Review by DarthMarth

Reviewed: 10/29/07

A worthy sequel to the legendary series, with many improvement and few flaws.

As the next installment in the explosively popular Guitar Hero franchise, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has a great deal of hype to live up to. Its release was eagerly anticipated by scores of fans craving another dose of rock, myself among them. Though it naturally can't fully live up to the massive hype surrounding its release, Guitar Hero III does deliver what might be the most Rock of any of the games thus far. Improving on what the previous games did and adding in numerous new features as well as compatibility with virtually every major platform, GHIII is a must-have for every true guitar hero.

At its core, GHIII keeps the same basic formula that made its predecessors some of the most popular rhythm games since DDR. Using the guitar controller bundled with the game (or from a previous Guitar Hero game--controllers from any Guitar Hero are forward compatible with GHIII), you "play" rock songs by holding down fret buttons corresponding to notes and "strumming" with a distinctively clicking strum bar. The game is, as they say, simple to learn--a complete novice can become proficient in minutes-- but can take a lifetime to master. While playing, you can earn star power by hitting certain notes, allowing you to briefly double your score multiplier and drive the crowd wild. The songs range across the different styles of rock, from classic to new jams by little-known bands; for the most part, these songs are all great fun to play, especially if you were familiar with them beforehand. A few songs can and will hurt your hand from extreme shredding, but it's the price every rocker pays. The songs all come in four difficulties and range within each, providing a fairly smooth path from newbie to master as you work your way through the game.

The standard single-player formula of Guitar Hero is to play through songs in tiers of increasing difficulty, earning cash and unlocking new songs, guitars, and characters as you rise to fame. GHIII makes several changes to this formula--more on that later. The real fun of Guitar Hero, however, has always been its multiplayer, your chance to show off your shredding skills against or with a friend. The classic Face-Off mode has been around since the beginning and returns here. It involves the players trading off parts in a chosen song, each trying to score higher than the other. Pro Face-Off has both players playing at the same time and difficulty. Co-op mode has you both playing different parts of a song (usually guitar and bass) with the same HUD to try to get the highest score. This is the tested Guitar Hero formula, which has been largely unchanged since the beginning. Upon playing GHIII, you'll discover that it makes quite a few changes--most good, a few bad.

The single-player mode is much the same as it was in Guitar Hero II, consisting of eight tiers and a cash pool that you share between difficulties--you have to beat the top three in order to unlock everything. The main difference is the introduction of boss battles, rock battles against the titular legends of rock, including Tom Costello and Slash. The battles have you playing special songs against the legends, with the objective of making your opponent fail. This is accomplished with powerups you earn and fire in the same way as star power, allowing you to turn all an opponent's notes into chords, increase their difficulty level, or make all their notes flash in and out, among others. Beating the boss battles unlocks new characters and allows you to continue through your career as a rock star, given a real story for the first time by a series of quick cutscenes between tiers.

Many changes have also been made to the game's multiplayer, starting with co-op mode. Rather than being another option on the multiplayer menu, there is now a full-fledged co-op career mode in which two people play through the game together, unlocking several songs that are unavailable in single-player. The face-off modes remain as they were, and the new battle mode allows you to have a guitar battle--just like with the bosses in single-player--against a friend. The multiplayer mode remains the heart and soul of Guitar Hero, and the source of much replay value despite the PS2's lack of online connectivity.

Besides these overhauls, many minor improvements have been made to the game. The HUD is very different from the one you had in previous games, now showing your note streak (very nice) and featuring a new star power gauge that is different, but arguably easier to read. Even better, the controls have been cleaned up to be the best ever. Hitting the notes just feels right, and hammer-ons/pull-offs--notes you don't need to strum, once nightmarishly hard in the original--are easier than ever. While it does seem a tad unrealistic, being able to easily hit crazy strings of notes like a pro is definitely worth the trade-off, and it makes songs more fun than ever. In addition, the HOPOs have been updated to realistically reflect how the songs are played, which may confuse old-timers but simply keeps you alert to the song.

I'm probably not one to comment on the actual setlist, not being well-versed in popular rock, but the songs in the game mostly sound great, except a certain one that might just leave your fingers raining blood. As for other features, the game adds an actual cheat menu so that you don't have to hit "OBOYOBOY" every time for hyper speed along with song lists sorted between tiered and unlockable songs, many new characters, outfits, and guitars (notably two in the shape of a GH controller!), and a great deal of cutscenes telling the story of the game that can be viewed at any time.

For all the good features of GHIII, its bad ones deserve at least a paragraph. People might not like the setlist, though this is just personal preference. I was a bit disappointed that songs for co-op mode have to be unlocked separately in the two-player career mode. Probably the biggest problem many see with the game, though, is the boss battles. Though imaginative and cool additions to single-player mode, their execution is poor and they are unnecessarily frustrating. Success is largely determined by luck in which powerups you get, and your skill at actually playing the notes doesn't factor in much. The final boss battle seems specifically designed to torture players, forcing them to replay a two-minute intro after every failure and turning every part of the match to the boss's favor. Personally, I would have liked to see battles remain a multiplayer feature only, or at least have been much better done to be less frustrating.

Despite this, Guitar Hero III is still a great sequel that every fan of the series should check out. With great songs, solid controls, and new features it's possibly the best installment yet.

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 10/10
Controls: 10/10
Final Score: 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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