Death, taxes, and a new annual installment in the Guitar Hero franchise: life's few certainties. But, while the series is largely responsible for building and then riding the success wave of the music game genre in the West, as a product it has remained a fairly static formula. To date, it has essentially revolved around taking a bunch of music from the world’s biggest musical acts, packaging it up with a handful of new gameplay innovations and tweaks, and letting the fans loose to shred their fingers into bloody stumps trying to conquer the new toughest track on the disc.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock marks a slight turning point in the franchise, and while the very tenets that made it (and continue to make it) popular remain, it's the deviation away from straight set-list play in favor of adding a story mode--dubbed Quest mode--that has caught our interest most.
In Quest mode, your job is to harness all the power of rock to battle and then overcome "The Beast." You'll do this by unlocking the new abilities that come along with each character's rock evolution. All the familiar faces from the Guitar Hero universe, such as Johnny Napalm, Axel Steel, Lars Umlaut, and Judy Nails return and bring with them unique skills earned by playing sets. We have yet to see the story mode in action and how venues will be revealed or whether there's a travel element to the play, but rest assured that your rock journey won't be taken alone. Developer Neversoft has confirmed that KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons will guide you through Quest mode and will play narrator as you undertake your adventure.
Our demo included a look at Johnny Napalm in action. He is initially seen hanging around outside New York punk club CBGB's before kicking down the door, making a defiant walk to the stage, and launching headfirst into Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." Set lists will mirror the musical affinity of your selected character and, naturally, Napalm will draw from iconic artists like Buzzcocks and The Offspring.
Completing the song and earning stars for the performance saw Johnny's physical appearance and demeanor change. A new undead-inspired skin tone, a change of wardrobe, and a more pronounced set of Mohawk spikes gave him a much more goth look. Upgrades aren't purely cosmetic, though, and once the morph was complete, we were given access to a new skill called "speed freak." Similar to the perk system in Activision's other franchise, Call of Duty, the perk system here will let you mix and match any choice of two unlocked upgrades from your repertoire to boost your performance. Speed freak granted us a minimum 2x multiplier, and by playing flawlessly, a higher multiplier increased the speed at which we earned additional stars as we played. The star system in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has also been overhauled, reducing the barrier to progression and now allowing you to earn up to 40 stars per song.
Band play features prominently in GH: Warriors of Rock, and like in recent versions of the game, drop- in and drop-out cooperative play is supported at any time without causing artistic differences with the remaining players. The game retains support for multiples of the same instruments and steers clear of the otherwise inevitable fights over who gets the glory of the guitar solo. The biggest change in band play piggybacks on Quest mode upgrades and allows each member of your band to select two character-specific skills to help earn more stars. Abilities are triggered from both your own and your team's performance, and with a four-piece act in full swing, the screen is littered with icons showcasing each player's unique powers. Gameplay remains largely unchanged from GH: World Tour, so there shouldn't be too many surprises here for seasoned shredders, and the famous five-colored frets and open-fret strumming make an appearance. During our demo, we did notice a new mechanic for held strums on lead guitar indicated by thick purple note lanes.
There are only so many ways to play a Guitar Hero song, but with this in mind, Neversoft is keen to give budding guitarists another way to prove their mettle once they've mastered the tracks. Building on the Expert+ concept, Warriors of Rock will include QuickPlay+, a new challenge mode offering 13 objective types per song that will see you doing everything, such as reaching a high-score threshold, whammying as long as possible, and performing band hot streaks. Each challenge will offer three difficulty levels--gold, platinum, and diamond--and will reward successful completion with in-game accessories, bonus behind-the-scenes band footage, and new virtual instruments. Every song on the disc will support the new mode, while the 500 songs currently available as downloadable content from GH: World Tour onward will also support QuickPlay+.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Guitar Hero game without a new peripheral, and inspired by the aesthetics of Warriors of Rock, Activision will release the game with a new plastic six-string. This year's iteration ditches the solid look for something a little more stylized, channeling silent body guitars and storing all the electronics within the neck of the device. The touch-sensitive strip introduced in the World Tour controller appears to be a thing of the past in favor of a simpler layout. Optional faceplates can be attached and will dramatically change the look of the device. The example we saw, offered as a retailer preorder incentive, gives the guitar a suitably metal axe look complete with chunky stone wings flanking its slender neck.
GH: Warriors of Rock will ship with more than 90 master tracks on disc made up of a mixture of studio and live performances. A handful of artists have already been revealed, including: AFI, Anthrax, Avenge Sevenfold, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Slipknot, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, Silversun Pickups, Def Leppard, Foo Fighters, Muse, and Adult Swim virtual band Dethklok of Metalocalypse fame. In a case of turned tables, inspired by the game's look and feel, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine has written and recorded an original track for the game called "Sudden Death." Not content with its original difficulty, Neversoft and Mustaine have tuned the song to give your eyesight and wrists a proper workout. Having seen it played live by the developer house band, we advise you to prepare to cry.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock will be kicking over couches and whaling on strings when it hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii in late September this year.
Stay tuned for our ongoing coverage from E3 2010.