Activision and Neversoft have had a hard struggle lately. A struggle against a beast they created themselves. The Guitar Hero cash-cow has been milked dry, and Rock Band 3 is a dangerous competitor. In their last Guitar Hero-game they take up arms against the detractors and end with the flag held high. To have Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock return to the series' rocky roots was the right decision to make.
The story, as told by Gene Simmons, might be paper-thing: a magical guitar needs to be foundto save The Demi-God of Rock from a mechanical beast. Cheesy. But in the right way. The story mode takes place on world map surrounded by flames and sharp mountains and here you choose a character that after much rocking will transform into a superwarrior. The story doesn't take up much space, but it's pretty fun to see the sequences where cult characters Lars Ümlaut and Johnny Napalm go through their metal-metamorphoses.
All the characters have an unique ability that can save you or help you cash in even more stars. If you play (good enough) as Axl Steel you will make extra lives that activates when the rock meter hits rock bottom. Casey Lynch protects your streaks which makes the game ignore if you happen to miss a note. This makes Warriors of Rock stand out a bit more and makes it more of a game than a pure party peripheral.
When you've advanced far enough in the game you can make up to 40 stars per song with the help of the warriors' super-abilities. A second round is unlocked after the credits have rolled, which gives Warriors of Rock even more replayability. You get even more value for your money through all the mini-challenges in the Quickplay-mode, now called Quickplay+. We've seen them before and they can be anything from keeping a streak as long as possible or just beating your own personal best.
If you feel like rocking online there's a lot of various game modes we've seen in previous games, especially Guitar Hero 5. The servers have been empty during the review period, so I've sadly not been able to test my skills on Xbox Live or Playstation Network yet.
The track selection is strictly focused on rock, metal and punk and I like how pure it is. If you want to compare it to other games Guitar Hero: Metallica springs to mind and I enjoy playing my way through everything from Slayer to Linkin Park or Queen to Rolling Stones. Towards the end some real challenges awaits you and you better go easy on your neck or arms when going head to head with Dragonforce, Megadeth and Children of Bodom.
There's a lot of strong, well-mapped songs to choose from, but the most fun I have is playing guitar to Black Widow of La Port by John 5 Featuring Jim Root. All the crazy hammer-ons and pull-offs are perfectly challenging on Expert and with its seven minutes it becomes a bit of a marathon. Dragonforce also makes a Guitar Hero-return with their fun Fury of the Storm.
During rounds of these songs it becomes pretty clear that the guitarists and the drummers have won the most from the track selection. Sure, it's fun to scream yourself hoarce to Self Esteem, Jet City Woman or Paranoid (the Metallica and Ozzy live-version from 2009), but in my experience the singers has a tendency to shuffle through the songs for a pretty long time when you get the full band together. Perhaps it's just my more modern/synth-friends? Either way, Warriors of Rock is not for everyone.
In the middle of the story your rock-warriors digs up a magical guitar powerful enough to face the final boss with. In order to get your hands on it you need to play through the whole of Rush's album 2112. The album is played in one sweep and between the seven songs band members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson read the plotline of the album. It gets a bit confused when it's pushed into the game world, but it's still silly epic in a nice way.
The guitar is the only new plastic instrument this time around. It has no new functions, except that the lower part can be taken off and be replaced with new guitar bodies. Its standard design might fit the game, but it's hardly a design masterpiece. It's actually really ugly. It's worth mentioning that the touch-strip has been removed, which can be seen as a confirmation that it was pretty worthless to begin with.
If you see yourself as a casual player, whatever that might really mean, you might get turned off by all this talk about story and special abilities. Luckily for you, you can simply jump into the Quickplay-mode or the party-friendly Party Play where the music just keeps rolling and anyone can jump on at any time. To put together a playlist with your favorite songs, chosen from the 93 available songs in the game, is a lot of fun and turns Warriors of Rock into a form of modern jukebox.
It's pretty hard to ignore the competition, though. When the rival Rock Band 3 comes dragging with keyboards and real guitars it doesn't feel that fresh playing the piano parts of Bohemian Rhapsody (the song is in both games) on guitar, and the song without harmonies. With that said, Guitar Hero is doing its own thing and the games complement each other well. Even if there's bound to be discussions about which game is the best will abound it's not really that relevant.
I like Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. What finally tipped the scale over to an 8/10 is the track lists, the attitude and the wonderful atmosphere that's created when a whole band hammer away to the heaviest of the included songs. It's a pleasure to pick up the axe and fight next to these warriors of rock.
It's a rocking music game and a worth end for Neversoft. What it lacks in ambition and innovation is compensated by a hefty track list and playful career mode. The guitar might look like crap, but it sure can create some awesome tunes.