Date: January 30, 2023
What would happen if you crossed Guitar Hero with Street Fighter? That’s the question that developers Modus Studios set out to answer. What did they come up with? God of Rock, a rhythm/fighting game where you play as the “universe’s greatest musicians” resurrected into new, powerful bodies as they duke it out to decide — once and for all — who is the single best musician of all time. And Modus gave me a chance to play it in a very open-ended preview where I got the chance to play as a variety of characters through dozens of songs as they fight for musical supremacy.
Before I begin, I’ll let the developers take you through the basics of the gameplay.
See what I mean by “Guitar Hero meets Street Fighter”? I wasn’t exaggerating. But the trailer above doesn’t really do the game justice: on first blush, it simply looks like any other rhythm game, with some fighting mechanics plastered on top. And, while I wouldn’t say that is wrong, I would say that that underestimates God of Rock, the skill it requires, and how fun and involved that makes it.
You’ve surely seen YouTube videos of people dominating insane, custom Guitar Hero levels, and you have probably also seen fighting game champions string together insane combo strings. Now, you might expect a game that crosses those two concepts would tone down one (or both) in order to make it manageable and approachable. But God of Rock does not tone itself down. For anything. How appropriate.
First things first: the skill ceiling for this game is through the roof. And the skill floor isn’t that low, either. I spent quite a few hours with the game, testing out every character I had access to and playing every song in the game at least once. And by the time I finished — having brought myself to barely being able to win against Normal AI opponents — I still felt like I only barely grasped the basics.
You’d think it would be simple: hit the buttons to the beat, and then activate combos to cause your opponent to fumble. But, as anyone who has ever spent time playing fighting or rhythm games at high levels can attest, it’s not. And when you combine the musical complexity of one with the input complexity of the latter, you get a third kind of difficulty as you try to get your brain to wrap around the concept of performing special moves while trying not to miss notes.
Suffice it to say, I never mastered it. Whenever I performed a combo, I always ended up missing at least a few notes. I can’t wait to see what people will be capable of after getting to grips with the high learning curve here because it is bound to be very impressive. If this game ever sees tournament play, I will certainly be in the audience. It does make for a game that I would call extremely difficult to learn, and somewhat inaccessible because of that, but I would also say that is to be expected in this genre and is what allows for the high-level play that the developers no doubt intended.
That is not to say the game is without flaws. Most of what I’ve talked about is the gameplay and the mechanics of how everything works. And that is very solid, even if it is a bit beyond my skill level for now (though you can bet I will be practicing). But what isn’t so solid is the variety, both for characters and music. For both fighting and rhythm games, that could be dangerous.
To be more specific, God of Rock has twelve fighters and around forty original songs. The fighters themselves are fairly similar. While they do have unique special, ultra, and EX moves, the fact is that (unlike most fighting games) you will not be spending much time focusing on them, because you will be too focused on hitting the notes. What’s more, it’s often far too difficult to keep track of your and your opponent’s health, their note bar, or even whether they are using a special themselves, meaning you will be using your specials, more or less, just whenever you find time to execute them, instead of strategically as you would in most fighting games.
If there was a huge variety of fighters, this could be forgiven, but the fact is that twelve fighters is a fairly modest amount, even when they feel very different from each other. And these don’t. Though they have very unique appearances, their regular fighting moves are even similar looking, and their combos are slightly different, but not significantly enough for me to notice amidst the chaos that is the note bar. All this to say, there just aren’t enough characters to play as to truly shine. I only had access to a few of these fighters, and I can say that I was already growing tired of seeing the same few faces so often by the end of my time with the preview. I can only imagine how boring it might get after the time required to actually get good at the game.
Finally, let’s look at the heart of the whole thing. The one thing required to work in order for God of Rock to justify its premise. The core, critical part of any rhythm game, which will make all the difference. That’s right: let’s talk about music.
I hate to say it but… What is in God of Rock right now just isn’t quite enough for me. While I do appreciate the number of songs — I think 40 is plenty, especially if the developers plan to add more over time — I just don’t know if they are what I’d want out of a game called God of Rock. I am going to be careful here: Tyson Wernli, Debisco, Whitetail, Fotts, and Marina Ryan have done great at composing solid instrumental beats in a variety of styles, with Marina Ryan being the stand-out among the roster (especially with the songs Final Flames and Answers).
But, I just have to be honest here: the songs don’t rock hard enough for a game called God of Rock. Quite a few are fairly low-key and atmospheric, and even those which do have adrenaline-fueled guitar solos or chest-thumping bass licks just don’t quite do enough for me. I want more, I want to be absorbed into the music, in the same way I am in Guitar Hero or any other solid rhythm game. If I had to diagnose a specific issue, it’s the lack of lyrics in the songs and the lack of recognizable songs.
While I understand that the team behind God of Rock probably didn’t have the ability to license recognizable rock songs, or perhaps wanted to stick to instrumental tracks in order to not distract from the gameplay, I just can’t help but feel like the experience is somewhat hollow without killer tunes to fight to. I do hope that there are plans to either add some vocal tracks, allows players to add their own music, or work on licensing some recognizable beats in order to give the game that extra oomph.
That said, the tracks that are there are very solid, as I already mentioned. And, while the variety in characters isn’t terribly impressive, it is serviceable. While this game is not going to be for people who are looking to jam out to their favorite rock hits while battling Elvis, it is perfect for people who love the precise genres of rhythm and fighting games. It is a bit tricky to learn, and it seems like the kind of game which has an incredibly high skill ceiling, but that makes it all the more perfect as a fighting game. Matches are challenging, engaging, and require the kind of multitasking that will make high-level play mesmerizing.
All this to say, I am excited to see where God of Rock goes, and what matches between skilled players will look like, when the game releases on April 18th for PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch. Get ready to rock.