Author’s Note: Due to scheduling concerns, we were unable to test out the DS version of the game or the cross platform DS-Wii features. The following review thus pertains to the console versions only.
Down to one yearly release from last year’s five, a lot is resting on the bladed-shoulder pads of Activision’s Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. A more guitar, and story, driven experience than we have seen in the past, is there enough in this update to continue the franchise, or should we finally give our blistered palms a rest?
The first thing noticeable out of the gate is the back to basics approach to menu design, especially in the “Quest” narrative mode. A step back from Guitar Hero 5‘s streamlined interface, Warriors feels a bit antiquated compared to earlier installments, forcing nearly every change in gameplay or song selection to require a shift in menu presentation. Its definitely belabored, and for a franchise aiming for casual integration, its fair to muddied and confusing. Although, to be fair, it’s difficult to determine the game’s target audience at all.
It will take approximately two syllables to exit narrator Gene Simmons’ mouth to start missing Brutal Legend. The demigod of rock has lost his battle against The Beast, and must recruit eight of the most baddest of ass rockers to embrace the powers of rock to resurrect him to fight again. The melodramatic zest of the plot is more overbearing than charming, and plays out in an odd, character-centric fashion. For those that cared enough about Judy Nails and Johnny Napalm, recruiting them with genre-centric set lists and turning them into monstrous versions of themselves may be engaging, but the vast majority of players will be left stranded for a reason to care. It would be easy enough to ignore, if the entire game’s focus and design didn’t drain into it, forcing constant attention on its unappealing skivvies.
Not to say that the story does not stumble across moments of sheer brilliance, the epic mid-point of Rush’s seven part 2112 and the final encounter featuring the game-specific “Sudden Death” by Megadeth managing more legitimate fist-pumping thrills than the majority of the franchise before it. But for a quest so steeped in the Nordic realm of heavy metal, the 93-song set list feels completely out-of-place. Granted, the Neversoft and RedOctane have once again put together a varied list with cross-gen appeal on their final gig with the series, but a good 80% of the track list fails to gel with either the plot or the more guitar-centered gameplay promised before launch. It’s fun to play, but we’re pretty sure “Dance, Dance” by Fallout Boy is approximately 7,000 light years from the cool Warriors is going for.
One of the more intriguing changes to the chaffed music-rhythm formula is Warrior‘s addition of set list (and character) specific challenges/perks. The monstrous forms of each character come equipped with unique abilities, from having an ultimate star power multiplier of six instead of four to common sense gameplay extensions like getting stars from maintaining note streaks or star power for specified lengths of time. Each song now has the potential for 40 stars, and while on paper the addition seems ridiculous, the perks system proves engrossing almost immediately. A stroke of genius for a genre so dependent on replay value, the challenges increase each song’s potential end result many times over, adding just enough incentive for replays to deeper the music-rhythm habit. The additional challenges also carry over into the Quickplay + mode.
While the single-driven appearance of the set-list and story may give Warriors a single player vibe, the genre gameplay staples make their return in the game’s campaign suite. Guitar Hero 5‘s Party mode makes a return, as do both the cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes popularized in other past installments. GHTunes is also back, and just as frustratingly complex and practically useless as before. Needless to say, with practically invisible changes to track layout and match-making, it’s the same kinds of multiplayer options you’ve played before.
Warriors of Rock sticks one giant butch-biker boot in its mouth. The story is a shameful, and drastically inferior, knock-off of Brutal Legend, making Activision (who had the game in its grasp before losing it to lawsuits) look like a spiteful ex-lover. The minute changes to multiplayer will go unnoticed to all but the most anal retentive players (for good reason), and despite the excellent evolution of per-song challenges present across the board, Warriors of Rock is tough sell at full price. Still, as a rental, everyone can find at least 10 songs they’d enjoy to play through, which is about 10x as much as we could say for Guitar Hero 5.