This is quite interesting: Dave Mustaine from Megadeth has written a song for Warriors of Rock, the new Guitar Hero game. A Megadeth song designed, from the ground up, with note-tracking rather than, um, mosh-pitting in mind.
It's called Sudden Death - which, ironically, is what I was praying for around the one-minute mark (Just kidding!) - and it's a suitably busy piece of music, filling that endlessly rolling fret highway with dense lumps of multi-coloured challenge: brilliant, probably, if punishing.
Sudden Death's back-to-front conception is a reminder of the influence of rhythm action games: a reminder that, to a certain degree, they stepped in to save the music industry when the record industry was starting to bleed from the nose and stumble into doors.
The question, as Guitar Hero gets its sixth instalment - not counting all its spin-offs, because not all of them deserve to count - is who's going to step in to save rhythm-action games now that they're starting to look a bit wonky themselves. They're not bad exactly, just repetitive, over-exposed, and a bit, you know, played out.
The first real hint at Warriors of Rock's new direction will come when you unpack the box: the game's bespoke guitars are something else. Previous iterations grew increasingly ornate, sure, but they tended to stick to reality, aping the Gibsons and the Fenders of the world, albeit in smaller, tackier form.
This time around, reality's going out the window. With all of the electronics now safely entombed in the neck, Neversoft's designers have gone mad with the body, offering elaborate exaggerations, parodies, and sweaty hallucinations of what a guitar could look like. The outer edges form talons or loops, lightning bolts and flames seem to have been frozen in sharp lumps of plastic towards the centre, and the whole thing takes on an over-extended, epic feel.
That's to match the game's new campaign. Guitar Hero - as I type this, the sky turns red and the lion settles down next to the lamb - has now taken a page or two out of the RPG playbook, and the result is Quest Mode: a grand storyline, narrated by Gene Simmons, in which the world's greatest rockers are transformed into warriors, before setting off on a dangerous mission to free a guitar from a plinth of stone and slay a hideous beast.
I'll give you a minute or so to take that in. If you're having trouble, don't worry: in reality, Quest Mode appears to be a smart visual glossing - about a centimetre thick - covering a more traditional arrangement of track listings and boss fights. Each chapter of the narrative - there's a world map, but it's basically just a very pretty menu, by the looks of it - is based around an individual venue, and, for the first time, songs are grouped together on a purely thematic basis.
A good example is Johnny Napalm's chapter, a punk rock paradise centred on the beer-sticky floors and dirty Technicolor lighting of CBGBs. The presentation is typically slick, there's loads of little in-jokes and muso references scattered around if you want to look for them, but at the heart of it all, it's still about playing songs, nailing the note-tracking, and progressing on to the next challenge.
There are a few new wrinkles, however. Each chapter of Quest Mode will see you unlocking a new Warrior power, of which there are eight in total. (Warrior Lars', for example, allows you to up the maximum combo multiplier from 4x to 6x.) Warrior powers can be combined as you unlock more of them, and you'll probably need them to complete the 13 Star Challenges each song contains, ranging from easy things like extending whammies as far as you can, to trickier treats like nailing all the hammer-ons.
Stars in turn open up the familiar range of unlockables, including the usual suspects like concept art, and, in a generous twist, they're available for all of your Guitar Hero library songs (going back as far as the DLC for World Tour) as well as the stuff on the new disk.
As for the stuff on the new disk, there's over 90 master recordings to work through, all of which see the game returning to its rock roots with the likes of Slipknot, ZZ Top and Muse. Warriors of Rock will also include all of the same party play content and competitive modes from last year's game, too, meaning you'll have plenty to do even after you've slain the beast.
Quest Mode remains the hook for this year, though, and as ideas go, it manages to be clever, colourful, charismatic, and kind of bleak at the same time: the work of a very professional team who are just about managing to come up with the new gimmicks necessary to keep an aging franchise going.
This isn't the bottom of the barrel just yet, but with its faintly desperate invention, it certainly makes you wonder what the bottom of the barrel is going to look like. On screen it may be the spitting punks and celebrated rule-breakers we're all used to, then, but, truth to tell, it's increasingly obvious that it's the spreadsheet and the release calendar that's really dictating this series' creative direction. Understandable, certainly, but hardly the stuff of rock legend.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is due out for PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 in September.