I would have to go back and check to be certain, but if memory serves me correctly I have reviewed at least five music games since we launched this site last year. I didn’t write reviews for Guitar Hero 5 or DJ Hero, but I certainly played them. My opinions for each varied but there was one consistent complaint I always had – not enough of a narrative. There’s no need to refine the gameplay or change things up a bit, just give me more of a story and I will be completely satisfied.
Now that isn’t actually true because I’m not a crazy person. Of course we don’t need more story in our music games. However Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has taken it upon itself to provide exactly that in the form of its Quest mode. This feature seems like it has been the primary push of their marketing campaign for this installment.
I’m not saying the idea of a full-on Story mode in a music game is a bad idea. I’m sure that if done properly, some good can come out of this concept. Guitar Hero does not do it properly.
The first mistake the Quest mode makes is assuming people actually care about the characters within the Guitar Hero universe. There’s a reason why Guitar Hero action figures are discounted at every department store on the planet. Nobody has any attachment to these characters. We may be able to name a few of them, but there is no connection beyond that. Therefore the idea that people want to spend hours following a storyline that is centered completely on them is just plain silly.
The second mistake is that even if we actually were interested in these characters, nothing exciting is happening to them. The premise is that there is a different set list associated with each character, usually focusing on a specific genre. You play through these songs and once you have earned enough stars, that character gains a special power. So you may gain the ability to earn star power faster and easier, or maybe to protect your multiplier from disappearing once you miss a note. Some of them may be helpful, but they don’t change the game in any significant way. The motivation to earn these powers simply isn’t there.
On top of that, the overall storyline is pretty terrible. You have a very disinterested Gene Simmons providing the narration, and the lines he is spouting are often borderline laughable. I don’t have a specific example to give you, but I bet I can write something that sounds pretty similar.
“The goddess of rock knows that to brandish true power, you have to also wield a iron fist of metal, which grips the head of her trusty weapon. A guitar is only as powerful as it’s player – and that power is only for the truly worthy.”
I wrote that in about 17 seconds and I bet you it’s pretty in line with the dialogue you’ll find in the actual game. The one exception is during Rush’s 2112 where the band actually provides narration between the songs. Everything else is hokey, uninteresting, and adds nothing to the overall experience. The Quest Mode may take you many hours to finish up, but you won’t be engaged by a single second of it.
So the biggest new feature for this iteration of Guitar Hero brings nothing engaging to the table. What else does that leave us with in terms of new content? Sadly, not much. Yes you can now earn more than 5 stars during a song, far more than 5 actually. Again though, what does this really add to experience? You’ll be able to unlock songs faster, but it doesn’t change anything in a significant way.
There is one addition that I will praise. In recent Hero titles, each song has been given an instrument specific challenge. It’s usually some variation of “hit as many ____ notes as possible without missing”, but it added some extra incentive to keep playing. Warriors of Rock takes the concept a step further and introduces challenges on every song for each instrument. With its lengthy set-list, this definitely ups the replay value of the title and gives the player reasons to keep replaying the tracks.
I suppose now would be a good time to actually address the set list. The developers haven’t been shy about how this is a return to the older Guitar Hero titles. Their focus was clearly on metal so one can leap to some conclusions about what the set list will be like. I’ll say this, for a game that’s so focused on metal, it sure does have Fall Out Boy in it.
As with past Guitar Hero games, the set list really is all over the place. Metal as a genre is still pretty well represented here, with tracks from Megadeth, Slayer, Five Finger Death Punch, and more. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, you get Third Eye Blind, R.E.M, and god damn Nickelback. Perhaps they started out with a purely metal/rock focus and then got scared halfway through development and added in a more varied set list for mass appeal. It’s very scattered and a large percentage of the songs don’t fit the overall motif they seem to be going for. In fact the majority of the metal songs aren’t even available at the outset of the game. Why withhold the songs that your game promised to deliver?
Not to say the set list is bad. It features Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, which I have been hoping for since music games became a genre. Playing that opening guitar solo is about as good as life gets. I also found myself returning to A Perfect Circle’s The Outsider, and the Ramones’ cover of the classic Spider-Man theme song is actually a whole lot of fun to play. So there are definitely highlight songs, it’s simply too bad the package they’re contained in is not better.
Recommending a music game is the easiest thing in the world. If you look at the overall setlist and find you enjoy the majority of the songs, then chances are high you will like this game. It’s still fun to play with a group and as I said there are some good songs in there. However the game’s biggest new feature, the Quest mode, is not a welcome addition, and the game generally suffers from a serious identity crisis. With Rock Band 3 just around the corner, a game that seems to be going for broke in its effort to revamp the genre, it’s hard to give this one a solid recommendation.