Review: Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

I saved rock with a lizard, a man-boar, a steampunk goddess, and the Headless Horseman. I teamed up with this motley crew for the sole purpose of preserving rock as we know it. Atreyu and Fall Out Boy slipped through, but overall, it was a job well done. Unfortunately, this journey smacked of sameness, squandered potential, and an unsatisfying track list. After all this time and all of its facelifts, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is still Guitar Hero, even with its cast of characters (plus new faces) sporting gaudy Halloween costumes.

Following in the footsteps of Guitar Hero 5 and predecessor Guitar Hero World Tour, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is another band-oriented adventure that supports vocals, guitar/bass, and drums so that the entire family can join in. This time, however, rather than scraps of a storyline, it was opted to make the plot central to the completion of the game…at least, as much as can be done with a setlist and fake real-world instruments. If you dive into the game’s “main” story mode first as I did, you’ll discover a very disjointed, haphazard narrative. In a nutshell, you’ve been tasked to gather a group of warriors to free the Demigod of Rock, enslaved by a metal contraption known simply as “The Beast,” narrated by Gene Simmons. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

The game’s Quest mode is technically its meat and potatoes, but despite the setlist spanning over 90 songs, this “epic” journey could hardly be considered so. Similar to the previous selection of venues and unlockable locations, Warriors of Rock asks players to earn a specific amount of stars at each Guitar Hero cast regular’s gig: think Judy Nails and Johnny Napalm. Each location contains several tracks to choose from, with many loosely tied together with a common theme: metal, pop/rock, and classic rock to name a few.

Interestingly, difficulty can vary wildly from track to track, presenting challenges to beginners that even intermediate rockers find trouble conquering on their first sightreading attempt. I usually can find that I play comfortably on Hard and dabble in Expert, but I found myself toning it down to Medium difficulty in more than a few locations throughout the “world map” in Quest mode simply to amass enough stars to proceed — obviously, it’s harder this time around.

In an attempt to aid players in completing each venue, playable characters are saddled with different abilities, such as supercharging star power or giving extra “lives” during a song as a safety net. While these are useful, I rarely gave them a second thought, as they all but fade into the background after you realize you even have them.

Once you’ve gotten enough stars to advance, your rocker will assume their “warrior” form. In most instances, they simply become a lot more grotesque. Sometimes, in newcomer Austin Tejas’ case, they make no sense: he’s the Headless Horseman I mentioned earlier. Hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t make these kinds of decisions. The Warrior form of each character will need to perform a “boss” song after transforming, each with a turbo version of the powerups they possessed as mere mortals. It’S flashy, yes, and occasionally pretty useful if you’re looking to score big. But in the long run, these transformations do little to improve or really alter the core Guitar Hero gameplay.

The setlist is appreciably dynamic this time around, peppered with classics and more obscure relics that’ll have you scratching your head. Artists such as Muse, Black Sabbath, The White Stripes, Jethro Tull, and Linkin Park round out the selection, proving that there is truly something for everyone here, even the casual radio rock fan who just wants to rock out to their favorite Nickelback or Slipknot tune. Since as usual the varied buffet of tracks impresses, it came as an absolute shock to me that anyone should have to play an entire set of songs from one artist they may or may not enjoye simply to advance in Quest mode.

As one of the setpieces of Quest mode, players must perform the entire, seven-track, twenty minute odyssey of noise that is Rush’s “2112,” complete with staggered, awkward narration from the likes of Geddy Lee and Neal Peart. To those of us who aren’t rabid followers of the band, this segment is an acid trip meant to tie in with Quest mode’s “save rock as we know it.” Since the rest of the game is built around choosing the tracks you want to play and the ones you enjoy to make progress, it baffled me as to why it was decided to force players to navigate this mess of a song in order to reach the halfway point of their Quest playthrough. It’s as if the almighty devs had themselves a little powwow about how “amazing” Rush was and decided to self-indulge, rather excruciatingly. While the end of the game is a similar endeavor, I still felt that this miniature vision of the future as foretold by Rush was more than a little unnecessary.

At Quest mode’s completion, you have the option to go back through, complete all of the songs you skipped over before, and “dominate” each stage as well as the Demigod of Rock’s stage. This of course leaves the stage open for plenty of replayability, so you completionists out there can get ready to tackle each and every song to reap the rewards.

Beyond the bizarre Quest mode that doesn’t really channel the “rock star” feeling I used to get from Guitar Hero, there are other modes to tackle. If you’re not reviewing the game and just want to jam to some of the earworms you’ll find spanning the impressive track list, then Quickplay + is where you’ll want to head. Just keep in mind that many of the top-tier tunes aren’t unlocked at the onset. You’ll need to grab them by playing through Quest mode. It’s confusing to me why this was felt to be a good decision, but then again, so do most of the ones involving Guitar Hero as a franchise. If you need to hop into these finger-twisters, “beat” the game. Quickplay +, with its interesting additions and ability to level up, is a worthy evolution to the typical Guitar Hero solo play. Challenges abound for each song and it’s mightily addictive to master each fully. It’s much more promising than the scattershot Quest mode, so to get that extra mileage out of your purchase I’d recommend spending a lot of time in Quickplay +.

This time around, the character creator is host to a multitude of decent hairstyles and costumes — vastly improved, it seemed, to my liking. You can still choose to play as your avatar as well, or one of the main characters. Once you’re looking good you can bring the pain in several competitive multiplayer modes as well.

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a strange beast. On one hand, it’s interesting to see the series attempting something new. On the other, it’s disheartening to see this concept fall flat on its face. While still a worthy rental for rhythm game fans, I can’t exactly recommend picking up this puzzle with several missing pieces up over the upcoming Rock Band 3, which promises much more than a helter-skelter adventure to “save rock” and a rather unappealing lot of newly-skinned characters. Guitar Hero, do you, don’t you want us to love you?

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