longer while you twist the turntable backwards and forwards, thereby generating a scratching sound.
This manoeuvre is instantly intuitive, satisfying and fun. You could almost believe you are in fact a top international DJ who visits the world's hottest nightclubs to lay down phat beats, rather than a 31 year-old woman who goes to pubs in South-East London to whine about house prices. Perhaps "almost" is a bit strong, but there's definitely a sense that you're the one making the music. And the associated thrill which comes with that is just like the one you got when you played Guitar Hero for the first time.
Though the basic gameplay principles may be the same, Jackson doesn't reckon the two games have much in common. "We wanted to do something that was completely unique and new," he says. "We borrowed from some of Guitar Hero, the HUD and the concept of notes coming towards you - people are familiar with that. But the controller's obviously very different."