Review: Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 09/28/2010

If 2010 has brought rhythm game fans a breath of relief, it’s been in the fact Activision has staved off its rapid assembly line approach to the Guitar Hero franchise. After all of the Band Heroes and Van Halens, a single Guitar Hero game has launched onto store shelves with the promise of going back to its edgier guitar roots.

What this entails is being more like Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which, honestly is one of my least favorite entries in the series, but that’s just one man’s opinion. On that token, I can’t deny this very entry cemented the franchise’s status as a hot ticket and Guitar Hero III was labeled as the first single game entry to ever surpass $1 billion in sales. Even with my opinion, it’s just plain foolish to ignore the fact Legends of Rock established what gamers expect from Guitar Hero – rocking songs, edgy characters and over-the-top theatrics.

Sadly, since Guitar Hero III, the series has had to chase behind the Rock Band series in order to escape its shadow. With more instruments and more features offered in Rock Band, the last handful of entries in the Guitar Hero series has served for little more beyond closing the gap between the two rhythm gaming juggernauts. In 2009, with my review of Guitar Hero 5, I was very satisfied with the game and made the comment of the series finally catching up and offering a taste of what lied beyond this chase.

However, with Rock Band 2 being on store shelves for a full two years before the release of its next sequel, it was a pretty easy to target to shoot for. Now that the sixth Guitar Hero, dubbed Warriors of Rock, will have a direct competitor, will it stand strong in 2010, or does it fail to hold up to even a high school rock cover band?

Usually, I get to skip this part with music games, but part of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock‘s appeal is in its new quest gimmick. Upon firing up the game, players will see the Demigod of Rock battling against the monstrosity known as the Scourge of Rock. Since there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise, the Scourge is actually successful in putting down the Demigod, imprisoning him in stone and casting away his legendary axe. Along with narration from KISS frontman Gene Simmons, players then poke in on performances by the series’ trademark characters (along with some new additions) in order to awaken their true rock forms.

Overall, the story is honestly a bit lame as it lacks any real substance or development. The progression of the game really kills the way the story is fed to the player as nothing more is injected other than “earn x stars to awaken,” “play encore,” “next character.” It’s no surprise, really, as Neversoft has never produced a memorable or effective “career” in any of its titles, instead, just tasking the player to pretty much play every song in the game to reach the credits. The true fun in the game is in assembling the rock forms together and chaining their abilities together to tackle specific tasks as special animations run in the background. While this still doesn’t account for anything too original, it would have done more to pound in the quest aspects. Gitaroo Man still stands as the king of fictional guitar game narrative (which may actually be pretty sad depending on your views of the game) and Warriors of Rock‘s attempt doesn’t even hold a candle to it.

Upfront, the real main interest an informed gamer would have about Warriors of Rock is in what the aforementioned rock forms add to the gameplay.
At first, it’s actually kind of cool.

While the quest mode just limits you to the view of one character (until you defeat the Scourge), you can utilize a number of helpful abilities such as revival ankhs, streak protectors and accelerated star power accumulation and others that skyrocket your score by strengthening multipliers. The real treat comes when players can finally mix and match these abilities to produce crazy and high-scoring results, as power challenges allow players to select a few abilities and clearing the game makes players “all-powerful” while in quest mode (every ability is active simultaneously). Because of the additions, while using powers, players can actually accumulate up to 40 stars per song and racking up these stars unlock customizable content and galleries.

But, again, I said it’s kind of cool at first. After tackling the quest mode, nabbing 40 stars instead of seven or eight at a time serves only as a forced secondary playthrough, which gets kind of annoying. Players can also use these abilities in quickplay through the power challenges I mentioned, but obtaining 40 stars is nothing more than a matter of playing well with the abilities – the same gameplay can be had just by playing well and receiving five or six stars, so the game is asking players to just play well to achieve maximum status twice. That’s replayability, but it’s just really forced. These powers really needed to be put to grand use in the quest mode and, while they are interesting and add a crazy arcade-style mechanic to the game, the scheme just falls flat down the road because of uninteresting execution.

Outside of the quest and power challenges, though, we have the same game we had in Guitar Hero 5, which is great if you were a fan of that title. There’s no argument of value with more than 90 songs being packed straight on the disc and there certainly is a variety of tunes that will ring with fans of many rock genres. I wouldn’t consider the full listing as edgy and guitar-oriented as Neversoft promised, but it does deliver on this in some fronts with some really challenging songs from acts such as Megadeth, which recorded an original track to serve as the accompaniment to the battle with the Scourge. With a few songs thrown in that have appeared on other music games and the rise of more obscure artists, it’s becoming clear Neversoft had to scramble for songs that Guitar Hero hasn’t already used (a problem that will no doubt bite the genre somewhere down the road), but this does expose people to new music if they keep an open mind. Those familiar with Guitar Hero 5 will also receive a very familiar menu to navigate, lots of customization options, creation tools and more and the party mode is back in full effect.

Honestly, I thought the greatest move forward for the series doesn’t even involve gameplay. Warriors of Rock introduced the Hero Feed, now being incorporated into Activision’s other music titles, which allows players to keep tabs on player stats and compare them with other players on their friends list. Activision also pumps in news based on the game and players can issue and respond to score challenges straight from the feed. It certainly lends a competitive nature to the game and real braggarts can publish feeds through to Twitter or Facebook, creating a facet that music gaming originally surged from – community. Speaking of online features, it seems Neversoft has finally nailed down its downloadable content delivery, offering very simple and easy-to-use in-game methods to download new tracks and import songs from other Guitar Hero games. It isn’t as expansive as Rock Band’s offering, but it has come a long way for Guitar Hero since its initial DLC days.

If Activision’s glut of Guitar Hero games in 2009 annoyed you though, it might be disappointing to know Warriors of Rock doesn’t do much to evolve beyond what it accomplished with Guitar Hero 5. The skeleton of the game is 100 percent the same, so Warriors of Rock could be seen as nothing more than a song list update with a new gimmick. I look at it as Guitar Hero 5 being kicked up just a notch, but it really doesn’t go much further than that – once you tire of the power mechanic, what you have is essentially Guitar Hero 5. So, the bottom line is, if you’ve enjoyed Guitar Hero within the past year, there is a lot to enjoy in Warriors of Rock, but if you are looking for a true innovation for the series, Neversoft unfortunately does not deliver that this time around.

While most of the focus is placed on the gameplay, which hasn’t changed an ounce since Guitar Hero 5, there isn’t much to say about the game’s presentation that isn’t true among most of the series’ entries. Neversoft has really scaled back on its crazy arenas, but there are still some nice environments shaped by the quest mode, including a fantasy realm portraying the story of Rush’s “2112” and a glowing volcanic environment where the Scourge rests. Overall, though, the environments are most forgettable, save for the downsides of some awkward product placement and repetitive crowd members and it doesn’t seem much has been done to further the game’s character models either.

I personally found the character transformations to be very underwhelming and unimaginative, and my bandmates agreed on that account, stating the nature of some of the transformations didn’t even have coherent parallels. Overall, though, there is a bunch of great animation on the stage and the characters and menus are very clean, there is just little that blows the eyes away when they are look for a rest from an onslaught of colored jewels. Toss that together with great sound quality (although I do have an issue with Gene Simmons’ dry and wooden delivery of most of the narrative), as expected from the series, and you still get a very solid presentation package in Warriors of Rock.

I can’t say too much about the gameplay, either, as I have the same gripes and enjoyment I get out of Guitar Hero 5. Having to play extended piano and synth parts on a guitar still annoys the piss out of me and stems from force unsuitable songs into the game, but, for me, it seems such issues were scaled back at least a little bit from the hodgepodge thrown into Band Hero. Gimmicks such as the slide bar introduced in World Tour were also cut back, but this also stems from the newly-designed guitar controller I will talk about in just a bit. This gives players a lot more to contend with in terms of strumming and fretwork, which really comes into full play in Warriors of Rock‘s songs.

There is a score of difficult songs to be found in Warriors of Rock, which, again, harks back to the play found in Legends of Rock. Unfortunately, in Warriors of Rock, it seems to offer songs that are either too easy or too hard for the common Guitar Hero player. The initial songs bored my girlfriend so much, after numerous guitar game installments, she finally opted to switch from medium to hard, only to be mercilessly crushed by the quest mode’s latter half. I’m far from the best Guitar Hero player in the world, but I’m very solid with expert difficulty play, and even on hard difficulty, some of the last batch of songs had me sweating. It will certainly drive me to get better at the game, but even the most casual of players will smell something a little funny in regard to the balancing of the song difficulties.

Lastly, since Activision promoted it with full force, I would like to talk a little bit about the new, original guitar controller developed by Red Octane, since the companies were kind enough to supply one to us. Again, we’re going to make a comparison to Guitar Hero III, as the new controller is very much like a redesigned Les Paul the company used during the Legends of Rock release. Truth be told, this variation was by far my favorite guitar controller design, even amongst the Rock Band variants. This is mostly because of the loose nature of the buttons and strum bar, which audibly clicked in so I could keep tabs on my button presses.

Thankfully, this new design reflects this mentality and using Red Octane’s expertise in rhythm controllers, the controller is even more compact and efficient than ever. The compactness allows for fewer parts to be removed for portability, which is great considering removing the neck on a Les Paul pretty much ruined the controller by most gamers’ accounts. The controller also features removable wings, which allows the owner to customize the appearance of the axe (the GameStop pre-order variant actually resembles an axe). I’m not sure how far this concept will go or if we’ll only be stuck with only two variations, but this opens up possibilities for greater controller customization.

For myself, this new controller works great, but this is because it emulates the guitar controller I prefer the best. A friend of mine had an issue with the smaller size at first, but he quickly became acclimated with it. There are also a few charts in Warriors of Rock that still have the slide bar in mind, which is annoying since it isn’t included on the redesigned controller, but, for the most part, I’m very pleased with my gameplay on this new guitar.

The Scores
Story/Modes: ENJOYABLE
Graphics: GREAT
Control and Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: DECENT
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary
After really developing a taking to Guitar Hero 5, I am disappointed to see Neversoft fail to further drive the series forward with Warriors of Rock. This sixth main entry is still a ton of fun to play if you love Guitar Hero, but if you’re looking for innovation, you’re going to find little of it here. The quest mode and powers are certainly interesting distractions at first, but the more one uses them, the more gimmicky and pointless they become. This, combined with lazy execution, makes what should be a fun and crazy romp through the quest a slow and repetitive slog to build stars yet again. The new controller packaged with the game is a fantastic throwback to the Guitar Hero III Les Paul, but I’m not inclined to believe those still with the music game bandwagon are going to want yet another guitar in their living room. The new entry does make a few patches and additions to catch up to the main competition, but with a new entry coming out of the gate, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock needed more than a content bolster. Even though the 90-plus songs on the disc is a great value and there is lot to see, it all revolves around the same old song and dance Activision has been publishing for years now. Guitar Hero needs a change and it needs it now – hopefully it will find a hero in Vicarious Visions, who will be handling future releases in the series.



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