You Can Still Rock In America!
With the veritable flood of Guitar Hero titles that came out the previous year, it’s hard to believe we haven’t seen a new Guitar Hero game since last December’s Guitar Hero: Van Halen.  It seems that Activision took the time since that last entry in the series to take a step back, fine tune all the things that they’ve been doing right over the years, add a couple new ideas, and then pour it all into one incredible game!  Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (WoR) pulls off the amazing feat of going back to the series’ roots while at the same time making huge leaps forward in gameplay.

 

When you look at all the music games that have hit the scene over the last several years, the one piece that the majority of them are missing is an underlying story as to why you’re playing the game.  The paper-thin excuse for a plot has been, by default, that you are a small band starting off, and you need to build your fan base so you can buy more clothing and instruments and play to bigger crowds at bigger venues, and that’s as far as it went.  But let’s be honest here, until the developers got smart and gave the players a gameplay mode that had all the tracks unlocked by default, the majority of the gamers out there only played the career mode long enough to open up the music they wanted to play and then they abandoned career mode almost completely.  Developer Vicarious Visions realized this and crafted a great story for WoR’s quest mode, making it fun to play through as well as something that would keep you coming back for more.  Before we dive into that though, let’s break down the game starting out with how it looks.

Sharp Dressed Man
Amazingly enough, the Guitar Hero titles look better and better with every iteration.  While this isn’t as critical a factor as it would be for something like a first person shooter, it’s a sign of the developer’s attention to detail that the game graphics keep improving like this.  The quest mode of WoR introduces eight rockers – six that Guitar Hero fans will recognize as well as two new faces.  Austin Tejas and Echo Tesla join the cast as playable characters along with old favorites like Lars Umlaut, Johnny Napalm and Judy Nails.

 

The game creators have really gone the extra mile to make sure that all of the rockers are unique.  Not only do each of the characters have a “normal” form and a “warrior” form that you can unlock via the quest mode, they also have their own set of bonuses that are active during gameplay.  Johnny Napalm has a minimum 2X multiplier during each song while Echo Tesla gets an extra 5% star power for every 10 note streak you put together.  Each character has their own chapter in quest mode, where you strive to earn enough stars to transform them into their “Warrior” form.  After a short cutscene showing their transformation, each rocker gains additional bonuses to gameplay as well as a bonus track to play.  I especially like that each character’s type of music is consistent in their chapter – for example Johnny Napalm’s chapter is all punk music, ranging from The Offspring to The Buzz Cocks, while Austin Tejas’ set list is more classic rock, like Aerosmith’s Cryin’ or Edgar Winter’s Free Ride.

It’s a Sonic Temple baby!
When the Guitar Hero franchise debuted, a large part of it’s appeal was the stellar song list that they had for the game.  With a list of rock classics ranging from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon to Judas Priest’s You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, it was a non-stop Rockfest.  As the series progressed, the music became more eclectic in the interest of appealing to a wider audience.  As I said before, Warriors of Rock returns to it’s roots in a big way with the set list they include with the game.  There are over 90 tracks to challenge you and your friends, with a ton of great music to rock out to.  Whether your taste runs to mellower classics like Red Ryder’s Lunatic Fringe, or you just can’t get enough Megadeth (three Megadeth tunes come with the game), there’s plenty for everyone to get excited about with this game.

 

Speaking of Megadeth, the developers worked closely with Dave Mustaine (Megadeth’s lead singer/songwriter) to create Sudden Death, an exclusive original track that serves as the quest mode’s final challenge.  Just imagine Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames from Guitar Hero III and you’ll have an idea of how crazy Sudden Death gets.  Don’t think the fun ends and you’ve beaten the game when you conquer Sudden Death, that just unlocks the top tier of tracks, songs that are of a much higher difficulty level, including Rush’s 2112 and Dragonforce’s Fury of the Storm.  The excellent sound quality doesn’t stop there though – Gene Simmons from Kiss just happens to be the narrator for the quest mode, and his voiceover work is outstanding, giving the game a great, edgy feel.

This One Goes to 11
The game controls are really the only place where Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock stumbles at all, and even then it’s minor issues for the most part.  First of all, the new hardware is a great improvement, starting with the guitar.  Players will still be able to play WoR with their existing Guitar Hero controllers, but I would highly recommend getting the new guitar controller at the very least.  Activision has redesigned the faux-instrument so that the Wiimote fits into the neck of the guitar instead of being off-center in the body of the instrument.  This alleviates one of the many complaints I had heard about the Wii version of the game – players accidentally pressing buttons on the Wiimote while trying to strum.  The bridge on the guitar has been replaced with a +/Star Power button, so for those players that don’t like having to tilt the guitar to activate Star Power, you now have the option of just hitting the Star Power button and your bonus multiplier is activated.

 

The drums have also seen great improvement, and again it’s the little things that are truly appreciated here.  Overall, the drum set is far sturdier, with better feel and bounce on the drumheads, and the adjustability of the cymbals makes for a more comfortable set up for pretty much any drummer.  There’s even a slot on either side of the drum pads that you can slide the drumsticks into, instead of trying to balance them on the drum heads, which is a nice touch.  The only weak spot when it comes to the drums is the bass pedal, which has been a problem spot since the very beginning.  While the bass pedal is a definite improvement over previous sets, it still is not sturdy enough to endure the kind of punishment that it’s bound to see.  Plan ahead and have a backup bass pedal handy, there’s nothing worse than when it breaks mid-party and you’re left scrambling.

 

But the best news of all has to be how much Vicarious Visions has tightened up the controls for WoR.  The biggest gripe that players had about previous versions of Guitar Hero on the Wii was that the controls seemed laggy, especially when compared to the far more responsive controls on those “other” consoles.  Well you can lay your fears to rest, not only do the graphics look fantastic, the game controls feel very responsive, leaving no one but yourself to blame for that last botched solo!

Play That Funky Music White Boy
While the core gameplay has not truly changed much over the life of the Guitar Hero series, the various game modes have seen a huge burst of creativity with this title.  On the single player side of things the outstanding quest mode has been implemented.  Telling the tale of how you need to recruit and transform eight rockers into Warriors of Rock.  Each of the characters has their own intro cutscene, as well as a transformation video showing their metamorphosis into their “Warrior Form”.  Players have to complete songs as each of the rockers and earn stars to trigger the transformation.  The twist here is that instead of maxing out at five stars, each track in the game has it’s own special challenges, allowing you to get far higher star power totals.

 

The multiplayer modes are where we’ve seen the greatest expansion in variety, and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is no different.  Party Play is still excellent, with all the bells and whistles that you would expect – dynamic drop-in/drop out of players, changing difficulty levels on the fly without having to restart the track, everything is there and works smoothly.  There have been several unexpected additions that make gameplay that much more enjoyable.  One of my pet peeves was that you could scroll through the song list, play a song you liked, and then once you were finished and wanted to select another track, you were all the way back at the top of the song list again!  This wasn’t as much of a big deal when there were fewer tracks available, but as more and more downloadable content became available, it got more frustrating.  Well, the developer apparently heard this complaint from enough people to change it, so wherever you were in the song list and whatever sort filter you were using, you’ll return to that after you finish your current track.

 

In an exclusive score for the Wii, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock supports up to eight (!) players – four on the instruments and four more on Nintendo DS’s in Roadie Battle mode.  Prior to WoR, DS Roadie Battle was limited to only supporting the guitarist, but now DS players have the option of supporting the bass player or even the drummer!

 

Song filtering is another area where Vicarious Visions made improvements.  Players now have the option to sort not only by song or band title, but by genre, time period, song length, and even rank them by difficulty of instrument!  For example, if you’re a die hard singer, you can sort all your music by singing difficulty, and discover new challenges that way.  The developer has made sure that the game keeps track of what songs you play and how often, and then provides recommendations not only in Quick Play and Party Play, but also in the Guitar Hero store.  This is a huge help, because as the amount of DLC grows, it can be tough wading through an online store to find the tracks you want.

 

One area of the game that has huge potential is GHStudio.  GHStudio is broken up into three distinct areas – GH Tunes, GH Jams, and GHMix 2.0.  GH Jams allows you to pick one of fifteen musical styles that you can jam along with on any instrument.  Some of these tracks are entertaining, but I’m hoping to see additional downloadable content added to the variety in GH Jams before I see it become a mode that more people will spend time in.  As amazing as it sounds, GHMix 2.0 allows you to create your own music in Guitar Hero.  While I’ve only had a short time to play with it (and I’m not the most musically creative person) there is a wide range of tools available to create tunes that should keep the truly musically talented busy for quite a while.  The flip side of this is GH Tunes, where you can download for free any player-created content from GHMix 2.0.  If these tools catch on, we could see a whole other side of music being made available for this game, and I can’t wait to see what the user community comes up with.

Here I Go Again
As with every music game, it’s all about the replay value, and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has plenty of that.  I can’t say enough good things about the quest mode, Party Play is shaping up to be more user-friendly than ever, and the amount of competitive and co-op gameplay options are all great fun.  Activision has made sure to focus on a phenomenal song list, and as long as they keep that focus going with DLC you’ll be playing this title for quite a while.

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