The Guitar Hero series hit a high note last year with Guitar Hero 5, a slick, entertaining game that embraced the social aspect of living room rock. This year's installment in the venerable franchise turns its attention back to the game-y aspects of the rhythm genre with new modes that cater to those who like something extra to strive for beyond the inherent satisfaction of rocking out. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock boasts the same great gameplay that made its predecessor so engaging, yet even with more than 90 new songs on the disc, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is just more of the same, especially when it retails for full price. Though it may not stray far from the expected, Warriors of Rock can still rock a party with the best of them.
The marquee new element here is Quest mode. Packed with cutscenes and narrated by Gene Simmons, this mode sends you on a trip through different venues to mutate familiar Guitar Hero characters into superpowered versions of themselves so they can help you defeat a sinister beast that threatens the very rock and roll we all hold dear. It boils down to little more than another way to chain setlists together in a careerlike progression, though it features a hefty amount of cutscene showmanship. A steady stream of intro videos and bizarre mutation clips is interrupted by a detour into the trippy world of 1970s Canadian fantasy when you play through Rush's seven-part epic, "2112," complete with voice-over from the band.
The "epic" setting creates some novelty, but the only substantial change from previous career modes is the addition of warrior powers. Each unique character has a specific power that can help you boost your scoring potential. For example, Judy Nails starts each song with the crowd meter at maximum and can overflow it to earn extra stars, while newcomer Echo Tesla fills the star power meter a little more with every 10-note streak you accomplish. Taking advantage of these powers can help you progress more quickly through Quest mode, and though they provide an extra incentive to do well, warrior powers are a bit of a double-edged sword. While the flashy visual and audio effects that the powers produce can make you feel like you're rocking that much harder, they can also be distracting, especially if you are playing with a few bandmates. All the electric flashes and stray sound effects can be off-putting, and certain powers allow you to extend your star power for so long that you can end up playing the majority of the song with only pale blue notes coming down the highway.
These abilities can also be used in the Quickplay+ mode, and are presumably one of the additional factors that the "+" indicates. The other notable change is the inclusion of challenges that are now attached to each and every available song, including all of the importable songs from previous Guitar Hero titles. These challenges reward you for long note streaks, skilled use of star power, high scores, and other accomplishments, granting you bonus stars and boosting the level associated with your profile. Gaining levels unlocks new instruments and outfits for those who like to customize their in-game appearance, and the whole challenge system caters to those who enjoy competing on the extensive leaderboards. For the more directly confrontational, there are plenty of multiplayer modes that enable online competition.
For those who just want to play some music, Party Play mode once again makes it supremely easy to join a song on any instrument at any difficulty level at any time. This mode is a great way to host low-pressure Guitar Hero sessions and encourage reluctant rockers to strum a few bars. The more creative modes from Guitar Hero 5 return as well, including GHJam, which provides an enjoyable opportunity for unstructured jamming. The GH Studio lets you craft songs of your own to play and share, while Facebook and Twitter connectivity provides further opportunity for sharing your in-game accomplishments.
And finally, if your stable of plastic rock instruments is looking a bit worse for wear, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock comes in a bundle with a new modular guitar that comes with detachable body pieces. Though the pieces don't feel as solid as previous iterations of the hardware, it's fun to make your figurative axe look like a literal one. Unfortunately, the guitar and the game retail for $99.99, with the game alone going for $59.99. Though this is a robustly featured game, many of the features are so familiar that charging full price for them doesn't seem right. For folks who already own Guitar Hero 5, Warriors of Rock doesn't add a whole lot beyond a new setlist and some game-y bells and whistles. Yet it's impossible to deny how much fun this game can be, and with more than 90 songs to choose from, there are hours of entertainment in Warriors of Rock. The cover charge may be a bit too steep, but you can still count on Guitar Hero to rock.