Pros: Mini-rock epic. Some really good songs.
Cons: Some really un-fun songs. Attempts at something new fall flat.
The one thing that can be said unequivocally about Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is that the story is really dumb. Unless, that is, you are a 14-year-old boy into comic books about heavy metal, in which case it might be really cool. But for the rest of us, it’s about as dumb as it can get.
The Basics: Flashy Story, Familiar Gameplay
Warriors certainly gets points for ambition. While most band-rhythm games offer only a simple band-trying-to-make-it story mode, Warriors aims for an epic tale of transformative rock and roll, as you recruit and train rock stars into an army of rock superheroes in order to acquire a mythic guitar and save a rock demigod.
As with previous Guitar Hero games, you use a plastic, push-button guitar controller to play along with a set of rock songs, pushing the buttons and strumming when an indicator tells you to. In Warriors¸ each rock star has a set list you must play through. You are awarded a number of points according to how well you play each song, and when you have received enough points the rock star transforms into a superhuman creature like a lizard girl or a headless guy who is then ready to do battle.
The Songs: A Mixed Bag
Because of the point system, it is possible to transform a rocker without playing every song. On the other hand, if you don’t get enough points, you’ll have to replay songs to increase their point value.
This caused a huge problem for me at first, because I hated playing almost all of the songs available in the beginning of story mode (referred to in the game as “quest mode”). The best guitar-game songs are those that allow you to play along with wailing guitar solos, but the game starts with a choice of two rockers who only play songs made up of crunching chords and repetitive riffs, making you feel more like an annoyed rhythm guitarist than a guitar star. Songs like Cherry Bomb and I Know What I Am are perfectly fine songs, but they are terrible choices for a guitar game.
In fact, of the 16 songs initially available in quest mode, the only one that is any fun to play is the cheesy We’re Not Going to Take It. This is why my initial response to the game was one of burning hostility.
Once I transformed one rock star some others were unlocked, and I happily discovered that there are actually a number of really fun songs in the game, such as Stray Cat Blues and Cryin’, that work very well. It’s just unfortunate that one is forced to suffer through so many of the game’s most poorly chosen songs early on.
What's New: A Rock Opera and a New Scoring Formula
The game’s cleverest stretch involves recovering the mythic guitar, which requires you to play Rush’s mini-rock opera 2112, which tells the story of guitar-repression in a futuristic society. I’m not a big fan of Rush’s music or of the dopey, Ayn Rand inspired story of 2112, but it is really cool to play through a whole rock opera, even a very short one. I would love to see an entire concept album like The Wall or Tommy turned into a rhythm game.
Outside of the game’s quest mode, Warriors biggest change in the guitar-game formula is a points system in which each rock star’s points are calculated differently. This seems like a pointless and inconsequential addition, but apparently comes into play during the final songs, in which you need to choose rock stars with some strategy to get the required number of points. But since there were a lot of annoying songs left between me and the finish line, and I have a lot of other games to look at this time of year, I gave up on story mode before the end, and just tooled around in Quick Play, in which you can play all but a few songs that have to be unlocked in story mode.
The Verdict: Never Quite Sails, Never Quite Fails
I’ve only been talking about playing guitar in Warrior, because the developers describe this as a guitar-focused, “back to basics” game. You can still use the karaoke and drum peripheral aspects Guitar Hero cribbed from Rock Band, but since the developers aren’t emphasizing them, and I always had a terrible time getting the drums properly synced in previous GH games, I just stuck to guitar.
It’s interesting that Warrior’s developers chose to go backwards at the same time Rock Band 3’s developers were working on an evolutionary leap. Going back to the basics has always been a part of the history of rock and roll, but Warriors feels less like a pared-down return to its roots and more like more of the same with a few meaningless alterations. It’s still fun, more often than not, and when the song works the player can still feel like a rock star, but ultimately, there is a difference between getting back to basics and getting dumber.