Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock Review
If you’re not sick of holding colored buttons and flicking a little plastic bit to the beat of your favorite song after all these years, then you might have bought Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock already. Let’s face it: the appeal of these games at this point has dwindled down to more of the hardcore players or those who just love music that much, and the days of inviting all of your non-gamer, non-music-nerd friends over for some Rock Band and Guitar Hero have probably been over for months now. So why bother to pick up this latest iteration in Activision’s series?
Actually, that is a good question. Warriors of Rock has a pretty huge range of songs - over 90 on disc - and its nerd cred comes through the addition of challenges not only for every song built into the game but for all of the DLC and imported songs, too. (Well, it also comes from an unlockable version of Rush’s epic 70s album 2112, complete with narration from the band.) But it’s still the same game once you pick a song and the note highway appears, even after years of adding wacky features and extra bits and pieces to make this one of the most Frankensteinian game franchises of all time.
KISS frontman Gene Simmons narrates the majority of the career-replacing Quest Mode, describing each of our made-up rocker characters and their contributions to the banishing of some demon or something or other. Each of the classic GH characters has a special ability that you’ll want to make use of when you’re actually playing. You might get extra points and stars for time spent at a 10 or higher note streak, or maybe there’ll be some play on the multipliers that you’ll have to do to get tons of stars (which contribute to the next tier of songs for that character to play), or the like. If you don’t want to do any of that in the career mode, though, the new Quickplay+ mode can use these new elements along with custom setlists you’ve built. Finally, the Party Play mode allows the game to just play music while anyone on any instrument can jump in whenever they want at any difficulty they want.
Just about all of the extra features that you now expect out of Guitar Hero are here, like creating your own rocker, putting together some mildly decent music in the song creator and then sharing it online, and now there are even social networking options for sharing your creations. But none of this changes the fact that this is still Guitar Hero, a game that, once you really get to playing it, hasn’t fundamentally or functionally changed in years. Sure, new gameplay modes and songs help out and the addition of bass, drums, and vocals was a big boost in newness two years ago, but the focus at Neversoft back on “guitar rock” this year shows that they’re not really sure where to go with their stagnant franchise.
At a recent event to preview the game, the Wii/DS developers Vicarious Visions were looking for feedback, and I suggested to them that Guitar Hero needs to radically change the way the game’s played. At first they thought I meant extra features like new gameplay modes - and I can’t say I was surprised to hear that, because at this point that seems to be the only thing anyone working on Guitar Hero’s willing to do - but I was actually talking about revolutionizing the whole thing. The note highway, the gems, the way notes come down, the five colored buttons and the plastic strum bar. All of it. Guitar Hero got a small resurgence and a solid showing with last year’s fifth major iteration, but this year we’re mostly just back to a so-so career mode - Gene Simmons does little to save it - and a new selection of rock to play without any new ways to actually, well, play it. (In past games, I’ve found the create modes and other bits and pieces to be cute distractions, and that’s all they managed to become this year for me, too.)
I hate to compare Guitar Hero to Rock Band like pretty much every damn article about either game has done in the last three years, but it’s hard not to, and Harmonix seem to be doing a lot more to try and change the way their game is actually played once you’re in a song (while keeping the original way accessible, too). That gamble may or may not pay off - all of Rock band 3’s new controls and instruments require you to buy new hardware - but at least they’re trying to push things forward. Guitar Hero is left spinning its wheels. Yes, it’s fun to blast out a rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with your friends - for some of us, playing music games together will always be at least some fun - but we can’t be expected to keep buying and playing almost the exact same game (albeit with new songs) years into the future, can we?
For now, if you just can’t get enough of Star Power lightning effects, checking your hit/miss percentage on the second guitar solo of a given song, heavy metal album cover-style art and design, and the Guitar Hero way of doing everything, then you won’t have a problem jumping into Warriors of Rock. But if you want a wider range of tracks to pick from, new control schemes that more closely resemble playing real music, and a different range of features to go alongside it all, you’re better off keeping your money and waiting for Rock Band 3 to be released in a couple of weeks. And if you’re going to buy that keyboard and other new peripherals, you’ll need to have saved the money anyway.