Video games may have helped heavier music's standing in the flailing recording industry, but for those of us who grew up wanting a real guitar for Christmas versus a plastic thing with color-coded buttons, there is something sort of soul-less about all the "rock" games out on the market these days.
And yet, with everyone from Aerosmith to Slash to Van Halen (and more notably artists with seemingly less mainstream/monetary leanings like Metallica, Billy Corgan and Tom Morello) giving their music, images and more to games such as Guitar Hero, it's hard for a real rock fan to hate. Rock n' roll's rarely on pop radio anymore, so at least riff-raging music has a forum. And it's a very big one at that.
On Monday night we went to Activision's launch party for its newest title, Guitar Hero- Warriors of Rock, and as usual, it was no small clambake. The event took over Paramount Studios' mock New York blocks with "street" vendors serving hot dogs and tacos, and several full bars.
Since CBGBs is included as one the environments in the game, the party theme paid homage to the legendary NY punk venue with an art show (including photographs of bands who played there and pieces of the piss-and-sticker-covered building itself) and a live performance by Soundgarden inside a replica of the joint next door.
Not sure how authentic we expected it to be, but rather than real spray paint, posters, fliers and bodily fluids, the soundstage was covered in plastic, photographic-looking wallpaper that had all these images on them, and some real liquor sponsored neon. Unlike the now-shuttered club, there was air-conditioning in the place (it was 100 degrees at night on Monday, so we didn't mind).
Soundgarden was abloom, regardless of the manufactured surroundings. Chris Cornell may have one of the few high-pitched rock wails that's remained in tact after a two decade-plus career and the group -reunited this year after butting heads creatively back in '98- showed a renewed raucousness and crisp yet comfortable chemistry. The initial breakup was ironically, said to be about Cornell's desire for a more melodious, less-guitar heavy sound, but that didn't seem to be the case Monday. Cornell (who was very much a grunge pin-up boy for us gals in the '90's) relished and shriekily ravaged every thrashy note. Hell, he's even growing his hair out again.
Soundgarden's new album, Telephantasm, has already been cerified platinum thanks to its Guitar Hero partnership. Not only are there songs in the game, but the CD is actually included with the packages, a million of which have been shipped to stores. Warriors buyers get the album whether they want it or not, but with all the hits ("Black Hole Sun," "Rusty Cage," which they played on Monday), everyone will want it, of course. Hardcore fans can also buy a 2-CD plus DVD deluxe edition separately.
We were also lucky enough to score a sample of the game to try out at home, and though we didn't own Hero before, we've played it at many a house-party and tech-minded red carpet event, and always enjoyed it.
Warriors is essentially the same as previous editions: goth'd-out avatars, a wildly diverse song list (from Neil Young to My Chemical Romance to The Rolling Stones (yay!) to nu-metal bands even we've never heard of), party modes for less focused fretting.
What is new here: a snazzy new guitar controller and a feature called "The Quest," which sends players on a mystical Heavy Metal journey narrated by Gene Simmons, which upon completion, allows a transformation into axe-wielding monster with powers or something. "Unlock" the quest and you get to play Rush songs with trippy visuals like the one above... we think (never got that far). Metalheads and gamer-nerds alike will probably be bigger Hero groupies than before with these new story elements, but we found the whole hesher-fantasy thing kinda hokey.
Wouldn't have minded getting lost in a Quest-like party atmosphere, however. After all, fantastical lands are more interesting than dirty NYC streets. Maybe next time.