Review by SSpectre

"Guitar Hero III is just Guitar Hero II with merciless difficulty and a big crush on Slash."

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

The Good
+ Great soundtrack, as expected
+ Excellent core gameplay is largely unchanged
+ Multiplayer is really fun, especially co-op

The Bad
- It's the same damn game as before
- Later songs are brutally difficult
- Guitar battles are completely broken

The story's pretty well told by now: after making Guitar Hero II (the best rhythm game ever made, by the way), Harmonix left the series to make Rock Band, leaving Guitar Hero with Neversoft. Now, Rock Band has some merits and faults, namely an awesome full band setup but some sub-par controllers, but one thing is certain: Guitar Hero is screwed.

There's nothing too terrible about Guitar Hero III, mostly because instead of branching out into new territory like Rock Band, Neversoft was content to re-release the same game with a big difficulty spike, a lot less soul, and a picture of Slash on the cover.

That's right, Guitar Hero III is a Guitar Hero game (spoiler!). You use your imitation guitar controller to strum your way through a very substantial list of classic rock songs from the last few decades, complete with chords, hammer-ons and “Star Power” – a limited-use ability to get the crowd on your side, which in practice amounts to extra points on easy difficulties and a “get out of cluster**** free” card on harder ones. The big difference (if “big” means “only” to you) is the inclusion of guitar battles against big-name guitarists Slash (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver) and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave).

It's a really cool idea on paper: you and the famous one alternate phrases of a specially-written song, duel-style, while occasionally earning power-ups to mess up your opponent. And me being a huge Tom Morello fan, I had a bit of a spasm at his first few turntable-esque notes. Unfortunately, these guitar battles are a very flimsy Activision-sponsored justification for not just releasing the whole game as an expansion pack to Guitar Hero II; to say they're a little underused would be like saying the wreckage of the Titanic is a little underwater.

Not that you'll wish the game had used them more once you start playing them. Some of the power-ups are staggeringly unbalanced, making it entirely possible to lose the battle within the first 20 seconds. Even if you survive the barrage, you can't simply endure to the end, because unless they're eliminated, the legends always win. Overall, the battles just serve to add another unnecessary challenge to a game that was already full of bad decisions related to challenge.

Neversoft seems to assume that if you're playing Guitar Hero III, you played one of the other two, which is fine for me, as I did. But for the layman, this installment is unforgiving. The first two thirds of the song list are challenging but manageable. In the last third, the game becomes literally painful, and you'll be left wondering if the developers have an extra finger that made them think these songs would still be fun for us non-mutants.

If I sound a little harsh despite referring to its “excellent core gameplay,” it's because it's simply difficult to speak positively about Guitar Hero III knowing what it could have been. With Rock Band out, just playing a guitar seems insignificant. The sadly ironic thing is that Guitar Hero III's controller is, in its simplicity, considerably better than Rock Band's guitar. The quality of Guitar Hero games hinges quite a bit on the quality of their instrument controllers, and hammer-ons and pull-offs in Legends of Rock are very satisfying as a result of its great peripheral. And even though I wish it were easier to strum upwards, pulling off large solos is smooth and precise.

And once again, it's still Guitar Hero. Despite all the ridiculous guitar battles and painful three-note chords, it's really bloody fun. The massive revenues the series is now raking in are being put to decent use as well, because the list of playable songs is spectacular, and it goes the extra mile over previous games by making the majority of the songs master recordings rather than middling covers.

One thing I haven't touched on yet is the multiplayer. There is indeed a multiplayer feature, though with the drum- and mic-wielding behemoth that is Rock Band around, it's once again a little overshadowed. Like everything else, the multiplayer is mostly unchanged. There are the obvious modes for getting high scores between two people, along with the aforementioned guitar battles (select song, cripple opponent, laugh, never touch again), but the best aspect is co-op.

There's a separate co-op career mode in which one player plays lead guitar while the other plays bass/rhythm guitar, and to go through the whole game as a pair is probably the best feeling the game has to offer. Finally, all these modes can be played online, though it's hard to find a worthwhile opponent – hard players should all have picked medium, and expert players are mutants of the previously mentioned 6-fingered variety.

Guitar Hero III is like the uncanny valley of Guitar Hero games. On the surface it appears to be the same quirky, fun series we love, but there' s just something off about it. Maybe it's the tackiness of bringing in big-name guitarists and plenty of in-game advertising. Maybe it's the fact that Neversoft apparently threw away all the old art design and made everything look like cardboard cutouts. Overall, if you absolutely crave more guitar-shredding, Guitar Hero III is worth a look. But there's no reason to get it instead of Rock Band. No reason at all.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/10, Updated 10/04/13

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


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