The problem with all rhythm-based games is that you either love them or hate them; you either have a talent for them or you stay away from the whole dratted genre in case you embarrass yourself either by playing badly, dancing badly, singing badly, or flinging various plastic instruments around the room. That being said, there is a wonderful social element involved, especially if everyone sucks at the game to the same degree. On the other hand, if you do have a talent for rhythm games, they’re a great source of fun, relaxation (in a stressy kind of way), and new music for you to listen to. Happily, yours truly falls into this category. If you’ve any interest in rhythm-based games, read on. If you hate them, reading this review will not change your mind one whit, jot, dot, or miniscule iota.
After the break: the full rocking review.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, the sixth iteration in the main series of the game, is the latest in the series from Activision (and the last in the series from Neversoft — the series development will be taken over by Vicarious Visions, the chaps who do the Wii and DS versions of the game). Instead of the premise that you’re a band on your road to success, the game departs with a more mythical storyline. The Demigod of Rock (voiced by Gene Simmons of KISS fame) is defeated by a robotzilla called “The Beast” (I can think of at least 3 other things I’ve called “The Beast” in my day, and none of them were a robot), and the Demigod — who seems to be a being with long hair, glowing eyes, and a far-too-big Viking helmet — is turned into literal rock. This means that he needs some mortals to retrieve the legendary guitar and help him escape from confinement. That’s all just your opening cinematic, by the way.
Heeeeeeeere’s Guitar Hero!
If you’ve ever played a Guitar Hero game before, then skip this paragraph. For the rest of you, the game has you playing a number of songs with the help of a plastic instrument, be it a guitar, a drum, or a microphone. The game supports up to four players (two guitars, one drum, one mic), and if you don’t have any real friends to come by and play, you can simply go online to find players to join you in band play. The notes are represented as colored dots rushing with exhilaration toward the bottom of the screen and as they hit a band of colored markers—known as the ‘strike line’ — you need to play the relevant notes.
The better you play, the more your score multiplier goes up (in most cases, until each note quadruples your score); miss any notes and your multiplier goes back down to 1x. Miss too many notes and the virtual audience gets angry and boos you and your terrible playing off the stage. Good thing you can always select “Retry song”. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is, in theory. And at the easier difficulties.
Follow the yellow flamed, burny road
The biggest part of the game, Quest Mode, sees you recruiting eight mortal musical heroes to help free Gene Si…err…the Demigod. Each of the characters has their own preferred musical genre and mystical power. For example, the first character, Johnny Napalm, plays punk music and his power is that your score multiplier never drops below 2x. Finish a song, and you’ll be awarded a number of stars based on how well you played and how much ‘use’ you made of the character’s powers. Bear in mind that the powers are automatic — there’s no way to not use them, other than by playing really really badly. Collect enough stars for a given character, and your character transforms into their “true selves”. I like to call it the uglification of the characters, because they seriously are worse off for the deal in the looks department.
However, the uglies come with a bonus to the abilities, so I suppose it’s all right. Immediately after the uglification process, a bonus song is unlocked that you have to play through as a way of “testing” your new powers, and back to the narrator you go to tell you that there are some more rockers for you to try and recruit.
I have questionable taste
I’m going to stop and talk about the setlist for a short bit here, because if anything breaks a music game, it’s the music that you get to play. I’ll be honest and say I knew less than half the bands that were playing, and of the bands I was aware of, I knew less than half the music that was included. However, my music tastes are widely eclectic, so I personally never find this a particular problem. So eclectic, in fact, that I’ll pretty much find enjoyment in anything that has even the merest semblance of a tune. Just not gangsta rap. That’s not music: that’s just violent poetry with swearing and a drum machine. Either way, some reviewers have expressed distaste at the sheer variety of genres included, which ranges from punk, to death metal, to rockabilly, to pure metal. I like finding new bands and music to listen to, so I enjoyed the range. However, it’s a good idea to hunt down the full list of 93 songs and ask yourself if this is something you want to play through, since you will have to play through almost all of them at least once.
Meanwhile, back at the plot…
And now back to our regularly scheduled discussion of the plot. About halfway through Quest Mode, the recruiting process is interrupted by the Quest for the Legendary Guitar. Obviously, the Legendary Guitar is …well…legendary. Not sure about its reason for being legendary, but since when have plot holes hindered a game like this? The quest is basically a playthrough of Rush’s 2112 album, narrated by Rush. I’d never heard of Rush before this game (they’re a cool Canadian band…look them up), but I was pleasantly surprised by this plot-driven section of the game.
That is to say, I enjoyed it, and once again, your mileage may not be quite the same as my mileage. Pretty much everything after the 2112 section, it’s an uphill battle through ever-increasingly difficult songs to get to the final battle with The Beast. I’m not going to give much in the way of spoilers, but I think it’s fair to warn you that the final song was specifically written for the game by Megadeth to be an arthritic-inducing challenge to players. Call me a wuss, but I had to drop to medium difficulty just to finish that last song.
After you defeat The Beast, you’re invited to go back to the previous venues and songs to try gaining all 40 stars associated with each song. A new Demigod setlist also opens up as a challenge to humble you, in case your head swelled too much from actually finishing the end boss. I warn you — this last one is not easy. Tread with caution.
The other modes of the game, Quickplay+, Party Play, and Competitive Play are different ways of playing through music you’ve unlocked. In brief, Quickplay+ has you selecting a specific song and a challenge target (eg, hit x many notes, or hit the whammy bar on each marked section), and playing through that song for points. This earns stars towards your character level, and as you level up, you’ll unlock…well…stuff. And stuff’s always good, right? Party Play puts the game on autopilot, and players can all drop in and out of songs as they wish. Good for parties. Who knew? Competitive play pits you against other players, either local or online, in an effort to gain the greater score. It’s good fun if you already know your way around a song and want a challenge beyond just beating a song.
A brief word about instruments
The guitar instrument that comes packaged with the game, assuming you bought the bundle and aren’t already neck-deep in plastic peripherals, is pretty cool. The electronics are all hidden in the neck of the guitar to allow for swappable body parts. So you can customize your guitar as much as you like, within the given limit. The design is quite pretty, and looks decently thematically “legendary”. My only question is the omission of the touch pad that came with guitars from the World Tour and 5 sets, since the game has touch pad sections. Still, those sections can be played simply by pressing the right buttons on the fret board at the right time, but it’s still something missing.
With the drum kit, the central module is detachable, allowing you to hook up any midi drum kit to the game, so Activision have given some thought to those players who already play their own midi drums. There’s no word on whether the central drum module will be sold on its own or not.
I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing that this particular iteration of the game was aimed at prior fans of the series, people who have played Guitar Hero before, and wanted more of the same. Certainly, the game makes more of a return to the rock-esque roots of the first few game. However, the game is not made any easier for newcomers to the series, or in fact, the rhythm genre. The tutorial is a good place to start, however, and it’s one of those things where ‘practice makes perfect’. A lot depends on how much you enjoy rock and metal, and whether you’re keen on playing a song over and over again until you get it finger-perfect.
If you’ve ever played Guitar Hero before, you’ll find very little in the way of New! Exciting! and Innovative! gameplay. What Warriors of Rock offers is pretty much more of the same old Guitar Hero as before: the same old note highway, the same plastic peripherals, and the same amount of fun as you’re likely to find in any of the series. If you’ve never played a Guitar Hero title before, this one is perhaps not the best place to start, given its target audience of experienced players and fans of the series, but I found it great fun, and it’s a heck of a challenge for experienced players.
Score: 7/10 (the remaining 3 points went the way of innovation.)