Review by LethalLink99

"Guitar Hero III ensures that the series' meteoric rise to fame will not fall just yet."

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is the latest installment in the ultra-popular Guitar Hero series. Just how popular is this series? A quick look around YouTube will reveal hundreds or even thousands of videos of players rocking out, with some becoming famous for their incredible skill. Tournaments and competitions are taking place in schools and other locales all around the world. Online play has drawn in further thousands. Now, even bars and clubs are getting into the act by having Guitar Hero nights on stage. It appears as if Guitar Hero has found its place alongside karaoke and Dance Dance Revolution in the global consciousness and in popular culture, becoming a worldwide phenomenon as few games have done before. The why is simple: everyone wants to be a rock-star, and Guitar Hero allows anyone to rock out from their own couches.

In a nutshell, Guitar Hero works by displaying a fret board on screen. As notes cycle down the screen, the player hits the corresponding fret button and strums the guitar controller. A "rock meter" tells you how the audience is responding to your show: green means you have them rapt, yellow means you could be doing better, and red means you have to really work to avoid being booed off the stage! A score meter counts up your score and also displays your current point multiplier, which increases as the player hits strings of notes in sequence. To cap it off, sequences of star-shaped, blue-tinged notes called "star-power phrases" will occasionally occur. After the player hits all the notes in the sequence, he/she can activate star-power by tilting the guitar up in the classic rock pose (which is very fun, by the way) or by pressing a button (not quite as fun, but more efficient).

The concept is a simple one, and one that is executed very well. With Harmonix gone and Neversoft in, it was expected that a few changes would be made to the old formula for Legends of Rock. Thankfully, the changes are fairly minor and beneficial. For one thing, the look of your performance has changed. The graphics are sharper and give a better perspective of your performance, although this is not necessarily entirely a good thing (according to a friend of mine, the lead singer looks like "a gargoyle with hair"). Sadly, the new visuals also include frequent advertising for Axe, Pontiac, and other shameless examples of product placement. The go-go dancers on the prison stage are Axe dancers, and it is not a welcome sight.

For another change, the window for hitting notes has been expanded from what it was in Guitar Hero II. Hammer-ons and pull-offs (strings of notes in quick succession that one can hit by simply pressing the fret button rather than strumming) now glow white and are much more noticeable. They are also easier to hit then they were. Both of these changes act to compensate for the increased difficulty of the game. The early songs in the Easy and Medium difficulties are almost pitiably easy, but on the whole the setlist is more difficult than it was before, especially in the last two tiers, where even Guitar Hero veterans will be scrambling to tackle the ridiculous note charts.

Veterans of the series will love the increased difficulty Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock offers, but new players may have difficulty moving on quickly. The learning curve is gradual in the beginning, but between the Medium and Hard difficulties takes a steep upturn. Many players will be confounded by the orange button in the beginning, yet even when you think you have it down, the last two tiers of Hard will come up and ruin your hopes and dreams (to avoid the explicit language with which many players have described them). That doesn't even factor in "Through the Fire and Flames", arguably the hardest Guitar Hero song ever, graciously donated by glam/power metal band DragonForce. With the recent full combo (FC) of "Jordan" on Expert difficulty, even the best of the best will have a few painful songs to seriously challenge themselves with.

Guitar Hero III's setlist may just be the best in the series so far. Offering a total of seventy tracks, some of which are part of the main setlist and others a part of the "bonus" songs, there's something here for everyone. You've got classic rock with The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black", Heart's "Barracuda", and Foghat's "Slow Ride". You've got old school punk with The Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the U.K.", The Dead Kennedy's "Holiday in Cambodia", and Slayer's "Raining Blood". And then you've got 90's rock with The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Suck My Kiss", The Beastie Boys' "Sabatoge", and Pearl Jam's "Even Flow". You even have the sounds of today with The Killers' "When You Were Young". A large number of songs featured in the game have mysteriously found their way onto my iPod, and as you play these songs you will most likely gain an increased appreciation for them (or possibly a more acute hatred). Neversoft and Activision did their best to pacify everyone with the song selection for the game, and it appears that they've mainly succeeded.

The game may have an immense variety of music, but it stumbles a little in audio quality. The good news is that a greater number of the tracks are the original ones, making for increased quality and more originality. Also to Guitar Hero III's credit are the re-released versions of "Anarchy in the U.K." and "Cult of Personality", which were recorded specifically for the game. On the flip side, the tracks that aren't are even more noticeable. The singer in the cover of "Paranoid" does a mediocre job imitating the unique sound of Ozzy Osbourne, while other tracks sound sketchy and untrue to their original versions. The singer in a couple tracks even sounds like he is singing completely different lyrics. However, the cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" for the game's Career Mode finale is very good and is a notable exception to the rule.

If players can get over the cover tracks, there still remains one major flaw with the Wii version's audio: the game is entirely in mono, or at least will be until Activision fixes the problem in a new version. As a music and rhythm game, Guitar Hero needs to be in stereo or surround; mono just doesn't cut it, and it's left thousands of gamers trying to trade in their discs. Activision is handling the situation rather poorly to boot, as they made a boo-boo by releasing thousands of e-mails in their response to the situation and opened all of the affected accounts up for major spam. If you are thinking of buying Legends of Rock, wait until the fixed version comes out before pulling out the old wallet and shelling out the cash. Many players are advocating other versions of the game, particularly the 360 version, which is widely heralded as slightly better than the rest.

There are a few things that the Wii version has going for it that could influence you to buy it rather than on any other platform. The wireless Le Paul controller is really quite an improvement: the buttons are easier to press, the strum bar has been elongated, and it really looks quite sharp all in white (face plates are currently unavailable, but can eventually be used). It also boasts special connectivity with the Wii Remote (or "Wiimote"), which lies nestled in the guitar and enables communication with the Wii system. The remote is also used to create a rumble feature, used when players activate star power or a complete a star power phrase. It also plays sounds, including the ominous sounds of missed notes and over-strums. A few friends of mine play on the 360 and the PS3, respectively, and were quite happy with these features, although they did complain about the Wii controller's added weight. One thing they can't complain about is the price, which is a full ten dollars cheaper than the price on the 360 and the PS3.

The only thing about the controllers that is really a negative point is the lack of them. As of the time of writing, separate controllers for the Wii version of Guitar Hero III are not available. As a result, thousands of players are missing out on the game's multiplayer features or shelling out more bucks to buy a second copy of the bundled game and guitar. The saving grace for these people has been the online play, which has been extremely active and a great selling point for the game. The player can play a random match with strangers or play with his/her friends with the Wii's friend code service. Although this does make planning matches a little more of a pain than on the 360 version, which fully utilizes Xbox Live capability, the upside is that Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection is completely free. It is also almost entirely free from lag. In all the matches I have had, only twice has the song started before the fret board could refresh fast enough.

The online play really adds to the game's shelf life, as there is always competition and all of the game's modes (including face-off, pro-face off, and battle) are available online. The only missing feature from the online realm is co-op career, which is mildly regrettable. The idea of a co-operative rise to fame with two people across nations playing in tandem is really quite tantalizing. Perhaps this feature will become available in the next installment of the series. The only other real qualm I have with the online features of the game is that downloadable content is not yet available for the Wii version. Some added songs (perhaps Nintendo-themed, as Microsoft's "Halo Theme" was) would be greatly appreciated and add to the game's replay value. Luckily, downloadable content will likely become available in the future and the Wii version will be on equal footing with the PS2 and the 360 versions.

Although the addition of online play is clearly the best and brightest addition made for Guitar Hero III, several other new features have also been added apart from the new song list, new venues, new guitars, and new outfits. Several new characters have been added to better represent the wide world of music, including the KISS-esque Lars and the piece of scrap-metal Buckethead (an obvious nod to "Jordan" from the previous game). Sadly, these characters do not really do much to accentuate the game, and many players want the characters from Guitar Hero II to make another appearance. The real strength of the characters comes from the addition of Slash (from arena rock champions Guns 'n Roses), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), and Bret Michaels (Poison, although not in the Wii version). Players have jumped at the chance to play as their favorite rockers. More significantly, each one contributed content to the game as well.

The game's story mode has been bulked up with the addition of Guitar battles. Both Slash and Morello recorded music for their respective "boss" battles in the game, while the last battle is played to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and features an easily guessable opponent. In these battles, the star power sequences now grant power-ups to use against your opponent. The "broken string" power-up disables one of your opponent's strings until it is rapidly pressed, the "amp overload" power-up makes your opponent's fret board shake up and down, making the notes almost unreadable, and so on. The real fault of these battles are, for one, their length. The battles seem to end quite rapidly as one player manages to use a power-up or two as the other play nears a crucial and difficult part of the song. For another, they are largely decided by luck and are not a true representation of a player's skill. They are welcome addition to break up the monotony of the very weak rags-to-riches-and-back-again story of career mode, but for all their potential they just didn't seem natural or a large enough part of the game. Instead, they seem forced and tacked on. Perhaps it would be better if the full songs became available for download, as has happened in the Xbox 360 version.

Legends of Rock's other multiplayer options are much more solid. Face-off allows each player to play parts of chosen songs to decide which one is the victor and the better guitarist. Pro face-off follows the same format, except with each player playing the whole song. Co-op multiplayer adds another dimension to the game, as one player takes the guitar and another takes the bass or plays rhythm in a song. Both players have to activate star power at once for it to take effect, and this adds a layer of depth and strategy to the game. With a competent partner completing the songs and unlocking the co-op career exclusive songs becomes that much sweeter. It is unfortunate that co-op mode was not a little longer and held a little bit more to unlock. However, combined the multiplayer is more than enough to warrant the game's purchase.

Pros and Cons

Pros

* Higher difficulty level on Hard and Expert difficulty that will keep veterans happy.
* Diverse and enjoyable song list.
* Original tracks and the addition of Slash and Tom Morello.
* Online play and co-op multiplayer will have you playing for hours.
* Pure "wow" factor - the game is incredibly fun to play, especially in front of others.

Cons

* Advertising in numerous venues.
* Disappointing cover versions of some tracks and mono sound.
* The lack of controllers and downloadable content (soon to be rectified).
* The boss battles are under-developed and forced.
* A relatively boring story for career mode.

The Verdict

Score: 7/10

Do not misunderstand me; Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is a wonderful and addictive game that has occupied a lot of my time and made me very happy. There are just too many negatives and mistakes that should have been rectified involve to give it a higher grade. By all means, buy this game. It will not disappoint. If you have ever wanted to jam from your seat on the couch, or if you are a fan of the previous games, Guitar Hero III will make a worthy addition to the series and to your game collection. Even if you seem disinclined to playing a plastic guitar or are a casual gamer, take a chance on the game because you will have fun. It's a great experience for any music lover. But buy it later when some of these issues are resolved. Quite simply, to force people (or at least show that it would be beneficial) to hold off on buying the game until it can be re-released is ridiculous, and that's why this score isn't higher.

In short, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rocks responds to the hype and is worthy of being the most sought-after game of Christmas 2007. It may just be the best game of the series as of yet, but it is far from perfect and many improvements can be (and in some cases must be) made.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/08

Game Release: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (w/Guitar) (US, 10/28/07)


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