I have some good news for the metalheads out there who have felt jaded and disillusioned with the Guitar Hero series as of late. Neversoft has taken the franchise back to the drawing board, and come back with a focus on heavy shredding music, a tale of a Demigod of Rock and an emphasis on original characters.
Throw in Gene Simmons as a narrator, an exclusive Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) track, a new guitar controller with changeable plastic bodies and game design that feels more like Brutal Legend
than Rock Band
, and you're left with a very interesting re-imagination of a well-established series. Titled Warriors of Rock
, this Guitar Hero
game has the feeling of a well-loved blanket that's just been washed and aired.
Gameplay is exactly as you know it – grab a plastic guitar, microphone and a set of drums and play in time with the music to please the crowd. But instead of forming a garage band and touring different venues to stardom, Warriors of Rock
features a Quest mode that has players assembling an army of warriors in Lars Ümlaüt, Axel Steel and others to find the Demigod of Rock's axe and slay the Beast which defeated him.
In order to prove their worth, these warriors have to complete various songs in a genre-specific setlist that is tailored to each character – Johnny Napalm will have Punk songs, for example – until they transform into an alternate 'Warrior' form that gives them certain perks. Warrior Johnny's power ups include 'Speed Freak', the ability to always have a 2x multiplier at minimum.
Neversoft's project lead, Brian Bright, told me that this concept had been rolling around the studio for years. “Our character department had been pitching this for years, and the higher-ups always blew it off. But some time towards the end of Guitar Hero 5
we presented them with the 'rise of your band' concept, which had been done ad nauseum, and they just turned their noses.
“So we took a break and looked back over the Warriors of Rock
concept. We said, 'let's just make this epic, over the top quest with transformation of your characters.' We already wanted to take the game back to its roots, so this direction got our whole studio really excited. Our animation department, who usually just got to do stage movements, got to do full-on cutscenes. The character department got to make cool designs, the audio guys got to do voice overs. It was a great atmosphere.”
Sticking with the same old formula over and over again is likely to do that to you, I guess. Of course, I brought up the existence of Brutal Legend
, and Brian seemed to acknowledge that its release might have helped Neversoft push the Warriors of Rock
concept to the fore with this latest Guitar Hero
He points to the fact that both this game and Tim Schafer's RTS game drew inspiration from similar sources – album artwork and imagery from various bands including Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Either way, we have art director Nolan Nelson to thank for the insane designs of the Quest world, including the Rivers of Chrome and Valkyrie warriors rocking guitars.
The direction isn't just a departure from the usual globetrotting venue-playing format that the series is known for. It's a complete turnaround from last year's Guitar Hero 5
, which seemed to want to appeal to every music demographic – with no less than five different games released in 2009 however, that tactic evidently failed. It also marks Activision's dramatic change in attitude to the franchise.
“For Guitar Hero 5
, we really tried to go after variety. We cast this really wide net, and included everything from Stevie Wonder to Elton John, Children of Bodom and everything inbetween,” Brian explained. “I think what happens is that you appeal a little bit to everyone, but not enough to attract genre-specific gamers to purchase the title.
"As a result, we saw that game sales weren't as great as the year before, but... if you added together the sales for all of [2009's Guitar Hero
games], the brand sold close to World Tour numbers. They did alright, but everything was split – so even my mum didn't know which game to buy!”
Not everything from Guitar Hero 5
was abandoned for Warriors of Rock
, however. The Career mode in last year's iteration offered a specific challenge in each stage to add a little extra spice to the proceedings. This year, that has been expanded to a reconfigured 'Quickplay Plus' mode, in which one or more players can jam to songs and find thirteen unique tasks to complete in each one.
Most impressively, Neversoft have made this feature backwards compatible with all 500+ songs in the Guitar Hero
library, so if you grabbed that Eagles track years ago on DLC, accessing it again in Warriors of Rock
will present you with thirteen challenges to complete.