Oct 29, 2007
Guitar Hero is at a crossroads in its musical career. Its breakout indy release stunned the masses; its major-label debut (GH2) was another smash hit. Then things got a little tougher, with a questionable EP (Encore: Rocks the 80s) and the departure of its famed producer (Harmonix). But at the end of the day, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock proves that it is, in fact, all about the music.
With all the changes to the formula (more on them later) the actual gameplay remains relatively untouched. You're still strumming and color-coded button-pressing along with rock anthems - either working your way through the lengthy career mode or headlining your party.
Legends of Rock stays true to its name with actual guitar deities in Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello and Guns 'n' Roses' Slash, whom you face in boss battles. The fact that it's really their likenesses and freestyle riffing adds to the cream-dream package, but you'll be glad these encounters are limited, as they can irritate: You must defeat them before time is up.
GH veterans will notice a dip in difficulty here, for better or worse. It also feels like earlier tracks aren't "training" you for tougher songs like they have in the past. New developer Neversoft is higher on unconventional time signatures and fast shredding than rhythmic bliss or double chords. On medium difficulty, you won't run into a blue/red combo until 2/3 through. We're still waiting to see whammy use elevated to the point where it's actually worth using.
The majority of Guitar Hero III's songs are the original recordings from the honest-to-demigod artists themselves. Previous Guitar Hero games have provided adequate doppelgangers, but when you actually get to bust out a Rage Against the Machine song by Rage themselves, there's nothing like it. The same goes for Weezer, Tenacious D, Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins... the list is near-endless. It's another step in air-guitar fantasy fulfillment.
Hiccups come when some songs (the Killers) feature 15-second bursts where you don't play. A few covers don't do the originals justice: The Dead Kennedys singer is no Jello Biafra. As far as song selection goes, it really feels like the game starts with the duds early (seriously, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot?"), making you work for the good stuff.
The new Gibson Les Paul guitar controller is more ergonomically pleasing than GH2's too-angular Explorer. Its collapsible neck is nice, and button placement virtually eliminates accidental pausing. Being wireless eliminates cord suffocation; just make sure to pick up rechargeable AAs. The strum bar is slightly quieter, but we'd like it to be even more so.
Online is what gamers have demanded because there really wasn't anything else missing from Guitar Hero. It's good to finally have it, but it's always more fun to party in person than via satellite. Battle mode, the new multiplayer option, trades out star power riffs for weapons that hinder your opponent: you must whammy every note, or one button is "stuck."
Co-op has a big advancement, and takes a tiny step back. You can now do a co-op career mode, which is surprisingly different from single-player - with an alternate path of venues and a shuffled playlist. Oddly removed is the stat-tracking for each guitarist; it's now replaced with blanket stats. Note: Co-op quickplay was in our review build, but we're told will require an automatic (free) download update via Xbox Live.
Guitar Hero II on 360 featured a minor graphical touch-up. This game, however, looks truly next-gen. The character are immensely detailed, brilliantly animated, and actually synch up with the songs. The same goes for the rest of your band. The HUD has been streamlined, and makes it easier to denote both when you have star power and how big of a combo streak you're rocking.
It's hard to argue with Guitar Hero III's place in the series canon. By going real with the songs, next-gen with the graphics and online with the gameplay, it leaves the wishlist relatively barren. At the same time, it's not delivering us much new on the gameplay front, and in fact lags a bit in terms of smart strumming mechanics. Neversoft would do well to remember that the game doesn't play itself, and we need to be challenged/satisfied with how and what we shred.
Let us critics dissect the nuances of this game. As a player, it's your job to pick up a guitar, select a song, and have a rockin' good time. Guitar Hero is still the best of the best when it comes to music and party games, and Rock Band is going to have its work cut out for itself to justify its bigger pricetag and later release.