Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock Review
Guitar Hero's Swan Song
Warriors of Rock is the latest and last addition to the Guitar Hero library. They've had a long run. The first Guitar Hero came out in 2005, shocking gamers and their friends by putting the power of a Rock Star in their hands. The license has changed hands since then. Harmonix Studios left the production team after Guitar Hero 2 to go on to make Rockband. Now in development at Neversoft, the series remained under the watchful eye of Activision (which actually isn't that watchful - they seem more concerned quantity over quality).
Guitar Hero series has made some interesting choices over the years, not all of them good. Still, talented fans threw their adoration at the franchise for the challenge that GH3 posed and its smooth comic book style. There was a slew of Guitars Heroes that came after GH3. Activision broadened their market and produced new themes ranging from the sick Metallica to the abysmal 'Rock the 80s!' Really, who thought the 80s was the choice decade for rock? The 80s sucked; Jimi Hendrix was dead, Ozzy was past his prime, and Jefferson Airplane was way too coked out to play.
Warriors of Rock has all the music that made Guitar Hero great, but the experience somehow feels thrilling. The game has all the big names: Jethro Tull's Aqualung and Creedence doing Fortunate Son. Staying true to the title, Neversoft included loads of great metal, too: there's Ozzy, Avenged Sevenfold, Bad Brains, Dethklok, Megadeth, Pantera and Sabbath. I was floored after finishing Sabbath's 'Children of the Grave,' which had a strong bass part. I couldn't help jumping around and banging to the music. When getting into a groove, I'd start kicking around my dorm room screaming "What's happening Clleeeevelaaaand!"
The main quest is solid. This story mode, narrated by Gene Simmons, has you in search of the lost Legendary Guitars. You'll gig through a set of songs for each of the rock stars. When you reach each of the two Legendary Guitars you'll power through one massive ballad. I was very impressed with this. For the twenty minutes I was playing Rush's 2112 album with actual narration from the band, it threw me up against the wall and way back. Back to playing through the whole album in high school. It wasn't a difficult song; so much as it was a fun journey through it.
Guitar Hero still has all the classic avatars. You'll see Johnny Napalm, plastered outside of his favorite bar, stumble in and play his gig. Judy Nails struts onto the stage, all attitude and miniskirt like she always does. The venues look pretty, sometimes even cool. Neversoft has clearly thrown its cash into character design and graphics. They've always been about the presentation. Guitar Hero has reached, or possibly surpassed, its graphics potential. So much so, it can be uncomfortable to watch at times. Some of the characters fall on the wrong side of the uncanny valley. I could practically read the lips of Johnny Napalm, ridiculously, singing Neil Young's ‘Rockin' The Free World’. All of the songs have choreographed dance moves for the band as well. I often caught myself staring at all the action going on in the background and messing up my riffs. There's a lot in here, but the amped up graphics can be distracting and take the attention away from you, the real rock star.
At the series’ origins, Guitar Hero had a wicked amount of potential for its library. That potential has gone un-availed. The franchise has all of Rock and Roll history to take from. And, if there isn't a song on the disc that I want, then I ought to be able to download it. However there is still a scarcity of content available for Warriors of Rock on the online store. Activision seems to care less about getting players their favorite music than they do about putting out the next title in the series.
It's a pity that Activision and Neversoft wasted so much time and resources creating all these sequels. All Guitar Hero had to do was make two or three solid games and then release loads of downloadable songs, albums, artists, decades, whatever. The series could've grown into an even bigger household empire. It could have been a venue for up and coming bands to get their name on the scene. Activision would have made money off the bands and the DLC. Unfortunately for them and us, they didn't.
Warriors of Rock is Guitar Hero in its death throes. The music selection is schizophrenic, and it's not for lack of Rush and R.E.M. Even though the big names are there and the Heavy Metal is spot on, a lot of artists feel out of place. It's odd how bands like Fall Out Boy, AFI, and My Chemical Romance have become staples of the series. Warrior of Rock's weird synthesis of metal and pop doesn't target any clear audience and leaves everyone unsatisfied. The songs are viciously difficult, which is no problem for veterans, but it makes the game completely inaccessible to casual players. Unless they choose play on beginner mode. Which is not fun. The rainbows make me feel like I'm in special "School of Rock".
All of the "new" content that a Guitar Hero game has to offer at this point is bunk. We've all had a taste of the limelight and we don't want it repainted for us over and over again. That touch of fame that Guitar Hero can give is what originally made it fun. The series, at its core, will always be fun if you like the music. It doesn't get old. But it does get played out. Activision has released game after game, knowing that people will eat it up. Last year alone they released Guitar Hero: Metallica, Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero, and Guitar Hero: Van Halen and it’s been a consistent trend since the switch of developers. The market has been over-saturated with music games and we're starting to get tired of replacing our broken plastic instruments.
But on top of all that Guitar Hero has become less about the music and more about the style and presentation. This isn't some hippie B.S. "You need to stay true to the music," but this series feeds off everyone's desire to be a rock star more than their love of the music. I guess there's nothing wrong with that. But it's uncomfortable when I'm living through an animated avatar performing in front of his computer generated audience, while I wail on a plastic instrument in my room. He's the center of the show, really, and I'm just the one who has to not screw up. I'm living vicariously through him. Guitar Hero has become rock star escapism, consigning its players to oblivion. Maybe that's what it has always been?