|By Chris Derosa||Wednesday, 31 Oct 2007|
Note: This review is only of the XBox 360 version of Guitar Hero III. Some slight changes may exist with the other platforms/guitar models, but overall the game should look and play the same.
The Guitar Hero brand has been on a strange path of success ever since the first game made a silent but strong impact back in November of 2005. Along the way, the franchise was bought up by publisher Activision, enjoyed huge Madden like sales for the sequel, and even had a bit of an “expansion pack” this past Summer. But with Harmonix jumping ship to work on the potentially earth shattering Rock Band, the developing duties for Guitar Hero III were handed over to Neversoft (of Tony Hawk fame). Many fans were left wondering if this would signify the beginning of the end for the series.
With Legends of Rock, Activision/Neversoft set out to make the fans of the first 2 Guitar Hero games pleased while still attracting more of a newer audience. There wasn’t much to change, considering how the old formula has worked so well, but they still introduce a couple of new features to expand the horizon. And while some are a success, others raise a bit of questioning.
First is the introduction of new wireless guitars. Red Octane still produces the models, and the black Les Paul that comes with the 360 version is very nice to hold and has a long lasting battery life. It even has a detachable neck to make it more portable. Unfortunately, there are some slight issues that may vary from guitar to guitar. For one, the star power can go off very easily at times without even a need to tilt up. The frets are also very tough to hold in, and other times they won’t register with the game. This may be due to the before mentioned detachable neck, as the neck does wiggle a bit even when it’s locked in. Overall it’s playable, but considering the price paid for the product, it should be a bit more reliable. This is why going multi platform with multiple guitar models can be a bad thing.
What usually makes Guitar Hero work so well, however, is the song list. I have to say that this may be the best set list for a Guitar Hero game yet. The diversity is present, the choices make sense, and a lot of these songs are the original master tracks, which is a huge leap from the past games that would usually only have about 2 or 3 originals. A couple tunes even have re-recordings from the bands themselves. There’s also the promise of downloadable content coming soon. Clearly the music industry is starting to see this game’s popularity and it can only be a good sign for more great songs in the future.
For the graphics, the 360 version looks great. The super shiny visuals are sure to make you believe that the series has finally entered into the next generation. For art direction, however, it’s a mixed bag. Some characters have taken an attitude adjustment for better or for worse, and that may disappoint fans of the old cartoonish style that the other games had. And while the venues are lively and creative, the in game advertisements and sexy backup dancers are uncalled for, even if they do fit into this game’s storyline. But the overall presentation through menus and options still feels like a Guitar Hero game, and that’s what matters.
As far as overall gameplay goes the formula is still left intact, but with a few bells and whistles added on to it. You still have to play through a Career Mode on either Easy, Medium, Hard or Expert, and you still have to play a set of songs before you play an Encore. When playing through Expert, it appears that Neversoft had wanted to make this a harder game for the pros that already mastered the others.
A lot of tracks have more notes and patterns added now, and that means more points to gain. But these patterns can range from tricky three note chord progressions to multiple strumming sections to hammer on and pull off runs that require fast thinking or sharp memory. They also made the window of hitting these notes even bigger than the second game, meaning that you can find yourself making an amazing solo happen even if you felt like you were off by a small second. Some purists may find this upsetting, but there is a mode that they can unlock which requires more precision if they so choose. But you’ll likely need all of the help you can get, because some of these songs are extremely challenging, even for veterans.
A new feature added to this game is the Battle Mode. This is introduced in Career Mode a couple of times when you have a duel against “boss” guitarists. You basically have to play solos with them until you get a star power section, but instead of star power you get a power up. You then tilt the guitar to use the item on the enemy, and different items have different effects, such as doubling the notes on the screen or making the fret board flash and making it harder to see. This is possibly the worst part of the whole game. Some battles can end in a matter of seconds, and the songs are rarely ever played in full. Music games shouldn’t have weapons and distractions, and it is a shame that it was incorporated into the game like this. The fact that the career battle songs can’t be played in any other modes is also disappointing.
It should also be mentioned that some songs have to be played through Co-op career first to unlock for Quick Play, which seems a bit silly. But there is always the unlock all songs code for those that don’t have friends to play with.
Guitar Hero III marks the first in the series to go online. You still have leader boards that you can try and get the high scores on, but now there’s different types of multi player using all of the modes you’d expect. There can be some slight connection issues and lag, but overall it’s still fun to compete with others all over and see if you actually are as good as you think you are.
It’s tough to recommend whether to buy Legends of Rock or pass on it. It does make some improvements to show that a new developer can still have the same success, but it also takes some steps back to make one wonder what could have been if Harmonix had stayed. And to push the release of this out before the competition may have hurt it more than helped it. It’s still an incredibly enjoyable and addictive game, and yet the issues that present itself are almost too glaring at points to not avoid. But I can say that it’s a pretty solid investment despite all of the blemishes, and hopefully it’s a sign of better things to come. Above all else, it’s only more of the same. And if you are expecting some new and exciting elements in the rhythm game genre, you might as well just wait for Rock Band.
Since there isn’t anything between Good and Great that I can give this, I’ll go ahead and say it’s Great.