I love Guitar Hero.
Plastic guitars and raucous drunken nights played a key role in defining my university experience, so naturally I was keen to try out Neversoft's upcoming addition to the series. Both World Tour and GH5 suffered from attempting to emulate Rock Band and losing a dedicated singleplayer aspect... and disastrous 2009 sales forced Activision to rethink their publishing strategy. Warriors of Rock is therefore set to be the only main Guitar Hero title of the year... and by playing to the franchise's strengths, it's shaping up to be absolutely incredible.
Guitar Hero has gone back to its roots: strong guitar tracks, ridiculous solos and the feeling of genuinely being a guitar God in your own living room. The concept of starting a band and working through a world of themed setlists has been well and truly handled by Rock Band, so Warriors takes an entirely different tack. A massive and accessible freeplay mode allows any combination of instruments to take part in a cooperative and competitive gametypes- and an entirely new singleplayer mode allows solo rockers to engage in a deep and unashamedly silly campaign.
The graphics engine remains unchanged, but the gauges have been moved directly onto the scrolling neck of the guitar. It's less cluttered and more accessible than before, with players able to ambiently view their star power without taking their eyes off of the action. The window for hitting notes correctly is still refreshingly wide and avoids the “come on, why didn't I get that one” moments that Rock Band's twitchy inputs frequently provide.
The proceedings may seem like business as usual at first glance, but the focus has completely changed. Score is no longer the primary concern; rather, the emphasis is now on attaining power stars (achieved through percentage of notes hit as well as streak bonuses) and completing song-specific challenges. Each song has over 30 quickplay stars associated with it, awarded for beating several thresholds that challenges players to perform in an different way. For example, completing certain sections with only 'up' strums or playing certain drum fills will reward players with those delectable little collectibles. They funnel into rank increases that unlock videos, concert footage, concept art and other goodies that lends the title serious addictive long-term appeal beyond the odd drunken party.
The new shredding iron is as solid as it is gleefully ridiculous. It's essentially the beloved Guitar Hero III Les Paul controller that we know and love (before World Tour instigated the godawful touchpad), but tricked out with a snap-on axe blade that can be customised with as-yet undiscussed accessories. You're not just some wannabe rock star who has to grind his way through crappy gigs on his way to stardom. You're a Warrior of Rock!
Anyway, it's time to get stuck into the Quest Mode. The Demigod of Rock, voiced by Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, has been defeated by the Beast and imprisoned in stone. It's up to us to recruit the warriors of rock, power them up and take on the daemonic assemblage of amps and stage lights at his own game! Which turns out to be rocking, obviously.
8 characters have to be recruited in order to progress, including series mainstay Jonny Napalm and voluptious newcomer Echo Tesla. Each warrior has their own power that affects gameplay, including increased star power generation and multiplier level. They also have their own themed gigs to complete... but as lowly humans, they're no help to you on your epic quest. Collecting stars allows them to evolve into twisted, badass versions of their former selves and level up their skills. These light RPG elements really help to provide genuine replayability- and the transformations are both startling and absurdly hilarious.
For example, Echo Tesla is a goth mechanic with a compulsion to fix and improve stage gear. Upon gaining enough stars to level up, she binds her lithe frame into a mechanical gurney and injects herself with electricity. When the slab descends, the former attractive young woman has become a cybernetic robot warrior that resembles like one of Bioshock 2's Big Sisters armed with an outsized guitar. Once again, Warriors of Rock puts the feeling of power and escapism before authentic realism- and is better for it.
In terms of progression, four rockers have to be recruited and transformed... before attempting to regain Gene's epic guitar by playing through the entire 2112 Rush album! Expect crazy progressive backgrounds and psychadelic visuals. Once this marathon task is completed, the remaining four characters are available for recruitment... and then the beast awaits. Boss battles combine the abilities of each character... so naturally you'll want to spend some time upgrading them as much as possible. Finally, you'll take on the Beast with Gene Simmons. Rejoice, Megadeth fans... because their songs are for the epic boss batles- including an exclusive track written specifically for the game! After that, there's a postgame demigod chapter that apparently features the hardest tracks in Guitar Hero history (as well as another Dragonforce track). You'll need nerves of steel and about eight fingers on each hand to best these ones.
Oh, and the transfer licence fee carries over from previous iterations. Thank god.
Put simply, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is pure unapolagetic fun. Providing complete accessibility alongside a deep singleplayer mode is set to make this a return to form for the series; and it taps into the escapism that the originals once offered back in the day. Purists will still prefer Rock Band 3 (which we'll be previewing shortly)... but if you just want to rock out, this is definitely going to be worth checking out.