Review by Mechsaurian
"Never let a different company handle a classic."
Considering the massive sales and critical acclaim of Guitar Hero I and II, it's no surprise that GHIII would come sooner or later. Unfortunately, Harmonix ran off to make Rock Band, and Activision put household-name Neversoft at the helm of GHIII, trusting the game in their veteran hands. Neversoft certainly did a good job of replicating the Guitar Hero feel; unfortunately, that's what the game feels like: a replication. A spin-off with slightly tweaked characters to fit in with Neversoft's "hardcore" art style and majorly tweaked gameplay to hopefully boost sales even further. Although GHIII is a pretty fun game overall, it just doesn't live up to the Guitar Hero name. The track set sucks compared to the previous games, several classic characters have been omitted, the new battle mode is a dud, and the graphics and sound are, amazingly, even WORSE than GHII's, which is a disgrace considering GHIII was developed specifically for the X360 while GHII was merely an upgrade of a PS2 game. Rather then rant further, I'll break my madness down into the usual bullet points and scores to help illustrate my point better.
Now, to be fair, anyone playing a rhythm-based guitar game won't be spending much time taking in the graphics. However, they did provide a lot of atmosphere to the past two games. Even games that were essentially devoid of a storyline made you feel like a rockstar. The other games had their share of complaints (weak animations on the supporting musicians being the chief criticism) but Guitar Hero II had, overall, very smooth and pleasant graphics that weren't supposed to be realistic, but rather provide a stylized visual counterpart to evoke the powerful feeling of being a rockstar (albeit one with a plastic 2/3 scale guitar controller instead of a real instrument).
Guitar Hero III takes the art design in a new direction, one that Tony Hawk fans should be familiar with. The characters are made rougher-looking overall, with guys who are purposely ugly and chicks who look like straight-up hookers (one with her exposed thong riding up her waist). There's too many tattoos, too many piercings, too many "crazy" hairstyles, just too much flamboyance overall. The alternate costumes are also a lot less cool then GHII's, and the new characters (the japanese-pop rocker, Tom Morello, and Slash) feel incredibly tacked on. Where is Clive Winston? and Pandora? and Johnny Knox? I understand Neversoft wanted to distinguish GHIII from its peers, but the new art direction is very unsatisfactory; everything feels far too forced.
New art direction aside, the basic graphics of the game have changed for the worse as well. The animations, which were GHII's cheif complaint, are even worse now - Star Power is no longer a frantic display of over-the-top showmanship, but a boring aura of electricity that surrounds your character for a brief period. The drummer, made infamous in numerous other reviews, looks TERRIBLE. Animation quality that bad is worse than N64 quality - I much preferred the contant loop of the old drummer to the robotic antics of the new one. The singer and bassist are alright, despite being made more exaggerated like everything else in the game (the bassist almost looks like Chewbacca in bell-bottoms). But my biggest concern is the guitarists - why are they so boring now? In the old games they engaged in headbanging, windmilling, and goose-stepping to keep cool-looking at all times; now, they mostly stand still and make vaguely sexual facial expressions. Pretty weak stuff, considering they'll be what you're looking at 75% of the time.
Having the sound score this low may seem a little unfair, but there's a reason for it. The main reason is that the new soundtrack is inherently inferior to the previous two games. GHI was just a bunch of pure classics that everyone knew. GHII had a lot of classics interspersed with occasional new bands' material and some excellent metal thrown in the later stages (The Trooper, Beast and the Harlot, Laid to Rest, Hangar 18, etc). In my opinion, both GH I and II had very good soundtracks, and even though a lot of people griped that none of the songs were master tracks, you have to admit that Harmonix did a very good job covering them. In retrospect, I kind of miss the Harmonix covers - the sound quality in GHIII is very bad. Many of the tracks sound "fuzzy," and even in surround sound there are certain parts of songs that are way too loud or quiet.
But I digress. the soundtrack has a few classics, a few modern classics (My Name Is Jonas, for example... you know, 90's-early 2000's classics) and a bunch of gimmick songs that are well known but not especially well liked (such as Miss Murder... which is one of the last songs I would have expected in a Guitar Hero game). Granted, there is some decent metal songs at the end (Number of the Beast, One) but overall the soundtrack was very disappointing. Unlike GHII, which had song after awesome song to revisit with joy, after you beat GHIII there are only about 5 to 10 songs you will want to play again in Quick Play (and a quick note on QP - what's with the random characters? It's a lot less interesting than having a specific character play each song).
Neversoft had to rebuild the Guitar Hero engine from the ground up, and it definately shows. The game's difficulty is a source of perpetual frustration - easy, medium, and hard are far too easy, and the later stages of expert are simply impossible. The reason for all this is that hammer-ons have been made much easier and more plentiful than they were in GHII (you can even hammer-on off of a sustained note now). To compensate for the fact that any veteran player could tear the precious games a new one with the new hammer-on settings, the game designers responded by making the note charts on expert songs so overdone that many cannot be beat without judicious use of Star Power.
Speaking of Star Power, the SP phrases in this game are so long and complicated, if you're able to get Star Power out of a part of a song, you usually don't need it anyways. I found this really annoying in songs like "Before I Forget" and "One" where there are parts so difficult that they cannot be beaten without Star Power.
Despite the poorly emulated gameplay, there are a few silver linings among the game's numerous dark thunderheads. The best of them is the Co-op campaign, replacing Co-op Quick Play from GHII. The Co-op campaign is extremely fun, and offers a cheap alternative to Rock Band for those who don't want to lay down 200 bucks. There are a few songs only available in Co-op mode, and thankfully they all are good. This is one of the few parts of the game I can genuinely recommend.
A GH game's replay is based entirely on how fun the songs are to revisit in Quick play. While some songs will keep you coming back for more because they are so fun to play, many good songs have been ruined by poor note charts, and others are either too easy or too difficult. The Quick Play in GHIII is much worse than previous iterations, although it should keep you occupied for at least a few weeks. Still, this is hardly enough to justify the 100 dead Washingtons you'll be giving up for a few weeksworth of entertainment.
Of course, there is Co-op Campaign and Online Battles. But, let's face it, you can only play through the Co-op once, and the Online Battles are an obvious gimmick, and a not-very-gun one at that. At any rate, don't expect yearsworth of cherished memories from GHIII - I've only had the game two weeks and I'm already booting up GHII again to replay all those songs I've been missing for so long.
In short, I don't recommend this game to ANYONE. If you are a new player, start with Guitar Hero II, as it is a much better game overall. If you're a Guitar Hero vet in need of fresh meat, you might want to get it, but you will be sorely disappointed by the drastic stylistic and gameplay changes made to your beloved game. But hey, it's your $100, not mine.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/10/08
Game Release: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (US, 10/28/07)
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