Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
(Xbox 360)

The latest Guitar Hero title features everything that made the previous installments such a phenomenon but adds several new elements such as arcade boss battles, character customization and new co-op modes to make the game even better. Improved graphics and presentation makes the game even more fun to look at while the extensive selection of licensed and cover tracks ranging from the 60's to now means you should have plenty to rock out to. The game also includes the new Gibson Les Paul-styled wireless controller which makes for an even more authentic rock experience. Guitar Hero III delivers another excellent music title with plenty of depth, tightly-wound gameplay and high-replay value.

There was some trepidation when Activision announced that they were handing the reins of their successful Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft, but the resulting Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for Xbox 360 is an outstanding title that should allay those fears. The basic play mechanics of following notes and hitting them in succession remains very much the same, and this installment feels almost identical to last year's in the all-important gameplay department which should be a great source of relief to veterans. Players who mastered the original game's timing and feel should be able to jump right into the new installment and get rocking right away. Guitar Hero III's tablature notes should be immediately familiar with the usual special notes and star power chords adding to the challenge. The pacing and style of each match is decided by the amount of notes you correctly hit. It takes some practice, but you can do well by looking a little bit ahead and focusing on the top of the screen so you can anticipate where your hands need to be. Mastering the timing of the more complex patterns is hard, though you'll probably get the hang of it quickly. Once you've got the basics down pat, you can perform extra cool moves such as using the whammy bar during the extended hold notes, which increases your score faster. Using the Star Power mode on the PS3 is simple. Once you've unlocked the star power by earning enough notes, all you need to do is tilt the guitar controller up quickly and the screen explodes. This lets you put your own flourish and personality into the game and explodes your score. It's a really cool addition to the game that adds just that little extra, but if you usually wait for the solo sequences, where you can go off and score huge points. The game rewards consistency so you'll need to make very few errors to gain the highest scores and star rankings at the end of each song. Higher star rankings at the end of each song means you earn more money that you can use in the shop to purchase additional outfits, songs and guitars, which gives you a strong motivation to keep playing.

Stringing together chains of notes allows you to enable star power, which multiplies your points for each note. This also increases your score on the rock meter, which is very important, since if it drops too low, you'll lose and the song will end early. Most of the earlier and simple tracks are fairly easy to perform, but the latter stages and harder levels require quite a bit of dexterity, since they throw multiple notes and chords at you furiously. This makes the harder levels very difficult since you have to master and memorize each song and play almost flawlessly in order to beat that track. In the career mode, you unlock additional tracks by beating three or four songs in each area and then facing an encore track, which is usually much harder. Once you have completed all the songs in your main level, you'll then face off against a boss character, which is a new feature. The boss characters are based on a real-life Guitar Hero such as Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello or Slash. When you face against the bosses, you have to battle them note for note and can attack them as well. You do this by hitting the special notes which appear on your note sheet. This makes their single notes turn into chords, disables one of their frets or traps them with a whammy bar. It takes some practice to beat these bosses, since they'll attack you as well. This makes for some tricky and exciting gameplay that adds a new dimension to the gameplay experience. What's really cool about this is the fact that any defeated bosses become playable characters that you can use. Beating a boss also unlocks one of their trademark songs as well. It's definitely something that adds a new competitive layer onto the game.

Guitar Hero III's structure is fairly simple, allowing you to progress up the ranks fairly quickly and unlock tons of extra songs and items. You won't find yourself bored, as the variety of genres, encompassing more than 70 tracks, keeps you constantly challenged throughout. Differening levels of aptitude and a flexible playing style are required to beat Guitar Hero III's songs. They called this edition "Legends of Rock" for a reason and the game's tracklisting is quite impressive. It features more master (ie original) recordings from legendary rock artists than the previous installments, even including a few bonus exclusive tracks from Slash while other artists re-recorded their songs specifically for the game. Ranging from classic tracks by Aerosmith's "Same old song and dance," to the Rolling Stones "Paint it Black", Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" to anthems like Smashing Pumpkins "Cherub Rock" and Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", there's quite a variety of well known acts in the game. Guitar Hero III also features a number of less-obvious songs from more obscure bands like Nast, An Endless Sporadic, Rise Against and Killswitch Empire. These make things less predictable than you'd expect and the 'unknown' songs are more challenging due to the nature of their less predictable appearance.

What's really cool for music fans is the fact that both Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" have been re-done exclusively for this game. Add in more recent tracks from The Killers, Tenacious D, Weezer, Rise Against, and The Strokes, you have a game that should cater to rock fans of all ages. From Metallica's "One", Kiss' "Rock and Roll all Night" and Guns N' Roses' classic "Welcome to the Jungle" to more recent acts like AFI with "Miss Murder", Queens of the Stone Age, Sonic Youth, performing "Kool King", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Suck My Kiss", there should be something here for almost any rock music fan. The variety of genres also includes, surprisingly enough several metal bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden, with "Number of the Beast", that probably make this the most 'metal' of the Guitar Hero games to date. The only disappointment in the tracks overall are the appearance of the dreaded covers. While some of these like Alice Cooper's "School's Out" are decent enough, others like Social Distortion's "Story of My Life" and Heart's "Barracuda" don't really capture the original songs' feel effectively. Still, it's a decent selection of hard-rocking songs overall and there are enough included that the game should have plenty of longevity. In addition to these tracks, Activision is also starting to release several downloadable song packs which should add even more songs to play.

One of the coolest changes this year is that, instead of a generic axe, Guitar Hero III goes all-out and has allows players to rock out on a fully licensed Gibson Les Paul-style controller. Not only does it look cool, adding rock authenticity in the process, it also has several features that previous ones lacked. The most important of this is that the new controller is completely wireless, which allows you to rock out completely unencumbered in your bedroom without worrying about tripping on wires. Another cool addition is that the Les Paul has a detachable neck, which makes it easier to store. It feels quite sturdy and solid in your hands, with harder fret keys and a more solid feeling whammy bar that makes you feel like you're holding a real guitar, not a toy. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has the timing down perfectly, and this enhanced controller makes it all the more enjoyable to use. Besides its cool new shape, the controller looks and feels exactly as it should and this makes the game all the more enjoyable and cool to play. There are also a number of other cool licenses in GHIII, such as actual drums, microphones and other rock companies which add to its authentic flavor. In addition to its sleeker guitar, GHIII also features some improvements in its graphics and interface. The character models are cooler and there are more of them this time around. Players will also notice more detailed venues, better crowd animations, complete with improved lighting syncs that enhance the rock and roll vibe. The menu system is still fairly easy to navigate and there are funny slogans and sayings between rounds that provide a welcome sense of humor as well.

It would have been easy for the team at Neversoft to throw out what made the original game and try and build their own look, but they have instead wisely opted not to fix what wasn't broken in the first place. The basics are very familiar, but the addition of boss battles, co-operative modes and slightly better visuals make this a worthwhile purchase for the original games' legions of fans. You can say that these changes are incremental, and not revolutionary but that doesn't matter. The game's key appeal is its ability to transport you from your living room to the stage and this year's edition does an excellent job in all key areas. The game's extensive tracklisting features a broadly appealing selection of rock tracks, with well-known anthems and some surprises along the way to keep players on their toes. It's a solid package through and through with the tight play mechanics you've come to expect from the series, making for a game that's accessible for newcomers, while offering plenty of challenges for those who scaled the original games. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has a slightly different, yet very familiar vibe and this is one of the key elements that made the original so successful.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

Related Reviews

Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80's (Playstation 2)

Guitar Hero II
(Xbox 360)
Guitar Hero II (Playstation 2)
Singstar Rocks (PS2)