Saving a Waning Franchise?
The phrase “same stuff, different day” (stuff substituted for the naughtier word because well, we’re it’s just that family friendly kind of site) has been kindly describing the sameness and mundaneness of life and its boring bits since the birth of office work itself, but a phrase has developed in the gaming world which is used to refer specifically to the disappointing procedure that games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero follow title after title, year after year, disappointing release after disappointing release.
The phrase is “same song, different game”, and it has never been more applicable to any title as it is to today’s game under review, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. The aforementioned phrase isn’t to be taken literally of course, since each of these games seems to pride itself and stake all of its entertainment value on the fact that it has a brand new song roster, but playing this same old guitar-highway, rhythm-based format year after year with little change eventually feels like you’re in a broken record situation. If anyone ever thought that the promise of a structure and a storyline would save the dying franchise, then they were quite substantially mistaken, but it can’t all be that bad, can it? Well, yes and no; mainly yes though, but let’s take a closer look at the deceased horse that Activision insist on flogging year after year.
For the Uninitiated
These Guitar Hero games have always tried their best to capture the public’s attention, probably because they were such a breakout hit. The fact that you could “play music” with tiny peripheral instruments as if you were actually a musician was a perfect way to get family or friends together and jam to their heart’s content, and this is exactly what the series did, but that was in its heyday. The format remains true to tradition, with the guitar neck-like highway sitting centre screen as notes fly downwards towards you, begging to be played by pressing the corresponding buttons on your tiny guitar controller and strumming at the right time as well. Increased difficulty means more notes to play and more complicated strumming/note patterns, and your performance is judged by an imagined audience that cheer and boo according to how well you’re playing. This is the way it has always been for Guitar Hero, so why should fans do Activision the favour of buying the game this time around?
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock possesses the same old gameplay modes that its predecessors do such as Quickplay (one of the game’s saving graces), Party Mode, and Competitive Mode, but what the developers want you to focus on this time around is the Quest mode. For those that aren’t instantly predisposed to blindly love and pick up every Guitar Hero title there is without questioning why they’re doing so, Quest mode is pretty much the selling point of the game: the promise of a solid and engaging storyline is likely to give credence to a game no matter what the genre, but the problem is the storyline is far from solid or engaging, and it doesn’t even attempt to try and get itself described by anyone as “compelling”.
The story revolves around some piffle involving retrieving a legendary guitar, slaying a big, bad beast, and releasing the true “rock” potential of the eight main characters (many of them returning from previous games) along the way. As you have probably guessed by now, the story mode is simply an excuse and/or a justification for forcing various songs together in different set lists, with the player donning their instrument of choice and trying their best not to get bored of this lazily repackaged idea too soon. Perhaps the developers thought that having Gene Simmons narrating the action would inject a little life into the proceedings, but what it really does is remind you that, much like Mr. Simmons himself, this format is ageing badly and has just about as much life and energy as the rapidly-disintegrating skin of a topless Iggy Pop.
A Departure of the Wrong Sort
If you’re wondering what else is different about the game to set it apart from its predecessors, then it’s a pretty short list. The main feature of note is the inclusion of a special power/ability for each of the main character such as Lars Umlaut being able to achieve higher multipliers or Casey Lynch’s “Streak Guardian”, saving a multiplier from any accidental bum notes. What was previous Quickplay mode has now been dubbed Quickplay +, signifying a slight re-jigging that involves simply being able to use the characters’ abilities and even allowing for some online integration/social media inclusion. As is the case with the rest of the game, the problem isn’t that these modes aren’t good to begin with, it’s just that there’s nothing new to get your hands on; we’ve seen this all before, Guitar Hero, and the 13 different tasks to be getting on with in Quickplay + soon become repetitive.
One thing that titles such as Guitar Hero rely on to draw in fans year after year is the roster of songs, and considering the game’s title you would think that you were in for quite the journey of epic heavy metal and hard rock songs: unfortunately, if you thought this, you would be wrong. Granted, the game does have a great deal of great tunes on offer including Foo Fighter’s No Way Back, White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, and a whole interlude dedicated to some Rush songs, but unfortunately the track selection on the whole is a little baffling to say the least. Those not massively into rock music will likely recognise some of the tracks but you’ve really got to go out of your way to enjoy rock if you want to be familiar with some of the bands that most people wouldn’t ever have heard of. Also, you’ve got ridiculous song choices for well-known bands such as Children of the Grave for Black Sabbath (instead of more well-known choices like Paranoid or Crazy Train), and the only Ramones track is Theme From Spiderman.
So as a rock fan you may be in for a treat with a few of the songs, but well over half of the tracks in the game are bordering on the ridiculous and obscure. This makes it difficult for the game to redeem itself based on the song selection, not that the game has any other redeeming factors it can rely on.
It is quite difficult to sum up such a rocky warriors game as disappointing because while it is pretty lacklustre in almost all respects, it isn’t like we were caught off guard by the game sticking to the same, tired-out formula it has always used. This is how the game has always been, with different songs every time and perhaps a few adjustments here and there. The promise to give us a decent, well-produced storyline wasn’t kept since quest mode ended up being a poor excuse for stringing together various poorly-chosen songs that don’t particularly gel well in the first place. Quickplay+ is decent enough to entertain for a while but its challenges become tiresome and are again nothing new. Even the unique character abilities serve to hinder and confuse rather than enhance, so what good is this rock game? Well, it will be thoroughly enjoyed by those that don’t mind being presented with the same thing year after year, and some rock fans will simply love the obscure nature of many of the tracks. Unfortunately, though the game provides a decent enough rhythm-based experience, the whole format is so run down and out of favour that only the most hardcore of the franchise will want to play Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.