Recent Guitar Hero games saw developer Neversoft favoring hardcore note-crunching over party-game simplicity. Guitar Hero 5 reverses that approach. Start the game, a song will cue up, and you’ll see an invitation: play. Right from the menu, one to four people can jump into a random song, and can choose whatever instrument they like. Want a traditional band setup? Do it. Want a singer and three guitarists? Got four drum kits? Any setup works. Career mode remains, but all songs are unlocked in quickplay. Career mode offers extra challenges: band members have to hit notes only with upstrokes, or maintain a multiplier for a specified duration. Not interested? Ignore them.

The previously cluttered interface has been redesigned. From menus to in-game screens, everything is easy to navigate. Though Rock Band still boasts superior animated players, these avatars are a big improvement over the stiff, frighteningly ugly models from GH: World Tour. Xbox owners can even play with their Xbox Live avatars, finally making those worth customizing. Neversoft has clearly listened to complaints and made sweeping adjustments. Sometimes crowd sourcing works; this is a smooth, inviting, playable setup.

Not everything shines. The setlist is heavy on forgettable recent bands and songs that already appeared in Rock Band. Compared to the competition, the GH online store remains anemic; it’s harder to bolster the setlist with purchased tracks. It’s a less-demanding game, too. The threshold for failure has dropped significantly; hardcore players may think it too easy. Granted, the series had become tremendously challenging, sometimes brutal, at higher difficulty levels. But challenge is a good thing. Not everyone should be able to rock Expert vocals on “Under Pressure.”

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for respect. A new version of Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” with fucking Zakk Wylde is one thing, but creating digital avatars of players like Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain has always been questionable. Allowing players to make the Cobain avatar sing “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down sounds the sourest note in the music-game genre.