When Guitar Hero 2 stalwarts cried foul on the game’s flimsy peripheral, Red Octane moved to re-engineer a new guitar that’s shaping up to be one of the best game peripherals with which we’ve ever played. However, gamers also made it clear that Guitar Hero 3 needed to step up with a few gameplay enhancements, most notably in the areas of better balancing and online play. When Neversoft took the wheel for Guitar Hero 3, it was clear that some things were going to change. But having spent several hours with a near-final build, it’s quite clear that Guitar Hero 3 on the whole has seen some massive changes.
In previous Guitar Hero outings, the difficulty ramped up dramatically at times, causing many gamers to wonder whether they missed a few songs or had been slipped a mickey between sets. Now, however, the difficulty progresses much more smoothly, with the first three sets only using three colors, and the game adding notes and speed quite gradually as players make their way through the sets.
While this will be joyous news to hardcore Heroes, the most welcome addition for Guitar Hero fans and newbies alike will be the addition of online play — even on the Wii. Neversoft could have simply plugged a few online options into the Guitar Hero model and stood pat, but the company has made online play available for every adversarial and cooperative mode from the offline game, leading to some intense Internet jam sessions.
In Face Off mode, players pick a song to perform and then decide their own difficulty level, but once the song starts, all those difficulty bets go out the window. The reason for this is that all the star powers from the single-player game are replaced in Face Off mode by musically based attacks. For instance, if you have a nice run and earn a star power, you can activate such attacks as breaking an opponent’s string, which requires jamming repeatedly on the busted button; temporarily increasing your opponent’s difficulty level; causing your rival’s amp to overload, which makes all the notes flicker off and on for 30 seconds as they glide down to the bottom of the screen; throwing double notes you’re your foe’s display; and unleashing a “double lefty” attack, which causes your opponent’s fret bar colors to flip and therefore confuse even the most battle-hardened hero. And did we mention that all the attacks are stackable, as well?
Pro Face Off mode is almost identical, but each player must perform the song at the same difficulty level. This sounds a bit pedestrian, but for a mode that’s focused on competition, it makes it crystal clear who’s the most “heroic” player.
Taking Guitar Hero 3 online isn’t all about competition, though; after all, even the surviving Beatles recently reunited for a single event. In Co-Op Mode, performers choose a song, then have the option of playing either the bass or lead guitar. If each player chooses a different instrument, they’ll play different notes during the song to rack up a nice combined score. If they each choose the same guitar, they’ll simply each play the same notes as they combine their totals. Naturally there’s a bit of a competitive element to this, but the goal is really to see how many points they can rack up cooperatively.
As much as Guitar Hero 3 is delivering “big” changes, it’s worth noting that the game’s also doing a good job with little details as well. The graphics, which have always been heavily stylized, look more refined in Guitar Hero 3, with characters whose fingers and hands are placed according to the notes being played, whose lips are synched with the lyrics and whose performances are augmented by lights and fireworks that are actually timed to go off with specific chords and notes.
The game’s song list has also been polished with a fine-toothed comb, as it uses the original master tracks for more than 70 percent of the game’s 70-plus songs. In several cases, the original master tracks weren’t available. No biggie; the Sex Pistols and Living Colour, for instance, both re-united to re-record a master track specifically for Guitar Hero 3. Oh, and Slash and Tom Morello both recorded completely original songs for the game, making Guitar Hero 3 the first and only place fans will be able to hear those tracks (and compete against them in Boss Battles).
It’s odd to think of a franchise like Guitar Hero 3 going back to the basics, but many fans felt Guitar Hero 2 left room for improvement, so Red Octane and Neversoft decided to re-examine a wide variety of things. The result could very well be the best Guitar Hero to ever take the stage. From an addictive new Battle Mode to comprehensive online options (again, even for Wii), Guitar Hero 3 is stepping things up just when it needs to. With Rock Band banging on the door, Guitar Hero 3 needs to regain the swagger it had just two years ago. And based on our recent time with the game, the game’s definitely rediscovered its mojo.
— Jonas Allen