Sunday, 17 October 2010

Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock

If 2009 was the year in which the music game threatened to collapse in on itself through oversaturation (Beatles Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, Band Hero, Guitar Hero 5 and – deep breath – Guitar Hero Van Halen all launched within a mere three month period) then 2010 could prove to be something of a revitalising, watershed moment for the genre/mini-industry. Similar to the annual battle between Pro Evolution and FIFA, with their new games both Harmonix and Activision’s axe-wielding franchises seem to have found their niches – both are now diametrically opposed in philosophy, both undeniably successful in their approach.

While Rock Band 3 forges ahead with the dizzying prospect of a Pro mode and new keyboard peripheral, Guitar Hero has been continually refining – as well as adding to – its core mechanics to a point where this latest title, the sixth in the core series, leaves us wondering where the franchise could possibly go next. But then we probably said that in the review of the last Guitar Hero game, such are the easy clichés of writing about videogames. Warriors Of Rock (we’ll come to those titular warriors in a bit) has learnt from recent mistakes both legal – no more Cobain singing Bon Jovi! – and musical – with the unsatisfying setlist of Guitar Hero 5 giving way to a monumental 91-track heavy list of songs that will assuage the average heavy rock obsessive, whilst still leaving enough names for the more casual fan to recognise.

Best choices include Drowning Pool’s stupidly fun/plain stupid Bodies (much beloved of Iraqi prisoners of war), Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get?, and several pleasing curveballs in the shape of The Dillinger Escape Plan, R.E.M and Phoenix to name just three. There are also the inevitable duds, particularly Nickleback’s How You Remind Me (warning: you’re forced to play this when progressing through the quest, but then your remote does have a mute button). Rush’s seven-part song cycle 2112 is perhaps the overwhelming standout; it’s the centrepiece of the aforementioned Quest Mode, and does a fine job of highlighting Warriors Of Rock’s strengths.

Indeed, it’s odd in a game – and genre – so heavily orientated towards the social experience that the Quest Mode should prove so significant, but it’s a well designed campaign that neatly deconstructs the core components of Guitar Hero one stage at a time, whilst embracing the silliness that lies at the heart of the music – the stage sets, the dress code of its most iconic singers, the ridiculous album covers – in a way that wasn’t quite achieved when all you were playing as was a small band slowly trying to make it big. The story, such as it is, involves you having to awaken each of the eight Warriors Of Rock, with the eventual aim being to form the ultimate band and take down the evil Beast by, er, playing a Megadeath medley(nope, us neither).

The one big advancement that Warriors Of Rock makes is the introduction of new special powers for each of its eight central characters. Rotten-alike British punk Warrior Johnny, for example, doles out extra stars for staying above a certain multiplier, whilst Echo Tesla awards star power for every ten-note streak. It’s an approach that helps keep the play nice and dynamic, whilst also acting as an effective introduction to all things Guitar Hero for those four gamers who haven’t played it before. Without spoiling too much, by the end of the Quest the unlocked characters powers combine to wonderfully overblown effect, and the end result is simply lots of fun.

Where Rush’s 2112 fits into all this is that it acts as the point in the story where the characters find the legendary guitar, but also hints at a future direction for the series that shares much in common with Harmonix’s beautiful Beatles videogame. Bespoke, lovingly drawn background animations and the sense of inhabiting a band’s singular vision and world, however strange, were just two of the strengths of last year’s special Rock Band, and they’re qualities present here; members of Rush even narrate the unfolding tale within this mini-epic.

Elsewhere, the full offering of Guitar Hero 5’s multiplayer and party play modes return, as do the addictive mini-challenges for each track (there’s even a challenge which uses the Quest powers). The ability to import songs from the previous two Guitar Hero games is also welcome, while the note charts have, as far as this writer can remember, never been as uniformly strong in a post-Harmonix Guitar Hero game as they are here. So, all well and predictable. But then, just as the series looks like it’s finally realising its strengths and reclaiming a lofty position in the rhythm genre, Activision have moved development duties from Warriors Of Rock makers Neversoft to Vicarious Visions, who previously handled just the Nintendo conversions. What this means for the future of the series is unclear, but it would be a shame if the fine work achieved here – as knowing as it is familiar – were to be wasted. The best Guitar Hero game yet? Oh, go on then.

Originally published by D+PAD Magazine.


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