Gamers love their Guitar Hero. The first two games in the Activision-published series, and subsequent expansion packs, have all been met with high praise and record sales numbers. Perhaps this tidal wave of success is why developer RedOctane steered clear of straying from a proven successful formula in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Aside from some small tweaks, mostly original new songs, exposure on new consoles, and the welcome addition of a wireless Gibson Les Paul guitar controller, you’ve basically played ” and loved ” this game already.
Newcomers to the series, and there will be a lot with the franchise’s first appearance on Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3, will have an absolute blast rocking out in front of their TV set to this logical rhythm-based evolution of air guitar. Utilizing three, four or five (based on difficulty setting) buttons on the guitar controller’s neck, a strum bar and basic flange, players must match hitting the buttons on-screen at a variety of speeds and complexity. Hit the right notes and the crowd goes wild. Miss notes and be greeted with a sharp “twang” noise, booing, and eventually a fast exit stage left.
Old-timers will notice a subtle change to how the game processes button impacts. RedOctane has confirmed button timing has been increased a hair to allow for better odds of hitting notes at the right time. This is a key adjustment when playing on the upper difficulty settings, i.e. Expert. Without this change, properly hitting the notes at the insane speed Expert sends them would be virtually impossible. Even with the change, Expert requires perfection and absolute finger mastery to survive more than 30 seconds.
Two not-so-subtle additions add a new layer of fun to the overall experience but don’t necessarily impact gameplay. Boss Battles pit gamers against rock legends like Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine: Audioslave) and Slash (Guns N’ Roses: Velvet Revolver) in a split-screen showdown. During the single-song battle, power-ups take on a new meaning as they can impair the opponent with reverse colors, automatic misses, and decreased visibility of notes to hit. Strangely the first battle against Tom is much harder than the second against Slash, but additional battles ramp up the difficulty significantly ” even on Easy level.
Enhanced power-ups not only work in Boss Battles, but versus play as well. For the first time ever, Guitar Hero is now playable online so gamers won’t have to always jam solo. In addition, cooperative on-or-offline play is loads of fun and a quick way to rack up previously unimaginable scores.
Although Guitar Hero III is virtually identical across all platforms save for better graphics on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, the Playstation 3’s control scheme is marred by one small issue that is more annoying than anything else. The guitar’s design places the pause button right next to the PS button. Since pausing is an important part of the game to give tired fingers a rest, an accidental push on the wrong button will bring up the shut-down console menu. A player desperately needing a pause might accidentally hit it and then the strum bar simultaneously, which would, unfortunately, shut everything down.
It’s hard to imagine where Guitar Hero III is headed next with Rock Band aiming to dethrone the champion. Aside from downloadable expansion songs, there’s only so far you can push a rhythm based game without straying outside the box. No matter which route RedOctane takes in 2008 with Guitar Hero IV, for now, Guitar Hero III proves the basic rhythm formula still has a lot of life ” and sales ” left in it.
– Dan Bradley