Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

(Neversoft/Activision) - Nintendo Wii version reviewed, also available on PS3 and Xbox 360

The Guitar Hero series has been one of the most popular titles on the Wii, mainly because of the wireless interactivity that the Wii offers with its controllers, but also because it enhances the party and fun element that the Wii’s market often aims for. The Wii versions of the games are normally handled by the developers Vicarious Visions (who are taking over Guitar Hero development after this game) and they normally do a very good job of adding features and making the game very slick indeed.

The new title Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, is in essence the sixth main title of the series, and from the outset there was an emphasis on bringing back the classic and hard rock elements that made Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock so popular (and still is today). Whilst the likes of Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero diversified the set lists so that it would appeal to a wider audience, the more hardcore Guitar Hero gamer wanted something challenging and something more akin to the genres of music that they listen to. I’ll get to the soundtrack later on, but first let’s look under the hood at the game.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the menu is simpler to navigate with all the stuff to play in the “play” menu, so if you want to quickly play a song or go into Quest Mode, as well as all the Nintendo DS-enabled extras on the Wii, that’s where you’d head. Similarly there’s also “my stuff” where you can keep track of your game achievements and also any scoreboards you’ve contributed to so you can see how well you’re doing. You’ve also got the rather annoying “hero feed” with some text appearing in a little window on the main screens. I just wish that could be turned off to be honest.

So, I know what you’ll be asking. Where is the career mode? The short answer is that it’s been replaced by Quest Mode, where basically you take on a quest to recruit warriors for your band, each with special powers such as increase multiplier, add more star power for a streak, and so on. Each of the first four warriors has a set of songs to play, and once you earn enough stars, you play the encore song and that’s the chapter nailed for now. Because each warrior has different powers, it means that you can score past the usual 5 stars (or 6 stars if you 100% a song) and earn plenty more as you progress. Indeed, once you get to the encore you transform to a warrior character to gain more stuff.

After four of these, there’s then the next level: Rush’s 2112. Yes. A whole section of the game devoted to all twenty minutes of the Rush classic track. As it’s split into seven parts, sensibly your assembled band at that point plays each bit in turn, with narration from Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of Rush themselves. That complete with the Rush-inspired backgrounds (notably the Starman one) really does enhance the Quest Mode superbly and makes you believe the story more – in essence here you find the sacred guitar which then the band use much later on against the Demon to become the demi-god of Rock – very Brutal Legend, isn’t it?) The Rush part is unbelievably good fun to play. So much care and attention has gone into that to be honest and it really does play well as a whole suite. It’s a shame that you then couldn’t play the whole song in one go as a full twenty minute thing, but it’s still great.

You then recruit more band members (including Axel Steel, hurrah!) before the final showdown of Quest – you recruit two lots of four band members with their powers and play Megadeth’s “Holy Wars.. The Punishment Due” and “This Day We Fight” to build up power against the beast, before you then take him on with Megadeth’s specially composed track “Sudden Death”. This track is epic, suits the game perfectly and looks rather challenging on expert modes. In fact even on my normal play setting of medium, it wasn’t that easy – as it should be. Complete this and all the songs are then unlocked (the last tier of songs, all of Megadeth and Rush’s 2112 stuff have to be unlocked in Quest Mode, a marked change from previously)

The last tier of songs is some of the most difficult songs ever on a Guitar Hero game. Five star any of these on expert and you are doing well. I’d say that the hardest two on guitar is John 5 with Jim Root’s “Black Widow of La Porte” and Children of Bodom’s “If You Want Peace Prepare For War”. You’ve also got Dragonforce, Steve Vai, Slayer (oh yes, “Chemical Warfare”!) and the like. Although some might complain you’ve got to play through the Quest to get to the tough stuff in a way it also makes it more rewarding for you as a gamer to be able to earn the right to play them.

Quickplay has been enhanced massively as Quickplay+. You can still play the song as you would normally do, earning up to six stars, but now each of the songs in the game has a series of challenges, either for each individual instrument or as a band. So for example you might be asked to nail the solo in some sections or earn enough points using star power, earning an overall score. There are challenges that are easier than others but overall it gives you something to aim at as well as score. If you play the song normally you can get the extra challenges too which is good, or play the challenges if you want instead. You can as well play each of the songs with two of your powers enabled that you’ve gained in Quest Mode (another reason to play through it) and see how many stars you can earn. As an added incentive, earning more stars means you unlock more stuff as well – each time you gain a new rock ranking.

Quickplay+ isn’t just for the main game songs either. Oh no. All the downloadable content and importable content also have those challenges too, so once you play them in here, you might not want to go back to the older games that easily. They’ve really though about Quickplay+ and the challenges are different enough to warrant repeat plays too, which is good to see. In fact you might find that some of the easier difficulty songs are easier to earn more stars in this mode too. Each challenge earns up to three stars using the gold, diamond and platinum achievements as in Guitar Hero 5) so that works well too.

As for the instrument gameplay, there’s some tweaks and new stuff here too. Vocals have been tweaked to be a little fairer. I always thought that the vocals in Guitar Hero 5 required way too much precision and did put me off slightly, whereas in Warriors of Rock it’s been thought out so you can rock out a bit more and as long as you’re in tune and time, you can nail the vocals correctly. I’m pleased that this has been done – it’s still a challenge to fully nail a song on Expert, but it’s a much fairer way. Bass now has sustained open notes, so it’s not just a case of strumming with these, it’s holding the strum too. That makes sense to me. And if you’re an Expert+ drummer, you now have ghost notes where you hit the pads much lighter (accented ones of course are where you smash it!)

In terms of overall gameplay, there’s not much in terms of “too much on screen slowing you down” as you might have had previously on the Wii. It still looks very good for the Wii, but the focus has been on the gameplay and not getting annoyed by missing a note not due to your fault. It looks slick, it feels slick and overall really works well to enhance the overall experience. Rock Band guitars and drums are supported too, so that’s good to know for those who’ve bought other instruments and want to use them.

There’s the return of the Nintendo DS game modes too, you’ve got roadie battle of course where the roadies can use their DS to sabotage stuff, you have the roadie setlist where the roadie will do all the work of selecting the songs for you to play, and roadie Quickplay+, where you could have up to eight players (four players four roadies) with the roadies helping you gain even more of a high score where possible. As it’s likely a fair number of Wii owners have access to a DS, this too enhances the gameplay nicely and is a good feature. I do wish Mii freestyle would have been crammed in, or indeed the option to use a Mii as your creatable character (after all Xbox 360 owners can use their avatars, so it is possible) but nonetheless the extra Wii and DS functionality really does work nicely.

As for the soundtrack, a lot has been said about the songs being “obscure” and the like. To be honest, you do need a good mix of classic and modern rock for these sort of games, primarily because the original masters are often hard to get hold of, and it does work here. You have the likes of REM, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica with Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Slayer, Buzzcocks, Ramones, Dragonforce, and tons more. I found the soundtrack to be fitting in with the game and each of the quest mode chapters even keeps a loose theme (for example the first one is mainly more punk inspired) which helps you build up an understanding of rock that way. Some of the newer modern rock stuff is fine, and note how even today’s alt rock lot like AFI have early classics represented here, a good move methinks.

I for one am more than pleased for Guitar Hero to get in the likes of the above and real classics such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (watch the rockers in the opening part – really nicely done), Neil Young’s “Rocking In The Free World”, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and best of all Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” – a bona fide classic if ever there was one. I must admit that it’s the set list that also draws me back for more as I can sing a fair few of them well too and attempt drums, so I can have a blast with the instruments and the Quickplay+ challenges too.

As for downloadable content, any new content that comes out will only work with Warriors of Rock. For me that’s a shame as I suspect that most of it could be played in Guitar Hero 5 or Band Hero and it’s a little down point of the game. That said, the disc imports are well done – there’s now 39 tracks from Guitar Hero Metallica you can import (and they work in 5, too!) and any discs you’ve previously imported will work straight away, so my Greatest Hits and World Tour imports I’d done in 5 worked here, which is good. I imported the stuff from 5 and Band Hero so now have a massive 300+ songs to choose from and all available to play in Quickplay+. Hurrah to that too. Online play also works effortlessly and you can even have bands with duplicate instruments which is a nice touch.

Overall then, it’s a solid addition to the Guitar Hero series and with all the emphasis on playability, functionality and the like, it’s a really good effort all round. You can see the effort poured into the Wii version graphically and sonically, and with all the good features it has, it’s a serious contender for my favourite Wii game of the year. Rock Band 3 has a lot to live up to if it wants to get close to the fun factor in Warriors of Rock, where repeat play is high and if you’re a fan of proper rock music rather than X Factor trash, then this is the game for you.

Warren's rating: 93%