Harmonix is no longer affiliated with the Guitar Hero franchise as they are off to do their own new musical game. The guys at Neversoft have taken over though so the series is in good hands. Does Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock live up to the previous two?
The basic premise of the game remains the same so I won't go too much into how the games' played. Guitar Hero III is a musical rhythm game whereby notes fly down on a line. You have to use a guitar peripheral to match the notes when they hit the timeline and strum when it reaches to that point. The guitar also features a whammy bar which changes the pitch on long notes. You'll see notes in groups of two and three along with the single notes that come at you. The more notes you play in succession, the higher your multiplier is for your score. Some notes will be shaped in a form of a star. Successful completion of the group of notes shaped this way will add to your Star power. Once you build up enough Star Power, you can unleash it by tilting your guitar up and doubling your current multiplier. Really, if you don't know how Guitar Hero's played by now you've probably been in a cave for the past few years. Let's move to what's different for the series.
For the career mode, you'll see little vignettes between sets that are in the cartoon style of the Gorillaz. It tells a story without any spoken words on the life of your band and why you are playing a certain venue. If you play in co-op mode, you'll see different vignettes as well. It's a little better than just seeing a van roll to the next venue and they are a little fun to watch between sessions.
Gameplay has been tweaked a bit here and there. There seems to be more emphasis on hammer-ons and pull-offs in this version and the spacing for these to happen can now vary from notes close together to changing from one long note to another. The game seems to be more forgiving with when you strum the bar as well along with being more forgiving for pulling hammer-ons and pull-offs. I wasn't as good on Guitar Hero II with the two maneuvers but I found myself hitting a higher percentage of them in the third game when the guitar worked. Now there's a problem though with missed notes and strumming that I'll talk about when discussing the guitar but I hope it's an issue with the software rather than the hardware so a patch can be released to fix it.
A nice feature of Guitar Hero III is that when you start hitting large note streaks, it will flash up a message letting you know. You'll also see a running count of notes you hit in a row so you can gauge how well you are doing. Sometimes it does seem to add a little pressure though when you see 200 note streak pop up and rather than being kept in the dark.
A major addition to Guitar Hero III is online play. For online play the PlayStation 3 seems to be broken for me. I never got any successful connections even with people having four green bars. I did a few message board scans and people are having problems with online play which is unfortunate. I'm sure they are working on the fix but it's been two weeks and still no go from my end. I'd like to have tried one song but I was never able to successfully connect to anyone playing online.
Battle mode is the new competitive mode offered in Guitar Hero III. In this mode, you try to knock the other player out by making him fail the song through missing notes. To increase the difficulty, you will be able to pick up power ups to shoot over to your opponent. You can string up to three different types of power ups to really mess them up. Left flip will mirror the fret board so notes appear on the opposite side you are used to. Double notes will increase a one note area to two, and two to three. Similarly, there's a power up to increase your opponent's difficulty. Another power up makes it so you can't play any notes until you shake your whammy bar enough. You can mess with the opponents fret board with one power up that causes it to blink and shake. There's also one that disables a fret note which you can get back by pressing it repeatedly. Not only can you unleash power ups but you can steal them as well. To really put a hurting on your opponent, send a combination of difficulty increase, double notes, and left flip to see them struggle immensely. If though both of you survive until the end of the song, the game goes into Sudden Death where power ups let you drain your opponents power bar and the first to lose all their power fails. I admit, the first time I saw Battle mode I thought it was really busy and didn't seem to fit in with the game. After playing through it with a few friends I think it's OK but we always went to Sudden Death unless we were playing Expert. Rare were the times we actually knocked someone out within the song. I think the feature's interesting and it's almost there but there needs to be a little tweaking here and there to make it fully enjoyable. It's a nice little addition though that I'm sure will be fine tuned more and more as each successive game in the series is released.
Guitar Hero III features 71 songs featuring a hit from every decade since the 60s. I really like the selection in the series as they have music to appeal to all sorts of tastes. Guitar Hero III features the most master tracks of any series and there are even some songs that were redone by the original artists. The Sex Pistols and Living Color are two bands that went in and re-recorded their songs adding new elements to them as well. For example, there's an entirely new guitar solo for the song Cult of Personality that's sure to have your fingers moving like crazy. Quality of the songs though are a hit or miss with some songs have long areas of no guitar playing whatsoever. There are others such as My Name is Jonas by Wheezer that's really repetitive. Some songs just seem really difficult even at an easier setting. There are songs that you can only unlock when playing cooperatively and there are songs just for CPU battle modes. Why Neversoft decided to only let a few songs be playable in Boss battle mode is beyond me other than to charge you a few bucks later to download the song for everyone to play. I think it's a poor decision and I believe that if a song is in the game in some form, you should be able to enjoy it in any mode. As for the co-op only songs, what if you don't have someone else to play with? You're not going to experience all the songs available and that's a shame.
With the change of developer, the look of the game has changed as well. While the two previous game had a more cartoony direction, Guitar Hero III has a sharper edge to the characters. Some may like the look, some won't but you'll be spending most of the time looking at the note line anyways instead of what the characters look like on screen. The animations for the singer and guitar players are pretty good but the drummer looks really stiff. He seems so wooden or robotic and a little out of place with the way the other characters move on stage. A few new characters are introduced as God and the Devil are two of the few purchasable characters in the game. Not only has the character design changed but the indicators for the multiplier and Star power as well.
While the game's subtitled Legends of Rock, there aren't that many Legends that you can face off or play with at all. Slash and Tony Morello are two Boss battles but that's it. Brett Michaels lends his likeness to the game but other than those three making an appearance, there's no other Legend featured. You do get to use Slash and Tony when you unlock them so that's one good thing. The Legends do come into play with the master recordings and new recordings by the original artists. Metallica, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Living Color, and Guns N' Roses are some of the Legends that do lend their original sounds to the game.
The game's also the first to actually come with a wireless guitar bundled in. With the PlayStation 3, you don't get a Bluetooth guitar however as there's a little USB receiver that's in the shape of a guitar pick that you plug into the PlayStation 3. You can't turn on the PlayStation 3 however with it and the guitar won't work on Guitar Hero or Guitar Hero II. The neck has markings of the PlayStation buttons so you can see which fret button is mapped to which PS3 button. The front plate can also be interchanged with others if you see one design that you really like to have. Unlike the initial Guitar Hero II guitars for the Xbox 360, the whammy bar on the ones included in Guitar Hero III feel solid making it reliable to use. In fact, the one I have feels better than the Xbox 360 version. Now, there have been reports of the contacts in the removable neck being loose on some. Another guitar I had had some responsiveness problems where it seemed there was a lag between me pressing the button and seeing it light up on screen. I even tried adjusting the lag in the options menu and that didn't even help. Strumming up and down seems to also have issues where it wouldn't register sometimes that you strum. And then there's a problem I had where the guitar registers multiple strums when only one is done. It seems to be pretty inconsistent on when it happens and it happens a lot less when playing on the easier levels. Some problems seem to be because of the guitar but I suspect some might be with the program. To test this, I brought up the main menu and started strumming up and down slowly and slowly increased my strumming speed. The selected menu item would sometimes stop instead of change as I went up and down and sometimes it would go two past where I was at. While in the main menu, I tried using the guitar's D-pad and it was more consistent in switching the menu selection when I was alternating pressing up and down quickly. When I quit to the XMB, I tried using the strum bar to alternate between the selection of my downloaded games. Strumming up and down quickly, I found that the selection changed a lot more accurately than in game. Because of this, I think it might be software related and I hope it is so Neversoft can fix it. Right now though, no matter how I adjust the lag on the game, I can't get a good playing experience out of it with the guitar being so inaccurate. I've read a few message boards and it doesn't seem I'm the only one having these problems. Since there are no other guitars for the PlayStation 3, you're pretty much stuck with the bundled guitar. Playing the 360 version, I consistently get a lot better score than on the PlayStation 3 and it's not even close.
There are some nice little additions and I do like the fact that there are more master tracks. Guitar Hero III is a fun game to play (when the guitar is accurate) but it doesn't add anything really new to the series. You do get some great songs, wireless guitar, and online play. The new battle mode has potential but needs some tweaking. While the formula works, it's starting to get a little stale so while I fully expect to see a Guitar Hero IV I hope the developer takes the game and add something truly new to the series. I just got really frustrated with the PlayStation 3 version however and while the score is a little lower to reflect that, the game's just a patch or two away from being fun and worth your money. As it stands right now, I don't play too long as I get tired of problems that arise when playing it on the PS3.
The guitar makes this game more frustrating than fun and I've yet to connect to anyone for online play.