Review by NewMoonShadow

Reviewed: 12/29/07

Some of the gameplay you've come to know and love with none of the rock star atmosphere you've come to expect.

Now, as a reviewer I’ve taken a solemn oath not to compare games directly with one another unless they’re lined up in a series. Too often a perfectly decent game is shunned and overshadowed by a better one and unfairly lost to the sands of time because it was only good instead of AWESOMELY SPECTACULAR. So if you’re looking for a comparison between Guitar Hero III and Rock Band, look elsewhere.

Guitar Hero III: The same gameplay you’ve come to know and love with none of the rock star atmosphere you’ve come to expect.

Presentation: 5

The game’s character models are high-res now and look decent enough, along with some fairly convincing backgrounds… so if the character models look so good, why is this score so low? Because while the models look good, they do not animate very well. The only halfway decent animation is on the main-characters’ slow bobbing with the music and the singer standing in one spot like a statue and singing lifelessly into a microphone. The bassist is on an infinite repeat pattern and the drummer looks like an automaton with a pair of drumsticks.

Nitpicking on the minor characters may seem petty, but seeing the drummer’s waist swivel while his arms move only vaguely in time to the music (and even then often completely missing clearly audible notes) really draws you out of the rock star atmosphere the game is supposed to give you, especially when they’re actually dumb enough to make the camera focus on him during a drum solo. Guitar Hero II wasn’t perfect in this regard either, but it accomplished its goals far more effectively than this. Even the Star Power stances have been stripped from the characters. Overly extravagant but very thrilling showboating has been replaced with small symbols that hover around your character for a short while… except Casey Lynch, who sometimes seems to inexplicably start firing laser beams into the crowd from the end of her guitar.

Further hurting the atmosphere is the overwhelming, undeniable presence of endless product placement and, perhaps even worse, celebrity endorsements. Don’t get me wrong, I like Slash, but it seems to counteract the rock star rebellion attitude to pay someone to endorse your product, looking like he’s three seconds from taking a bite from a nice bowl of Lucky Charms and declaring it to be magically delicious. This continues straight into the game’s Downloadable Content, all of which contains music from the newest albums released by their respective artists. Even the Foo Fighters pack has one song from the 90’s while the others are from 2007. These aren’t expansions, they’re advertisements you pay for. Especially when you factor in the presence of the Halo theme song, and a pack that was actually named after a record label. I’m usually not one to use the phrase, but if anything has ever seemed to really “sell out” in my eyes, it’s this.

All that being said, however, I do appreciate the new nicely animated story segments that make the career mode feel less like a list and more like a real career mode. They’re brief, but that’s good, because we’re here to rock, not to watch a novel unfold before our eyes. Plus they finally replaced the first two games’ Hopelessly Generic Singer Dude with a model who has some individuality to him. Thanks for that, at any rate.

Despite the squeaky clean graphics upgrade, the game loses so many points of rock star atmosphere by selling out so thoroughly that Guitar Hero II will start to look pretty good by comparison.

Audio: 10

The main set list is full of songs that are sure to please fans of any taste. You probably won’t like them all, but you will no doubt find some songs to call your own. From classic rock to modern metal, the genres run all over the place and culminate in a grand finale that will blow you away the first time you reach it, while letting you down in the credits with a new tune that is quickly becoming infamous for its difficulty. I really have no complaints in the audio department. Master tracks are used for most of the songs, and those covers that are here aren’t bad enough to hold against the game. Even the Bonus Song list contains a decent selection of tracks that are almost as high quality and diverse as the main list, allowing people to pick out their favorites. No complaints here.

Gameplay: 6

After Guitar Hero II, original developers Harmonix flew the coop to do their own thing while the Guitar Hero name stayed with Activision, who decided to hand the reigns over to Neversoft. Now, I like Neversoft. They know how to make a fun game, but sometimes they can lose sight of what it is that makes a given game fun in the first place. Guitar Hero II achieved the status it did by appealing to players of all skill level. Practicing was fun, and moving up the ranks was fun as well.

In the beginning, the game seems comfortably familiar. Medium is pleasant to play, but a bit boring for vets. So you move up to Hard… and promptly get slapped in the face with your own limitations. Sure you can work your way through it, but something still doesn’t feel right. Then you reach the last tier. Now, there’s a fine line between “fun to conquer” difficulty and “lunatic” difficulty, and this game crosses that line with glee.

Amping up the difficulty to lunatic proportions may please those who’ve been playing the games since day 1 and to whom the idea of a note chart that combines Jordan and Free Bird is a pretty exciting one, but for those of us more casual players who were still working their way through GH II on Expert, this is sheer madness. I can blow through both previous Guitar Heroes on Hard without difficulty, but I cannot even beat Raining Blood or One on Hard. Is this really necessary?

It’s a good way to alienate casual players like myself. It seems to me difficulty levels exist so everyone can find a difficulty they’re comfortable with. Well, I find Medium so easy as to be boring, and Hard too difficult to be fun. So what am I supposed to do, exactly? This even effects online matches. Either I go with Medium and get an easy 99% or 100% every time, or I do Hard and get consistently smoked by someone who has spent way more time than me at the game.

The Co-Op story mode provides some enjoyment, but co-op has never been Guitar Hero’s strong point. The bass lines are so simple that someone used to playing the lead guitar will probably find it boring, the VS modes are far more rewarding for even remotely seasoned players.

Story: 10

As mentioned previously, the game now features brief 15 second or so cutscenes that move you from tier to tier in the Career Mode. They’re largely throwaway, and get the score they do for telling a simple story in an amusing manner without getting in the way of the rest of the game. Certain other franchises could probably learn a lot from this approach, because I kind of dig it.

Features: 6

Speaking of which, the online mode is the only new game mode worth mentioning. The creative minds at Neversoft also imagined up a fantasy world where guitarists do battle by destroying each others’ guitars, but this mode is completely worthless and only serves to make you suffer. I suppose it’s nice that they tried to come up with something of their own instead of Copy-Pasting Harmonix’s hard work, but it comes off as a halphazard afterthought and contributes nothing to the overall package except for a few annoying “boss battles”.

In addition to this are special costumes to be purchased in the shop for each of the stars. Along with the variety of guitars present for purchase the same way, it’s a decent way to set yourself apart from the masses of online people. There are a handful of developer videos where they speak with the celebrities who contributed new works to the game.

Overall: 7

Guitar Hero III is sort of like a game of Tetris whose difficulty levels go from 1 to 5, and then jump straight up to 10. Some people may dig the difficulty from a pure gameplay standpoint, but the overall presentation and feel of the game has been relentlessly gutted and mutilated in a transparent bid to cut as many corners as possible while squeezing as many advertising dollars out of it as humanly possible. If you simply love hitting colored notes in a sequence vaguely resembling guitar playing and love doing it at a breakneck pace, consider this review a hearty recommendation. Though if you’re this person, you probably already own it.

If however you’re a casual gamer who wants to have a good time rocking out to tunes both classic and modern, Guitar Hero II is more likely to be your style.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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