This one’s a bit different, eh? Music games in general, and Guitar Hero in particular, have been making a point of becoming more multiplayer friendly, and more appealing to casual players. GH:WoR doesn’t mess about with an easily accessible setlist and default party mode, oh no, this one’s about the campaign. Yes, in a rhythm game. Yes, I said “campaign.” It really is the word that best fits, just pipping the game’s own term for it, “Quest,” by virtue of being possible to say aloud without cringing.
Y’see, this one has a story line. It’s ’80s hair metal embarrassing and ’70s prog rock dorky, but it seems to be the game’s reason for being. The intro sequence depicts a heavy metal viking warrior being defeated in single combat by a giant steampunk robot mech thing, and losing his magical axe/guitar. In a volcano. And that I can relate to. From there “quest” begins, and you’re off recruiting band members and unearthing the axetar so that you can triumph over… bad robots, presumably. I kinda lost track.
The quest is broken up into chapters, each of which must be completed before the next set of chapters is unlocked. Each chapter is essentially just a setlist based around a certain theme. And that exposes a bit of a problem with the single player experience. The motif is traditional spikes, leather, skulls and fire heavy metal. Right from the off though, you’ll be playing entire sets of punk rock, or poppy crowd pleasers that have as much to do with chrome demon skulls as they do with a kilo of bling around your neck. Despite a setlist with some real gems, the thematic inconsistencies affect the single player experience quite badly, which is a pity, because it’s easy to see what they were trying to do, and with a more careful choice of songs it could easily have been achieved. It’s almost as if an eleventh hour decision was made to broaden the appeal of the setlist, dragging it away somewhat from the pure heavy metal aesthetic the game wears so proudly. Some of the choices are truly baffling: Linkin Park’s Bleed it Out is a major offender.
Early on there’s a chapter that requires you to play Rush’s twenty-plus minute seven-part epic 2112 back to back. That is a thing of which I definitely approve. The painful story narratives between parts are spectacularly dorky – a situation exacerbated by the decision to have the actual Rush band members voice it. It’s still cool, though.
To complete each chapter, a certain number of stars has to be earned, and new chapters won’t be opened up until currently available ones are finished. Songs can seemingly now have any number of stars to earn. I found myself getting three stars on one, and eight on the next. I’m sure there was a reason for it, but from behind the guitar, the performances felt pretty similar. For some reason, having a buddy help out on the drums seemed to reduce the number of stars we’d earn per song, despite him usually scoring higher than me.
Does it play good, though? Well, yes. Very well, in fact. It’s the slickest guitar game I’ve played to date, and there are some new features which I initially wrote of as gimmicks, but turned out to be of real benefit. Each band member you recruit in the campaign has his or her own special power, whether it’s protecting your score multiplier, resurrecting failed band members, etcetera, etcetera. Hammer-on / pull-off sections seem to be even more forgiving than before, allowing even me to complete most songs on expert difficulty, and feel like a legend in the process. All this means that it’s an excellent local multiplayer party game. I realise I could say “it’s Guitar Hero” and you’d assume the same thing, but here we are.
Ultimately, Warriors of Rock doesn’t hit what it was aiming for. The silly single player campaign almost works. All it needed was a bit more consistency in musical style to justify its aesthetic dorkiness. Drop the Nickelback and bring in some Dio, for crying out loud. Long term, I think its setlist will keep most players coming back for another go, or busting it out for parties, at least. The gameplay is definitely up there with the best of the genre, and in a way that will make it mroe appealing to a lot of people than Rock Band 3, which seems to be taking things really a bit far in the reality stakes. Speaking for myself, I like playing songs on a little plastic guitar with 5 buttons; it nicely matches my level of competence. This divergence between the genre’s dominant franchises seems likely make choosing between them something of a no-brainer. Rock Band for the hard core, Guitar Hero for the Fisher & Paykel party player.
Yes, I’m the latter. And no, I’m not ashamed.