Sorry, Guitar Hero: We still love you, but we think it’s time we started seeing other franchises. Opting for a full band setup in Guitar Hero World Tour was a smart move and adding all those convenient features like Party Play to Guitar Hero 5 made all kinds of sense, but this time, it’s just not enough. Your ridiculous new story-driven career mode fails to hide the fact that Warriors of Rock is essentially just a dressed up version of the same game we’ve been playing for years.
If anything, Quest Mode feels like the easy way out. Rather than providing a legitimately fresh new experience, it simply attempts to distract us with cutscenes and a Gene Simmons voiceover. But underneath the cheesy, occasionally fun but ultimately uninspired and forgettable adventure, we’re still forced to slog through a linear progression of songs, earning enough stars to unlock the next venue and so on just like most of the other Guitar Heroes.
There’s nothing wrong with this formula per se, except for that fact that we’re pretty sick of it at this point. It doesn’t help that the good old five-button, scrolling note gameplay hasn’t changed even slightly since… well, ever. The gameplay is still fun, (because it’s the same and it’s always been fun), but that’s a bit of a hollow victory when you’re hungry for actual change.
The only apparent difference this time around—in keeping with the whole rock ‘n’ roll fantasy adventure theme—is that each characters possesses a unique power, like a 6x multiplier (as opposed to the usual 4x) or the ability to harvest Star Power with every 10-note streak played. This sounds like a fine idea in theory, but in practice, it doesn’t change the experience in any meaningful way and most of the powers feel totally contrived.
More than anything else, the powers serve to create confusion. In past games, the maximum number of stars we could possibly earn from a single song was six. Now, thanks to these powers, we can potentially earn dozens. But since stars are just a completely made up measurement, this doesn’t actually feel rewarding at all. Add to that the fact that the stars we earn in Quest Mode are entirely separate from those we earn in quickplay (which, fun aside, actually has two distinct types of stars of its own) and we just start to get massively confused.
Aside from having stars in its eyes, however, the revamped Quickplay + actually proves to be the game’s most successful “new” feature. Its social sharing tools and persistent online reputation—built through consistent shredding—are legitimately cool. Unfortunately, the 13 ambient challenges it provides for each song are all things we’ve seen before: “Hit a certain number of note-streaks, hammer-ons, chords…” Boring. After a while, they actually start to feel like work.
A totally slammin’ track list might have made the challenges a bit more palatable, but frankly, the song choices are a lot more strange than slammin’. We didn’t particularly care for the bands we’d never heard before and simply couldn’t figure out why certain tracks had been selected for the bands we already knew. Who would honestly pick “The Theme from Spider-Man” as the lone Ramones track? Even more bizarre, the game features quite a few big hits that have been re-recorded by the bands that made them famous in the first place. Why trade the classic recordings that everyone grew up listening to for digital recordings of a group that’s now twenty years past its music-playing prime?
The track list also offers little depth, but this may actually be good news for all the amateur Yngwie Malmsteens out there. The last portion of the game is a gauntlet of fast, riff-heavy metal that’s sure to keep shredders busy for months. We’re a little worried about our friends trying to sing these tracks, but Guitar Hero is clearly just trying to stay true to its roots. And to be fair, many of the note charts that accompany these songs are seriously challenging and a blast to play.
Since Warriors of Rock is still arguably as fun as any previous Guitar Hero, it’s difficult for us to condemn it entirely, especially since most of its new ideas don’t actively make the game worse. But the new ideas, in additional to being patently lame, fail to add anything. As a result, we’re stuck with a stale experience that left us longing for something more…and wondering why anyone still listens to Rush.
Personal aside: Including the famous CBGB venue feels like a desperate grab for legitimacy. Problem is, it doesn’t fit with the Simmons-narrated rock ‘n’ roll fantasy theme at all and therefore comes off as little more than a cynical ploy for street cred. Plus, the game eventually undermines this shameless pandering by having supposed “punk rocker” Johnny Napalm slam a brand-name Coke as he walks through the door in what has to be one of the most oblivious in-game marketing stunts to date. True, none of this affects the quality of the gameplay, but it does make Warriors of Rock very difficult to like if you really care about and follow music.