Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

Test of metal.

Version tested Xbox 360

For a game promising "warriors", it's ironic to note that the sixth major instalment in the Guitar Hero series marks a significant retreat in its scrap with Rock Band.

The direction and focus make it clear: rather than try to compete with Harmonix in pushing the creative boundaries of the genre, Warriors of Rock settles for the safer ground of something more akin to a homecoming tour.

But retreat isn't necessarily defeat. World Tour matched Rock Band instrument for instrument, but with Harmonix about to unleash a "pro" guitar and keyboard, Neversoft has (probably very sensibly) elected not to give chase. Instead, Warriors of Rock represents an unabashed primal scream to core fans on a comfortably familiar stage.

The headline change this year comes in career mode. Now called Quest, this seeks to liven up the traditional structure with the Brütal Legend-lite story of the "battle to save rock", portentously narrated by Gene Simmons and punctuated by melodramatic set-pieces.

To an extent, it succeeds. The now-familiar cast of Guitar Hero misfits gets a set of songs and perfunctory narrative vignette each. Once the player has earned enough stars in a given set, the character transforms into their supernatural alter ego, with special powers.

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Full-band support is included, of course, but there's a clear emphasis on strong guitar parts.

These apply performance-enhancers to increase score multipliers, the effectiveness of star power and so on, with increasing emphasis on tearing through tracks to harvest as many rewards as possible.

Complete the opening four sets and the game's gloriously absurd stand-out sequence is unlocked. In a continuous set lasting half an hour, the liberation of the Legendary guitar is dramatised through a performance of the entirety of Rush's 1976 concept album "2112", complete with a script voiced by the band itself.

It's a silly as it sounds, but pitch-perfect for the tone of the game, and a clever and enjoyable break from the typically rigid career structure. When was the last time you saw a band perform on a floating island beneath a 100-foot-tall, bright red, naked man?

When Neversoft revealed its intentions with this mode, many understandably questioned the creative sanity of adding narrative to Guitar Hero. The "2112" section highlights what is possible given the right material.

Sadly, with the exception of the final 'boss' sequence – immensely challenging, but nowhere near as daft – the remainder of Quest Mode can feel a disengaging slog to level up the remaining four characters.

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The Quest Map plots your journey to 'save rock'.

As always, individual appreciation of songs will vary, but the structural conceit, which by design should compel you to press on regardless, reveals itself outside of these two epic sections to be wafer-thin and, ultimately, potential unfulfilled.

Speaking of the set list, the 90-plus songs included again represent excellent value for money. However, there's also a very conscious move away from the something-for-everyone approach and back to the heavy metal, hard rock vibe that is in Guitar Hero's DNA. Emblematic of this, Guitar Hero 5's back-of-the-box pull quote, "THE HOTTEST ROCK'N'ROLL SONGS", becomes "JOIN THE QUEST TO SAVE ROCK" in Warriors.

On the one hand, this perhaps limits the appeal of the game. But it has also allowed Neversoft to focus on the series' strengths and produce a tracklist in which songs justify their inclusion on gameplay merit rather than mainstream friendliness.

On a personal level and as someone with a preference for guitar, Warriors is full of songs I've never heard, will likely never purchase, but love to play in-game. Highlights include the beautiful strum-free arpeggios of Slash's "Ghost", and the falling-to-knees, sex-face solo-noodling of Queensryche's "Jet City Woman".

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