It's Rocktober!!! That means music games, music games, music games! That also means that for an entire month Stereotoid gets to be relevant to this site and talk about videogames 100%! Not the ol' "videogame music" bit but totally talk about videogames. Our first videogame review, and the game ushering us into Rocktober is none other than the latest entry from the (in)famous franchise Guitar Hero.
vApathyv and I, your guides through this Rocktober, definitely didn't see completely eye-to-eye on this one.
When Xzyliac and myself decided we were gonna take on the task of reviewing the new Guitar Hero game, I really didn't expect it to be so difficult. I was expecting a bit of trouble, it being my first game review and all, but...nothing like this. Though, the problems I ran into aren't exactly your run-of-the-mill issues. It wasn't because my opinion was torn, or that I was having problems figuring out what to say.
It was because, holy shit, I can not put this game down.
Anyone that knows Xzyliac or myself (Mostly Xzyliac because he's uber cool and popular and stuffs) knows that when it comes to rhythm gaming, we're pretty much the biggest supporters not named Nick Chester on this site. Taking a glance over my shoulder I see a pile of nine guitar controllers, a plastic drum set that's pretty much falling apart, and about three microphones, and I'm not even going to get into just how much of my game collection consists of rhythm games (I'll give you a hint...over half). So, needless to say, we're pretty well-versed on them. But one of the big things you learn when you get into rhythm gaming is, ever since Harmonix broke off and went on to create the Rock Band series, the Guitar Hero franchise has been trapped in a stagnant series of oversaturation and non-innovation since Guitar Hero 3. So, when Guitar Hero 6 was announced, I took the news with a great deal of caution, especially considering the air of ridiculousness surrounding it. A story mode narrated by Gene Simmons? Bizarre transformations turning you into all manners of crazy beasts with game-altering powers? A FUCKING NICKELBACK SONG!? Surely this was a recipe for disaster.
Somehow though, it avoided suffering the fate of nearly every other Guitar Hero game Neversoft has touched and become something...good. Building off of the much-improved, surprisingly great Guitar Hero 5, the engine present in this game has been practically fine-tuned to perfection, resulting in gameplay that easily fits up there with the best in the series. The gameplay itself is still what you'd expect from Guitar Hero, strangely open and forgiving timing included. The beautiful graphics engine from the previous title also returns, with the same amount of polish given to other returning assets. It's not exactly innovative mind you, but it is a very well-done iteration of what Neversoft has learned in the past.
All the other modes from previous games return more or less, including Party Play and the various competitive modes present. There are two big additions however- Quest and Quickplay+. Quest mode is, well...exactly what you'd expect if you paid attention to any of the various videos leading up to the game's release. It's corny, borderline ridiculous, and takes itself waaaaaay too seriously, but provided you don't take it as seriously as the game takes itself, it's a surprisingly enjoyable romp, and a rather interesting example of how injecting story into a rhythm game could possibly work. Of course, the story isn't what matters so much as the gameplay.
And the gameplay in Quest mode is pretty much nothing more than Guitar Hero with magic powers. It's not much, but the powers do make a surprising amount of difference, especially once it gets to where you're stacking various powers together. The powers can run anywhere from protection against breaking your combo, to being able to slowly generate star power, to even reviving you and saving you from failing a song. They're an interesting addition, though they do at times make the game way too easy, to the point where I found it literally impossible for myself to fail a song at times.
Progression in Quest mode is pretty much broken up into individual Chapters, each focusing on a specific character and a set of songs tailored to that character's personality. It's pretty much a glorified take on the old-school “Play these songs in this setlist” progression the series was known for in the past, just with pre-setlist and post-setlist cutscenes. It's pretty barebones, though not lacking in fun. I should make a special mention about the 2112 chapter, however. It's an epic seven part back-to-back run through the entire 2112 saga, with Rush themselves narrating the story of the album between songs, and venues designed around the distinctive imagery of the 2112 album. It's a very impressive, very reverent show of passion for the artist's work, and one that almost shows a level of attention present in The Beatles: Rock Band.
Quickplay+ is a “new” mode for this game that, for all intents and purposes, is pretty much the career mode from Guitar Hero 5, but tailored into a completely optional experience designed to provide the game additional life after you go through Quest mode. Put simply, each song in the game, be it on-disc or DLC, has a set of challenges you can tackle at your own leisure, racking up stars to both raise your personal rank and unlock new accessories for your created characters, as well as a variety of concept art and other unlockables. It's a pretty neat way to encourage longevity in the game, even if it's not as new as the developers claim it to be.
It's important to note that all of these modes, except for Party Play, can be played online. Xzyliac and myself did run into a very weird hiccup during our first session together, but it never showed up again after that, so you can expect a pretty smooth experience, though while playing online it does take a while for the game to register when you trigger star power. There's also no real bonafide multiplayer co-op progression in Quest mode- whatever happens during online co-op will only affect the host's career, so don't expect any sweet rewards if you decide to jump on and help a friend. Quickplay+ however, does allow you to share progress.
Of course, this being a rhythm game, the soundtrack is what really matters, right? And on that note, this is probably one of the best soundtracks to grace a Guitar Hero game ever. A surprising amount of attention was placed on making this a very rock-oriented soundtrack compared to past titles, and it shows. You'll find everything from Black Sabbath, to Dire Straits, to Muse, even Dethklok shows up (BRUUUUUUUTAAAAL). This is also probably one of the most difficult set of songs to show up in the game, with absolutely brutal tracks like Nemesis by Arch Enemy, Black Widow Of La Porte by John 5, THREE Megadeth tracks, and of course, another Dragonforce song (Fury Of The Storm). It WILL kick your ass on many an occasion, but it's an enjoyable, semi-masochistic kind of punishment that most Guitar Hero fans will be chomping at the bit for.
All in all, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a surprisingly solid return to greatness that injects a much-needed shot of awesome into the series again. It's not exactly innovative, but it is, without a doubt, the best Guitar Hero game Neversoft has made, period. tl;dr:
A Guitar Hero game that finally rivals Harmonix's efforts, that stands on it's own merits as well.
-vApathyv Xzyliac's Opinion...
The story of Guitar Hero is just about as rock n’ roll as they come. Coming onto the scene it was bigger than life, a fresh franchise that revitalized the western music game genre. However it wasn’t entirely to the credit of the concept as much as it was to the execution and the executioners. Harmonix Music Systems is often remembered for really taking to heart the combination of challenge and good tunes that made Guitar Hero great. It was a wonderful tribute if nothing else. However when Harmonix left the helm the series was handed off to Neversoft and ever since the general consensus has been that the series has gotten spotty. With an almost countless number of spin-offs, a few lukewarm (or in some cases downright terrible) main entries, many have almost written the series off entirely either leaving their plastic instruments to dust or for preference of the series’ cousin Rock Band (developed by the aforementioned Harmonix).
With this recent installment in the rock saga, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, the guys at Neversoft have made the pledge to return the series to its roots. Instead of trying to chase after the Rock Band crowd this year Neversoft is embracing their long-time fans while trying to win back a few deserted ones by providing a 90+ setlist filled with heavy riffs, quick bass, intense drums, and noodley guitar solos. The question is does it truly reflect the Guitar Hero of old?
When I first wrote an impression piece on Warriors you’ll remember I said the game clearly had a lot of potential that sat on a very thin line. The fragile balance between exceptional and passable could easily be broken in the favor of either side. Having played the entire game the balance is broken and I can assure you this is a helluva passable game.
There’s a lot to love here, the setlist has some unquestionably wonderful gems such as What Do I Get? by the Buzzcocks, Children of the Grave by Black Sabbath, and even the Theme From Spiderman by The Ramones. These and more are just absolute treats to play. However they are offset by some extremely poor and questionable choices that make progression through the game almost a chore. (You Can Still) Rock in America by Night Ranger, Cryin’ by Aerosmith, Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, and Wish by Nine Inch Nails feel like terribly awkward choices from bands with plenty to offer. Other choices such as the live Paranoid cover by Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica, Modern Day Cowboy by Tesla, and the live version of Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top are just awful to listen to and to play. Even the oft-mentioned solos that the game has are few and far in between. The setlist for Warriors certainly falls on the quantity side of the ol’ “quantity or quality” debate. There’s a certainly a good chunk of the setlist that is really fun but it’s overshadowed by a lot of awkward or terrible choices.
The gameplay of Warriors is where most of the evolution has taken place and for the most it works. The newest career mode is now Quest Mode and it follows the story (yes, story) of several of Guitar Hero’s main characters (and a few new faces) proving their awesomeness so they can be transformed into their warrior forms. With these forms comes special abilities like Echo Tesla who receives a little bit of Star Power for every 10 note streak or Casey Lynch who has a streak shield that will take several hits without your streak falling. When you reach the final chapter of the quest all the warriors come together to form a band and their power will combine.
First, let me say it works a lot better in practice than on paper. The story isn’t at all forced and it’s only purpose really is to sit in the background and make everything look pretty however it does give the unique characters of the game a lot of flavor and for that Guitar Hero fans should be more than thrilled. And the power-ups actually fit pretty nicely into the new progression of the game which involves players, no longer limited to the 5-star scoring systems, racking up as many stars as possible to progress further. The system works surprisingly well and it should be noted that these power-ups are restricted to the Quest Mode however Quickplay has gotten a neat little facelift as well.
Taking a cue from recent shooters Quickplay now has ranks which you can rise through by playing songs and earning stars (and bonus stars through various challenges). Rising through these ranks will earn you bonus material like videos, artwork, even venues, and characters. It’s an interesting idea and no doubt one being used to spark interest in upcoming DLC with the hope that players will keep playing through to unlock as much as possible. It works well enough but only time will tell if it serves its purpose.
The presentation of the game is no doubt it’s greatest feat. The characters, the venues, the on-stage effects, all of it is done with a lot of obvious care. In classic Neversoft-era Guitar Hero style you’ll see a lot of song specific animations like replicating various scenes from the Bohemian Rhapsody music video while the song is being played, intense seizure inducing flashing lights during the chorus of Wish, and even a neat little air drum roll that the vocalist does during I Know What I Am by Band Of Skulls. Some very slick presentation definitely pushes it above Rock Band and shows that regardless of its overall quality there’s a lot of love that’s being put into Guitar Hero these days. No one can fault Neversoft for that.
In the end Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a mixed bag if I’ve ever seen one. When it’s solid it is extremely so. The good songs will definitely have you coming back for more, the charts across the board are pretty good, and the new Quest Mode and Quickplay can definitely be addictive. However when the game is bad it’s almost enough to make you want to quit. More often than not I would stare at a chapter setlist and just groan at what I was about to put myself through. For every one or two good songs per chapter there could be another 3 or 4 that almost made me want to quit and play Quickplay.
Unless you are already a huge Guitar Hero fan, or you’ve seen the setlist and can say you enjoy the majority of the setlist, I can’t recommend Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. tl;dr:
Warriors of Rock carries a lot of great gameplay that is bogged down by an awkward and inconsistent setlist providing little reason to come back.
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