It's a trend that's been developing for a few years now, but with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, it's hard to ignore the full-blown wheel-spinning and the decaying effects that annualized sequels have had on Activision's once-glorious rhythm franchise. The slow death of Guitar Hero is something that bums me out personally. I have a lot of fond memories with this series, and it speaks volumes that, despite bringing little to the table besides a half-baked story mode and a fresh set of metal-heavy songs, there were still flickers of the old Guitar Hero magic--that spontaneous realization of your secret rock star--while playing Warriors of Rock. But without any significant new features over last year's Guitar Hero 5, the returns are diminishing at an alarming rate, and the only meaningful metric remaining is how much you like the soundtrack.
This is, for the most part, Guitar Hero As Usual. You'll find basic feature parity with Guitar Hero 5. You've got quickplay, party play, competitive modes, some online options, and a training section, plus a character creator and the still-shoddy GHTunes music maker suite. But Warriors of Rock ditches the usual rags-to-riches rock fantasy career mode with a quest mode that's similar in structure, but that fully embraces the corny, kid-safe cartoonishness that has been creeping into Guitar Hero for the past few years. I'm reminded of the junior-high heavy-metal fantasy of Brutal Legend, but in an entirely perfunctory way.
Acting as the agents of the imprisoned Demigod of Rock, each level has you playing as one of the familiar faces from prior Guitar Hero games--characters like Johnny Napalm, Judy Nails, and Axel Steel--as well as a few new ones. While in the quest mode, each character also has some kind of unique gameplay modifier that usually effects score multipliers or your star power meter, an effect that's amplified once you complete that character's setlist and they transform into some kind of zombie or cyborg or demon beast or whatever. It's supposed to be all tough and metal, but it's just silly. The best comparison I can conjure is the old Harlem Globetrotters cartoon, where the clown princes of basketball were turned into half-assed superheroes with flimsy gimmicks derived loosely from their personas. When it takes a left-turn into the realm of prog-rock with Rush's 2112 halfway through, it seems like a non-sequitur, and by the time it got to the Megadeth-driven grand finale, I had long since stopped caring.
So I wasn't particularly receptive to the comic-book charms of the quest mode, but I found it incredibly helpful in making sense of the game's soundtrack, which, if just presented as a big alphabetical list of 93 songs, looks like random madness. In the quest mode, though, each character's setlist generally matches their basic theme, so when you're playing as punk-rock stereotype Johnny Napalm, you get songs by The Buzzcocks, Twisted Sister, The Runaways, The Offspring, Sum 41, Bad Brains, Soundgarden, and The Ramones. It's not always perfect, but it's a smart way to present the music in a game like this, though I definitely hit a brick wall a little bit past the halfway point in the quest mode, when all of the characters I could select seemed to trade mostly in the kind of dirge-y heavy metal sludge that I have very little personal interest in.
More than anything, your interest in the songs featured in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock will dictate its value to you. For me, personally, there are a good dozen or so songs in here that I both enjoy listening to and had a blast playing, including “Uprising” by Muse, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane's Addition, and “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. But I probably would've been happier, and would've spent significantly less money, had I been able to pick up these songs as downloadable content. Then again, if you've already invested in previous Guitar Hero games--including Guitar Hero World Tour, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Guitar Hero 5, and Band Hero--it's relatively cheap and easy to import the songs from those games into Warriors of Rock, giving you hundreds of songs to choose from.
That Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is most compelling as a track pack suggests that this is a series that has already peaked, and it's hard not to draw comparisons to the last franchise that developer Neversoft had to grind out year after year. Warriors of Rock offers a minor facelift but ignores the sagging infrastructure, and it's not a direction that holds much of a future for Guitar Hero.