Activision held an event last week to show off its upcoming music game lineup--which you'll note has shrunk significantly compared to last year's mess of music releases--and I took that opportunity to play through Rush's "2112" in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. For those who don't follow Rush closely enough to actually know what that is, it's over 20 minutes of music, an epic story about a guy who finds a guitar that sets off some sort of huge galactic conflict. It spreads across seven different songs, and in-game, you'll encounter it all at once. You'll also encounter it like you've never encountered it before.
The developers brought in members of Rush and had them record a reading of the album's liner notes--which further delve into the story of "2112." These new audio sequences pop up between the seven pieces of music, giving you a brief time to pause before heading into the next section. All the while, the background venue is a huge cavern with a guitar stuck, partially buried in rock. Headless dudes and other decidedly rocking avatars show up when it's time to perform. It feels like the piece, which shows up around halfway through the game's all-new story mode, has been treated with far more care than just about anything that's shown up in Guitar Hero in years. Put another way, don't expect to see four Gwen Stefanis or four Kurt Cobains singing and playing Rush's material.
All this feels like a departure from what Guitar Hero has been over the last couple of years, but to hear Neversoft describe it, it starts to sound more like a return to form. The developer claims that it's the spiritual successor to Guitar Hero III, Neversoft's first game in the franchise, which had a harder edge than the two games that followed it. Sure enough, Warriors of Rock's announced tracklist seems to stay away from much of the "softer" stuff that garnished the last two games, like Duran Duran, Beastie Boys, or Jimmy Eat World.
Of course, it's all still Guitar Hero. The gameplay felt identical to me, though the music is wrapped around a new quest mode where you unlock special powers for the various Guitar Hero characters. This leads to much higher scores and multipliers than you could get in the previous games, though none of that felt especially interesting to me. 40 stars per song seems like overkill, and I don't think I've cared about Axel Steel and his posse since GH2, but then I'm far more interested in things like getting 95% or more on each song or just, you know, playing the songs that I actually like to listen to. As someone who has wildly varied (and generally poor, depending on who you ask) taste in music, the focused nature of GH6's tracklist really works against it. Of course, you might be different. Perhaps this is right up your alley. Such is the nature of the modern rhythm game.
Another interesting little bit about Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock was announced today. In addition to the song "Black Rain," which appears on-disc, the first run of the game will come with 12 Soundgarden songs, which constitutes the band's "Telephantasm," a new greatest hits compilation. The tracks come in two forms, both as in-game content and as a simple "compact disc" that you can listen to in any "compact disc player." This package is hitting stores one week before the CD is available on its own.
While I can't say that I'm dying to play most of the songs on the Warriors of Rock soundtrack, hearing more about the developer's purity of focus at least makes it sound like a more interesting project than last year's slew of Guitar Hero-branded products. 2112 alone is probably the most authentic and cool thing that's hit Guitar Hero in years. It feels like the sort of game that will definitely find an audience, but it's probably not for me unless the DLC takes the game in an entirely different direction. That's... not especially likely.