Review by Rasputin77

"The lottery to decide who develops GH4 will take place next week..."

I want to start out with a very important disclaimer: these opinions are reflective of the PS3 version of the game ONLY! I'm judging the title based solely on the version for this specific console. I'm not sure how many other ways I can put that into English, so… please take this into consideration before you get too excited over any given comment(s).

To start, I'm not going to prattle on about how revolutionary Guitar Hero was, or how amazingly fantastic GH2 was compared to its predecessor. I also won't touch on the disappointing 80's version of the game, and how the powers that be felt compelled to charge consumers just as much for only half the songs they had paid the same amount for previously. (**in caveman voice**… “Popularity go up? Make consumer pay more for less! RAARGH!” **rips through projection screen with club**…) Out of all the history I could start spouting here I will refrain and instead, only remind you of two things:

a) Harmonix is who made Guitar Hero great, and
b) A massive fan base has become attached to the brand name.

Talk about a double-edged sword. With so many people expecting a near-perfect caliber product when they see the GH name attached, realizing this sequel wasn't guaranteed to be amazing is essential in preventing oneself from being too disappointed. Of course excellence is never ‘guaranteed' with any title / sequel, but at least we know Harmonix has proven in the past that they know what they're doing, and have (so far) continued to produce excellent material. Now, it's Neversoft / Activision's turn at bat, and while their effort seems to be admirable, there are far too many glitches and inconsistencies to keep even the most optimistic of us entirely pleased with the PS3 version of GH3.

I'll summarize my first week spent playing this game: they were exciting times, and they were frustrating times. (More often frustrating, with exciting slowly fizzling to ‘mildly amused with momentary bouts of joy'…) First of all, online play has been broken since day one. I can only imagine that many GH players like me, who consider themselves good at the game but without much live competition, were salivating at this chance to shred against human opponents. Sadly, the concept was far more easily imagined than executed.

Making it stranger yet was the inconsistency with which errors would occur. One night out of a week I'd get lucky, and play 10-15 good games in a row, with very few problems (if any at all). The other six out of seven nights, however, would see me continually fail to connect to anyone hosting. Then I was constantly pinging the ‘Quick Play' option (which often leaves you playing against some scrub who wants to do a one-song Pro Face-off on a tune they've been practicing for hours straight), again to no avail. Even with a list full of ‘available' hosts, I would sit and mash the green button for 5-10 minutes at a time, repeatedly attempting to join some game – ANY game – but without luck.

How about friend invites? There aren't any. My $6 PSN copy of Mortal Kombat II allows me to invite friends to play, but not Guitar Hero 3? What's going on here!? For the few times my friend and I actually have played against each other online, it involved a phone call and some careful timing to make work. On the flipside, if you're waiting to play someone specific but have no means to communicate with them, you'll have to host a game, wait for them to join it, and constantly kick people out who join before your intended opponent has the chance to (which means leaving and starting a new game). Lame.

It's been rumored that the online play has improved since firmware update v2.01 was released, but I haven't verified that myself. Let's hope it's so, but the fact remains; a near-complete lack of online availability during the first few weeks of a games' release is… well, it's just shameful. Very, very shameful.

Next up is the new controller that comes bundled with the game. The word ‘wonky' comes to mind, as does ‘stiff', and ‘unyielding'. Granted now that it's been broken in, I've become much more proficient with it, but that's also given the adjustments my brain might be making subconsciously.

At first, the fret buttons seemed decidedly more difficult to depress. It was as if someone catered this guitar specifically to the mashers. You know, the people you were afraid to let play your original GH1 / 2 / 80's guitar? The n00bs who MASHED the buttons so hard, their fingertips would turn white, accompanied by the unnerving c-r-e-e-e-e-eak of the plastic neck as it threatened to buckle under the pressure?

Aside from the fact that my green button seemed to be sunken into the fret board a slight bit more than the other colors, at various points in the game I had trouble getting the green notes to register. Of course the natural reflex is to n00b it up and simply start mashing, but making that mental switch is a pain when you're already used to the looseness and fluidity associated with playing a nicely broken-in controller from one of the prequels. (Should I even go into the lack of backwards controller compatibility at this point? Hmm… naaaah. If you want, you can just search for one of the 18,000 threads on it to find out more.)

The star power is unacceptably easy to activate. In fact, the only way I can be sure NOT to activate it via motion-control, while saving it for later sections of the song, is to sit perfectly still. No head-bobbing, no swaying, and no body-movements whatsoever. This makes the whole ordeal un-pleasurable to someone like me who is conditioned to moving – even just a little – during game play. If I'm just playing for fun, then it really doesn't bother me that much. But if I'm playing to win (online, for high scores, for more stars, etc.), then I'm far too concentrated on not moving the guitar or myself, and any performer knows great performances don't come from someone who looks like they might poop themselves if moved the wrong way.

Other issues I had with the game led to some awkward moments. Until you get the new controller broken in, it can sometimes feel like your held notes are dropping out randomly, leading to even further mashing of the buttons which shouldn't be necessary. It's been rumored that dirty contacts between the two connecting pieces of the dissembled controller can cause this sort of problem. (That's right – as if carrying it over your shoulder while heading to your friends' sleepover wasn't nerdy enough. Now you can take it apart and carry it safely in your Pokemon backpack!)

Multiple times during the first week of play, the guitar track would simply become silent in a song, for no reason whatsoever. Stranger yet, was that the track wouldn't return UNTIL a wrong note was hit – as long as everything continued to be played correctly, the track would remain quiet. I also experienced an insanely wild drop in frame rate, which I confirmed had nothing to do with the stage I had selected, or the song I had chosen. That was remedied with a quick reboot, and hasn't happened again since.

ALL of these issues, mind you, have also been experienced by other users.

Something else people have been taking issue with – which oddly enough, was the smallest of my concerns – has been the lag calibration. At this point, I play GH3 based solely on the sound coming through my speakers, and NOT visually, based on when the notes pass over the ‘strum indicator'. This has really never been a problem since I'm usually looking ‘up' the scrolling fret board anyway. It's just the process of getting everything calibrated correctly that can be a drag. I have three words for you, and three words only – trial, and, error.

To demonstrate how hit-and-miss the process can be, here's my story. At first I was convinced that 49 milliseconds was my ‘magic number' for the lag calibration. I still wasn't playing as well as I thought I should, but I pawned that off on it being a new game, and me not knowing most of the songs. (I'm actually a little disappointed in doubting myself!) After reading the wild surge of ‘need halp wit the calibration plz!' threads that hit the boards during the week of release, I decided to try again, this time making multiple test runs using the manual method, and taking the average. Now my magic number was 79 ms, and I was CONVINCED that I had finally nailed it down.

Fast-forward to a few days later, and I'm at a friends' house beating Raining Blood for them. I give it a shot using their settings (65ms) and fail. I switch it over to my setting (79ms), and pass without problem. Then, we start to play some co-op after switching their system setting back to 65ms… and guess what? I start to do really, really well. Later that night I returned home, switched my setting from 79 down to 65, and… in my first two attempts, crushed a few of my previous high scores by TENS of thousands of points. O_o

The point of this mini-rant is simple; while it is a trial-and-error affair to get the calibration where it works best for you, it goes without saying that at least SOME of it is mental.

Now that the complaints are out of the way, I must remind you – this game IS Guitar Hero, and therefore is DOES still rock! The music is great, IF you happen to be part of the 2% of the population that realizes the subjectivity of music, and how the developers can not cater to each of your individual wants. (It's called DLC, or Down Loadable Content, people.) The controller, once broken-in, seems very trustworthy, and the newly-improved hammer-on and pull-off mechanics make them easier to execute than ever before. (I would almost go as far as to say they can get ‘sloppy', but hey – who doesn't appreciate a little wider hit-window on their notes?)

I was also pleased with the variety of characters available, as well as the tweaks you can make to their appearance. While customization certainly isn't integral to enjoying the game, it sure does add a nice element of creativity to it. The hand movements of your performer while on stage are just as realistic as ever, although the drummer does seem to appear as if they could use some oiling, and the male lead singer… well… let's just say having a hideously disfigured front-man probably isn't the smartest move to make in musical politics. However, video games are all about ‘imagination', so I suppose we can let it slide. But… still. MAN, is that guy ugly. My guess is they were so excited about getting the mouth movements to so closely match the words being sung (which they DID do a fantastic job of), they decided to make that whole area twice as big to show off what they'd done. Instead, all they've done is successfully scare people while they play the game.

The battles are also somewhat entertaining (despite the fact that the final boss on expert difficulty is insanely hard, except for one tiny, tiny nick in his armor that then makes him laughably easy), but don't be surprised when you run into the occasional schmuck online. You know, someone who chooses a difficulty far too easy for them, saves their whammies, then does nothing but block you from getting star powers in sudden death, and wins with the drain. It's a depressingly sad and boring tactic, but in a lame way is somewhat funny because it works. Just know that if you see someone saving whammies, you should be doing the same.

And now for that meaningless little ‘breakdown' section we feel a review must always have:

Graphics: 8/10 – they don't suck, but they're not outstanding; about what you'd expect for a GH game. There's the slightest bit of occasional slowdown during star-power activation, but other wise, no problems here.
Sound: 10/10 – Awesome! I'll even overlook the “mysteriously disappearing guitar track” trick for this one, because I dig the music and sound quality so much.
Gameplay/Control: 6/10 – ONLY at first, mind you; there's simply too much ‘fix this, calibrate that, get used to doing this, don't move here' going on for a game that has been about as “plug-and-play” in the past as you can get.
Story: What?
Replay Value: 9/10 – Like all the Guitar Heroes before it, going back and beating your old scores is an endless thrill. Combined with online (when it works) and DLC, the lack of backwards compatibility is the only thing keeping this score from being perfect.

Overall: 7/10.

Please feel free to check out my other reviews, previously written under my old GameFAQs ID: Bach_741. Also, please help to stop the flaming of people who openly express their distaste for glitches in games like this, and others. There seems to be a mindset of “thou shalt not complain” that I simply don't understand. All consumers have the right to share horror stories regarding legitimate problems they experience with a purchased product. (Basic Consumerism 101) Also, forums are not SOLELY designed for positive, happy, chirpy, shiny, supportive opinions to be shared. There are some pretty thick skulls this concept seems to have not yet penetrated – so help the cause, and educate! Knowledge IS power. ;)

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/27/07

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

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