For Those About To Rock... Well, Go On Already. Rock.
Let me state one thing up front: I am a collossal Guitar Hero fan. Having followed the series from day one (through the unfortunate Canadian launch fiasco), I can very safely say that I have carelessly thrown more hours into these games than any others I can think of. I even picked up Rock the 80's the day it came out and- get this- don't
regret doing so. Anyways, I will try not to let my man-love for GH taint this review. Also, taint is a very funny word.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has a somewhat thankless job. It is the third game (well, fourth if you include Rock the 80's) in an immensely popular series, riding in on the success of its predecessors while hoping to put up a fight against the monumental and recently released Rock Band. It not only has to continue the streak of the games that came before it, but sway people away from Harmonix's new four player frat-fest. Is it worth picking up? Well, it depends on how big a fan you are of the series.
Taking over the reigns, Neversoft has done an admirable job of upholding Guitar Hero's feel and mechanics. The gameplay remains largely the same: using a nifty guitar peripheral (this time in the shape of a sexy Gibson Les Paul) players hit notes that stream towards the screen on a virtual fret board. If you've played any GH game in the past, you know exactly how this works. The most significant change is in the timing window, which has been increased to allow for more sloppy playing.
This may sound like a game-breaking handicap, and it would be, were it not for Guitar Hero III's increased difficulty. Taking a slightly more metal approach (notice the word "slightly," metalheads), Legends of Rock is very much raises the bar when it comes to note charts. (See: Slayer, "Raining Blood") In the end, it sort of evens out, since the harder passages are not quite as troublesome as they would be in the previous iterations of the game, but still offer a meaty challenge to all but the most calloused of players.
The graphics are purdy good, keeping in style with the previous GH games, although they won't melt your face. ("Through the Fire and Flames," on the other hand, will) The characters are even more exaggerated than before, the lip syncing is spot on, and the band generally performs in time with the music. (The drummer's pretty robotic, though)
One problem I noticed was that every so often the game's framerate would drop when activating star power- a big no-no in a music/rhythm game like this. It usually isn't enough to completely throw me off, but it is jarring, and would certainly annoy if not outright anger other players.
The music selection is excellent, despite what some detractors might have you believe. It's called "Guitar Hero" and not "Metal: A Shredder's Journey" or "Country & Bluegrass Musician" for a reason. The game encompasses all sorts of rock 'n' roll, ranging from Pat Benatar to Tenacious D to Weezer to (seemingly everyone's favourite) Metallica. A step up from the previous games is in the fact that a lot of the tracks are original masters this time around. The covers are mostly excellent as well, but everyone picks out one or two that they think sounds absolutely abysmal.
One thing that truly is abysmal, however, is the new Battle mode, in which you "fight" an opponent using power-ups obtained by hitting star power-ish sections. (Anyone who played Frequency or Amplitude will recognize the formula here) There are only three "boss" guitarists you battle throughout Career mode: Tom Morello, Slash, and Lou the Devil. While it's cool to see the gameplay mixed up a bit (and also to hear Morello's and Slash's original music for the game), winning usually boils down to whoever gets the better power-ups, which are randomly assigned throughout the track.
This, unfortunately, carries over into multiplayer, a feature restricted to local play on previous games in the series. It really isn't that fun battling someone, since the match either ends very quickly or goes on to be a tie, in which case the song restarts and all power-ups become replaced with a drain attack that slowly saps your opponent's rock meter. Luckily, there are other online modes, including Face-off, Pro Face-off and Co-op, all of which can be played offline as well. They're fun, if a bit plain, but the inability to play Co-op Career online definitely hurts the game. Leaderboards and downloadable content (of which there is very little at this point in time) round out the online features.
Your enjoyment of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is likely to depend on how much of a fan you are of the series. The game does a few things differently, adds a few new elements, but for every step in the right direction there's a step in the wrong one. Rocking out online is fun (for a while, at least), the new difficulty/timing window is great, the songs rock, and the graphical overhaul is cool. The battle mode blows, though, and even though the game finally has online support, it's a bit uninspired.
Ultimately, if you're a fan of the Guitar Hero franchise, you either own this already or are probably going to pick it up. For newcomers, I recommend wetting your feet with the first two games in the series. (Of which Guitar Hero II is easily the pinnacle) And for those thrill-seekers out there, you should probably look towards picking up Rock Band (if you have the dough, the friends, and can manage to find a copy
Great Track List (as always) +/-
Familiar Gameplay & Formula +
Improved Difficulty +
Online Multiplayer! -
...That's Kinda Plain -
New Battle Mode Sucks -
Occasional Framerate Issues