"Guitar Hero III is the best game in the series by far, and a great game in its own right. Prior experience with the series isnít necessary because anyone can pick the game up and have fun. The range and quality of music helps in making it accessible to everyone, and this will be reinforced with the post-release stream of downloadable content."
It wasnít long ago when the Guitar Hero franchise was a wannabe rocker; it was the amateur guitarist with a skewed technique, still learning Deep Purpleís Smoke on the Water. These days, itís very much a full-fledged star playing at packed out stadiums. Guitar Hero III is a refinement of what the previous games offered, and this is by no means a bad thing. The rock star sensation its predecessors delivered is still here, but itís been turned up to eleven with more songs, a fantastic new controller, and online play.
If you (somehow) still donít know what Guitar Hero is all about, hereís a quick run down: colour-coded notes scroll down the screen which you have to hit in time with the music. If you play well and hit certain note sequences, youíll be able to unleash star power which doubles your score multiplier and drives the fans wild. Youíll be doing this using the supplied Les Paul guitar controller, by holding down a colour-coded fret button and clicking the strum bar. Although the standard Xbox 360 controller is compatible, it isnít in the spirit of the game and it would be a waste not to use such a high-quality and durable piece of hardware. The experience is far from playing an actual guitar, but it does a lot in fulfilling those rock star fantasies youíve always had.
A rock star is only as great as the songs he plays, so itís a good job the music is varied and of a high standard of quality. If you grew up in any decade spanning from the 60s to the 2000s, chances are youíll find plenty of great songs you know. Guitar Heroís success has made it a very desirable entertainment medium to be a part of, which means a lot of top bands want their music featured. Itís more satisfying rocking out to songs like Paint it Black, Welcome to the Jungle, and One when theyíre performed by their original artists. Such is the lure of the franchise that for Cult of Personality and Anarchy in the UK, Living Colour and The Sex Pistols, respectively, re-recorded the tracks when the originals could not be found. Besides the failure to secure Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Pink Floyd, there isnít much you can criticise about the song list. More than seventy songs have been plucked from past and present, spanning from rock to punk and metal to blues. If that isnít enough for you, the promise of regular downloadable songs should be enough to satisfy you.
The joy of playing fantastic music is amplified by the excellent environments you get to shred at. Venues include rock concerts, a prison, and even the flames of Hell, and all are packed full of fans that will cheer or jeer you depending on your performance. The band looks and moves more realistically than ever before; the singerís lip-synching is excellent and your guitarist pulls some crazy moves when things are going well. Although your gaze will be focused primarily on the notes, itís nice to see an effort was made with the visuals.
You can play each song on one of four difficulty settings: Easy, Medium, Hard, or Expert. The first two modes are great entry levels for newcomers, but youíll find a challenge like no other when you approach the latter two. Songs like Slayerís Raining Blood and Dragonforceís Through the Fire and the Flames will have you tearing your hair out on the Expert difficulty. To be quite honest, it seems like Neversoft is saying ďSee if you can do THIS!Ē with some of the songs. The elite might appreciate the challenge, but for us mortal living-room rockers, the barrier of entry to Expert mode can be quite intimidating and frustrating.
Speaking of challenge, developers Neversoft have called on the services of former Guns Ní Roses shredder Slash and ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to feature as boss battles in the career. Players do battle with the AI rockers in a fight to see who can force their foe into failing. Score isnít a factor here; itís all about making your opponent mess up with battle power. Hitting certain strings of notes will give you a power up to use against your opponent, activated by tilting the guitar (it basically replaces star power). These include double notes, string snap, and the dreaded lefty flip. On paper, battle mode sounds like fantastic fun. In practise, itís a little less satisfying. Despite varying up the career progression, these battles just feel out of place and unnecessary. This is more evident when playing against a human in the multiplayer mode. Ability tends to take a backseat to who gets lefty flip first, and since the power you get isnít pre-determined, it boils down to luck far more often than it should.
Battle mode may be a bit of a disappointment, but the other game modes are great, if a little familiar. Career takes you on a quest to rock the world and is interspersed with some humorous cut-scenes portraying the bandís journey. If you have a friend and a spare guitar, you can double up in the co-op career. The progression feels very natural, perhaps with the exception of the last song tier on Expert. Youíll need to get some practise in for these toughies, which is why youíll appreciate the training mode. As well as providing tutorials for newcomers, it allows you to practise songs by section and at different speeds. If one part of a tricky song is bothering you, the ability to single out that section, and slow the speed down, is very handy in helping you master it.
The biggest lure of Guitar Hero III is, without a doubt, the online play. For the first time in the seriesí history, players can battle it out to see who rocks the hardest. A variety of competitive game modes, such as pro face-off and battle mode, are available, along with co-operative where one player takes lead and the other gets bass. Whichever mode you play, the game holds up very well and suffers from no direct lag; if you miss a note, itís your own fault and not the hostís dodgy connection. The only concern is that the score meter can lag behind at times. It isnít a major problem, but when youíre playing competitively, it makes it difficult to determine when you should use star power to try and get ahead. For those without access to Xbox Live, all those game modes are available in local multiplayer.
Guitar Hero III is the best game in the series by far, and a great game in its own right. Prior experience with the series isnít necessary because anyone can pick the game up and have fun. The range and quality of music helps in making it accessible to everyone, and this will be reinforced with the post-release stream of downloadable content. The intense challenge of Expert mode conflicts a little with this accessibility, but donít let this put you off. You can rock just as much on Medium, and if you do have some skill, succeeding at the highest difficulty will be very rewarding. The trademark references to music culture and the general style of the series is still here, itís just been given a new coat of paint. Ultimately, itís offers so much in terms of music, modes, and multiplayer, but itís just plain fun however you wish to play it.
Freelance review by Paul Josua (November 28, 2007)
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