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Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Score: 97%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4: 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
It doesn't come as a surprise that when the Guitar Hero franchise can slow down long enough for normal people to catch up to cannibalistic, annualized habits the series is known for, the games actually turn out pretty great! Take Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock for example. This is the sole Guitar Hero related release since this time last year and this is the first time in years that I am genuinely excited to play the entire game for myself and not for parties.

It definitely helps that the graphics engine has been overhauled yet again and rocks a bold new look for series. All of the settings, characters, and themes seem ripped off the record store shelves as the world of Guitar Hero is now home to Rock-gods and demons.

What is most impressive is the idea of putting on a "show" for anyone that may not actually be playing along, but passively enjoying the finger-fretting agony of their friends. Elaborate choreographed stage plays act as a special treat for fans of Rush or Queen. There are definitely a few winks and nods to fans of the series, but the effort that went into recreating musical musings of classic bands gives the series something that it has sorely been lacking for a few entries now: heart.

The entire crux of the Guitar Hero series is based upon the idea that people want to play a guitar, not play pop songs for a karaoke party. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a celebration of the six-stringed weapon with smart song selections that highlight the many styles and genres that make up guitar-based expression. With over 100 songs on the disc, the ability to download almost all of the songs from previous games, and the online music creator, now is the best time to try Gutair Hero if you haven't before. The broad range of classic rock to alternative rock to modern metal ensures that there is something for everyone to like.

Though the only mis-step in the true return to form is the unnecessary inclusion of a Rock Legend. I don't want to anger the members of the KISS Army, but Gene Simmons lends his voice to narrate the new "Quest" Mode as you gather warriors to fight an ancient Rock deity. I'm not going to say I am a fan of the KISS frontman, but I would say I like him. Unfortunately, his performance as the quest-guide is truly terrible. It is dull and flat. The man was the bassist for one of the most elaborate, theatrical, and over-the-top bands in history and his delivery makes him almost seem shy. It was seriously a missed opportunity.

I don't think I need to waste time explaining what Guitar Hero is or how to play it. Numbers show that two out of three people have played or own a copy of the music phenomenon in some form over the years. The main difference for this entry of the franchise is really all about polish. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has refined the entire experience and streamlined the process to make sure players are always getting exactly what they want.

The first improvement (and my favorite) is the epic new "Quest" Mode. This isn't just a series of short vignettes that stitch together some half-assed tale of an up and coming band from the suburbs. No. This is an adventure where legendary guitars must be found and mighty warriors must be forged from the awesome power of rock. The added context to the story actually makes the single player compelling in ways it hasn't been since Guitar Hero II. It starts with a search for four guitarists initially: Johnny Napalm, Echo Tesla, Judy Nails, and Austin Tejas. Each guitarist has a special power that enhances their rocking ability, like more "Star Power" or added score multipliers to aid them on their journey to transform into wild beasts.

After completing genre themed sets (Punk Rock for Johnny, Industrial for Echo, and Classic Rock for Austin) each character unveils their new form and must complete a "boss" song in order to prove their worth and move on. The concept of a "boss song" has been around since Guitar Hero 1, but the added narrative makes Warriors of Rock fresh and exciting.

Though, if single player storylines aren't what you're after, then the enhanced online component will make an addict out of you in no time. Honestly, this is best described as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare meets Guitar Hero. You have a persistent online presence (your soldier) where the object is to collect stars to level up (prestige). You earn stars by completing challenges (barracks) with the help of special powers that you earn from the single player (perks). If I didn't play it for myself, I would swear it was the dumbest thing I have ever heard. But the ability to perform challenges for ALL of the songs on the marketplace, new or old, across all game modes is too enticing to pass up. The best part is you don't even have to directly compete against anyone. You can post scores by yourself and send the challenge or results to your friends to keep the competition going. It is carefully crafted to maximize the addictiveness of levels without resorting to cheap gimmicks like gaining levels for the sake of gaining levels. Every new rank unlocks better abilities, new equipment, venues, behind the scenes videos, artwork, and even more songs.

So for those keeping tally, you can still play as a band. Quickplay is still front and center with difficulty switching on the fly, song choices mid-song, drop-in and drop-out party play, and customizable characters. You also get the standard training mode which helpfully goes over the new abilities too for a better feel of the new skills you will need to succeed.

And you will have to learn those skills quickly, because Warriors of Rock is still deviously difficult. Between the masterful wizardry of Megadeth and the relentless shredding of Steve Vai, your fingers will bleed as you attempt to tame hardened rock legends. Well... on Expert at least. For me, the curve from Easy to Hard is generally smooth, but the jump to Expert is not for the weak. Luckily, the option for "No-Fail" Mode is still available to anyone who just wants to enjoy a song in all of its brutal glory.

Game Mechanics:
I guess the biggest new addition to the mechanics in Warriors of Rock is the all-new guitar controller. This new guitar is, like the rest of the game, all about polish and refinement after years of trial-and-error. An all-new design places all of the actual hardware inside the neck of the guitar next to the fret buttons, while the body can be switched out at will. It actually comes with a special "axe" shaped body kit to truly feel like you wield the power of a mighty rock warrior.

The neatest feature is the all-in-one approach to the wireless design. For PlayStation 3 owners, wireless controllers have always had to rely on bluetooth dongles to operate. The new guitar incorporates the wireless dongle into the design of the neck and acts as a safe place to store the device during trips to Guitar Hero parties.

While I am not much of a drummer myself, my percussion-enthusiast friends tell me that everything still feels right in regards to drum difficulties, even Expert +, which uses double bass pedals to induce early-age heart attacks.

If you have never played a Guitar Hero game before, Warriors of Rock is the most inclusive title to date. With (almost) all of the previous track packs available as DLC, the refined gameplay and implementation of tried and true online mechanics, Warriors of Rock is refreshing and exciting, something it hasn't been for years. It is easy to see this as the most catch-all iteration of Guitar Hero to date. There is literally something for everyone whether it is the excellent Quest Mode or the persistent online multiplayer. Given it's tainted reputation as a yearly cash cow, this marks the first time that Guitar Hero has proven that it has the heart to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best games of this year.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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