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 Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock steers clear of straying too far from its proven and successful formula. True, the game includes some nice new multiplayer modes and boss battles, and yes, it has some mostly original new songs, but other than 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, since this is franchise’s first appearance on both the 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 buttons on the guitar controller’s neck, players must time their button presses with the like-colored buttons on-screen at a variety of speeds and with ever-increasing complexity as the levels add up and the difficulty level is increased. Hit the right notes, and the crowd goes wild. Miss or both some notes, and you’ll 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. In Guitar Hero 3, the amount of time players have to press the correct button has been increased just 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, because without this change, properly hitting the notes at Expert’s insane speed would be virtually impossible for all but the top one percent of Guitar Hero players. Even with the change, though, Expert requires perfection and absolute finger mastery to survive more than 30 seconds. Sadists, rejoice.
Two not-so-subtle additions add a new layer of fun to the overall experience, but they don’t necessarily impact the gameplay itself. 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 (they blink in and out). Strangely, the first battle against Tom Morello 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 in the new Versus mode as well. For the first time, Guitar Hero 3 is playable online, ensuring that gamers don’t have to always jam solo. In addition, cooperative online and offline play is loads of fun, not to mention 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 pause button being placed 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 songs, there’s only so far you can push a rhythm-based game without straying outside of the box. Then again, Guitar Hero 3 added a smattering of new features and didn’t miss a beat in terms of fun factor, challenge or nostalgia. Still, no matter which route Guitar Hero IV may take, Guitar Hero III proves that the basic rhythm formula still has a lot of life — and sales — left in it.
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- Score: 9
- Even with a new developer, the game doesn’t miss a beat. In fact, the addition of multiplayer modes and boss battles makes it as good as ever, even if “experts” might complain a bit that the game’s a bit more forgiving.