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Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

Music series soldiers on

Like any self-respecting band of aging rockers, Guitar Hero's having a moment of realisation after trying to stay current for the past few years. The adoring fans don't want a modern tune - they want the old band back together. Who ever thought it was a good idea to put the Kaiser Chiefs in last year's iteration? Guitar Hero is supposed to be about the gargantuan power of thrashing your tiny plastic guitar as an ode to the might spirit of rock.

So now Neversoft is taking the series in the opposite direction of the super-slick Guitar Hero 5, which was comfortably on par with Harmonix when it came to the Rock Band mould if you ask me. Then again, I'm the kind of person who last rolled out my Rock Band band (Goretopsy) to do a marathon Journey session. That's clearly not what Neversoft is after: now we're riffing off Guitar Hero 1, with an even more accentuated sense of nostalgia regarding the rock classics.

Of course, 'rock classics' is a bit of a subjective term and, with so many iconic tunes already rinsed and repeated throughout the series, Neversoft is left dishing out a setlist you probably wouldn't include in your Desert Island Discs. Twisted Sister - We're Not Gonna Take It was the opening track of choice in a recent presentation - need I say more? - and with Gene Simmons providing the game's narration you could be forgiven for thinking it's come over a little bit too glam for the most hardcore guitar heroes.

That's until Black Sabbath - Children of the Grave blasts out of the speakers and cranks it up to 11. Just listening to it makes me want to grow my hair down to my knees and permanently dress in black. Rock. The full tracklist promises over 90 songs, and currently confirmed are tracks from the Buzzcocks, Rammstein, ZZ Top (a live version of Sharp Dressed Man - which should bring back memories of anyone who remember Guitar Hero from back in 2005), Slayer and Queen. Yes, it's Bohemian Rhapsody. Goretopsy will knock that one out of the park.

But there's a few questionable additions on this year's rock-focused set list - is Neversoft seriously trying to tell us Fall Out Boy - Dance Dance is the kind of track we want featured on the new-look Guitar Hero? Yes, by the looks of it.

Still, one man's rubbish is another man's Fall Out Boy - Dance Dance and, aside from resurrecting some rock classics, Neversoft is also getting Megadeth to make a new one. Sudden Death is a 5 minute finger-shredder, liberally peppered with nightmare solos and hammer-ons so tricky they could dislocate your knuckles, and the track promises to provide some of the greatest challenge seen in a rhythm game to date. It's clearly harkening back to the infamous inclusion of Dragonforce's Through the Fire and Flames in Guitar Hero III, arguably Neversoft's crowning moment during their tenure of the series.

Even this year's peripheral is straight out from the annals of rock legend: with all of the electronic wizardry now kept in the guitar's neck, the body of the thing can be swapped between something that looks like it's supposed to be flames (I think) or an axe. The axe, please.

No other instruments are being made available, but if you're anything like me you'll have about six sets of plastic bands filling up the spare room. Despite the series' focus over the past two years to keep up with the Joneses, then, the onus is now firmly back on lead guitar. The rest of the traditional band is supported but the bass, drums and microphone just don't seem to be the point - Neversoft say the lead guitar has always been the most popular instrument in the plastic band, so they're going to give it the most attention.

The new Quest Mode takes the scaled down plastic guitars on an overblown journey to help the demigod of rock slay The Beast with the power of the green, red, yellow, blue and orange fret buttons. You might need a double-take for all this.

A powerful guitar has been entombed within a granite prison, and it's up to Guitar Hero's trademarked characters to transform into otherworldly warriors and take on a variety of bosses to reclaim it and slay The Beast. The new world map looks like something straight out of heavy metal cover art, although in reality it all seems like a clever way of adding a glossy veneer on the genre's established sets of menus and stadiums. It does look fun.

Playing the game works in exactly the way you'd expect, of course. There are now 13 stars to be had on each track, taking Guitar Hero 5's collection of individual bonus stars, awarded for performing song-specific tasks such as whamming every held note, and whacking all of them into each song. Stages are now arranged thematically around each member of the cast, so Johnny Napalm's stage will be focused on the odd haircuts, boozing and punk side of things.

For doing this you eventually unlock the warrior form of each character, which brings additional bonus powers to take into each track. One lets you boost your max combo from 4x to 6x, for instance, whereas another never lets your multiplier drop below 2x. These extra powers give you some extra tactics to think about before heading into each track, although I imagine hitting 100% of the notes on any song will still get the job done nicely.

The series' other staple modes and features all make their cursory appearances, including the jukebox-style Quickplay mode from last year's Guitar Hero 5, a no-fail mode which lets the band drop-in, drop-out and switch instruments on a whim.

Still, there's the sense Neversoft has to think up these increasingly radical ideas to stop the series from feeling stale after a steady stream of titles for almost six years. Like many of the bands which make up its extensive set list, Guitar Hero doesn't command the same fanaticism it used to. In spite of a genre that's clearly on the decline, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock manages to look bright, beautiful and boisterous, reaffirming the belief that these games are at their best when they don't take themselves too seriously. If the members of your plastic band have been failing to rehearse like they used to, this new old school take on Guitar Hero might encourage them to pick up their axe and shred one more time.

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