Have you had enough Guitar Hero yet? The sales totaling into the millions and growing every day say you haven't. Activision agrees. In 2007 alone we've already seen Guitar Hero 2 release on Xbox 360 and Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s on PS2, but that hasn't stopped the demand for more. Enter Guitar Hero 3, the first in the franchise made by development studio Neversoft after the former team, Harmonix, was snatched up by MTV Games. You can toss out any fears you might have had about a new developer ruining your favorite franchise right now. Guitar Hero 3 is another great reason to slip into some tight leather pants and rock out with your friends.
For music rhythm games, it often begins and ends with the soundtrack. Guitar Hero 3 has nothing to worry about. From top to bottom, this is easily the best lineup yet. Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith and more are all in with master recordings no less. Activision even got the Sex Pistols to re-record Anarchy in the UK just for the game. The same goes for Living Colour's Cult of Personality. The songs that were performed by cover bands, as usual, don't live up to the originals but there are less of them than ever before. This time, when you start up a Guns n' Roses track (Welcome to the Jungle), it will be Axl Rose belting out the words to accompany your shredding. And that makes all the difference in the world.
Unlike Rocks the '80s, this is indeed a full sequel. The list of additions reads like a wishlist compiled from fans across the world. A full cooperative career has finally been added, complete with its own songs picked specifically for their great bass or rhythm guitar parts. A battle mode is in as well, inspired in part by the Ralph Macchio movie Crossroads, where players duel against each other by throwing attacks at each other in an attempt to make one another miss notes and fail out. We've had a great deal of fun with this new way to go head to head with a friend. It may sound a bit odd, but don't write it off.
For the first time, the franchise goes online with co-op, face-off, pro face-off and battle mode up for play with a friend or stranger around the world. The PS3 version doesn't have any option to invite a friend into a game, so if you go with that version you'll probably wind up playing with more strangers than anything else. Still, the online game runs smoothly on both PS3 and Xbox 360 and is a fantastic addition to the franchise. Even better, the PS3, 360 and Wii versions are all linked together online through a community site that compiles stats, manages tournaments and clans and even has a little metagame of its own. Guitar Hero has already become something of cultural phenomenon and this is only going to push it further along.
Perhaps the best addition is the new Les Paul wireless controller. This is by far the best guitar peripheral yet. It's so good, in fact, that it actually makes the game a great deal more enjoyable than when you play it with anything else. This is the guitar to own and since it works with Guitar Hero 2 on Xbox 360, it makes the purchase a no brainer for anybody that has even a passing interest in guitar rhythm games. The only downside to it is that it won't work with the PS2 versions of Guitar Hero 1 or 2 when you put them in your PS3.
Then there are the licensed legends. Slash, of Guns n' Roses fame, is in the game as a playable character. So is Tom Morello and a few other imaginary avatars, but we'll say it again: You can play as Slash in Guitar Hero 3. If you don't think that's cool then there is something wrong with you.
Guitar Hero 3 was built from the ground up by Neversoft without access to any of the code from the first two games. The work done to ensure the game plays like its predecessors is admirable, but this title does play a tad different than what you're probably used to if you've been following the series closely. For starters, the window of time in which you can successfully hit a note has been extended by quite a bit. Guitar Hero experts may see this as blasphemy because of how much easier it makes the game, but this was actually a great move by Neversoft. The difficulty on the lower tier songs has been reduced, making the game much more accessible to new players. It also makes it so that intermediate players can feel like a rock star right from the get go, a feeling that really is the entire point of playing the game.
There isn't any need to worry that the game has been made too simple. In fact, the songs that come towards the end of the campaign are the most difficult we've played yet. Even with a bigger window to hit the notes, most will find themselves with a huge challenge. Songs like Metallica's One and Slayer's Raining Blood are ridiculously hard on the expert difficultly. If you can beat Dragonforce's Through Fire and Flames on expert than you have our utmost respect.
The challenge has been put in largely through a new approach to how the scrolling notes are laid out. Quick changes between two and three note chords are now the status quo. There's also a greater emphasis on strings of notes that can be played with hammer-ons and pull-offs, a technique that allows you to play notes without strumming. It's a bit different than what we're used to, but the notes are laid out well enough that nearly every song is fun to play.
While the songs are a blast to play, most everything around the game could use some work. The character models have been given a new art direction and its one that we're not particularly fond of. Although a lot of motion capturing was done to get the signature moves of Slash and Bret Michaels, as well as to nail the singing animations, the way the band and crowd move just doesn't feel like rock and roll. All of the motions are stiff with the drummer as the most animatronic of them all.
The visual work on PS3 and 360 for Guitar Hero 3 is largely comparable, but not entirely impressive on either console. There's even a bit of slowdown that comes infrequently as star power is activated. It's a rare occurrence, but the fact that we saw it at all is inexcusable in a music rhythm game. The rest of the graphical gripes we may have would largely be nitpicking. It is a game about music, after all, not flashy visuals.
The standard campaign mode has only been slightly tweaked for Guitar Hero 3. The game still plays as a list of songs broken into tiers with a surprise encore at the end of each one. It's about time for an overhaul -- this presentation is feeling dated at this point in the series' life. The small addition comes in the form of three boss "fights" that make use of the new battle mode. Each one has a track recorded just for Guitar Hero 3 and they're all great fun. This is one feature we'd love to see fleshed out in the future.
Little vignettes have also been added between each tier. They're a decent addition and nice to watch, but they also highlight a facet of the game we could do without. One of the little scenes shows the band getting upset at accusations that they've sold out. That's fine, except that Activision clearly sold Guitar Hero out in every way it could. The story is rather hypocritical. Ads are fed into the game, an entire stage was sold to Pontiac, and there is even an Axe Body Spray guitar. Sponsorships are nothing new in the Guitar Hero franchise, but in the past they were kept strictly to music related brands. These are the sort of ads that don't bring anything to the game and really have no place. Not cool. Not cool at all.
With all that has been added, there is still a lot missing. The fact that you can't play the co-op career online is a big oversight. Several songs can only be unlocked by playing this mode so you'll have to get a friend over with another guitar (or controller, blech) if you want them. The three boss battle tunes you play in the career mode also can't be tackled outside of that mode. How cool would it be to play The Devil Went Down to Georgia against a friend in a battle? Well, you can't so try not to think about it too much.
With online play in the mix, the lack of a character editor becomes much more noticeable when you continuously run into the same small set of avatars. The tag line to the game is Legends of Rock, yet there are only two legends in the game that you can play as -- Slash and Tom Morello. Bret Michaels is in the game too, but he hardly qualifies as a legend. As cool as it is being Slash, and it is very cool, it seems that the game could have drastically benefited from either licensing more rock icons or including a character editor so that the players could create their own legendary rockers.
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