Guitar Hero III Xbox 360 Review

A change of developer is usually a very big thing for any title, and at times it can unrepentantly kill a franchise stone dead. In the move the game’s heart can be striped out, and little touches fans once loved can be tossed to the wayside, while new and at times unneeded ideas creep into the fray. Sometimes publishers can even stick their collective noses a little too far into development to ‘help’ the new guys, and as a result the game can feel liked it was designed for some focus group rather than the audience that once loved it, and were there from the very beginning. So, with Neversoft now in charge of Guitar Hero III it’s surprising that that my biggest complaint with the game rest solely with the new Guitar being a bit of fingerprint magnet, and ironically that’s not even Neversoft’s fault. Other than that everything is a-okay with the game, and at times better than it ever was.

So back to that new shiny black Gibson Les Paul for a second – and how it’s PSP/iPod like faceplate is a bit to black for it own good. It’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none, none more black. Bar the cosmetic changes there are also a few changes that affect how the guitar feels, and in turn how you will play it. It is definitely a bit weightier that those that came before, maybe only by a pound or two, but it will be noticeable to those that spent some time with the Gibson X-Plorer or Gibson SG in their hands. I don’t know if this bit of extra weight was added to make the guitar feel more substantial, or if it is because of new parts inside, but whatever the reason it helps make the guitar feel more ‘real’ than before.

Furthermore, the fret buttons are now made of a different plastic, feeling more like rubber. If you are looking for something to compare it to, then the closest thing you’ll have at hand with a similar feel would be the buttons on the 360 DVD remote. The change is a good one, and now you’ll never feel like your fingers will slip off the buttons while playing quicker songs, like they could on previous guitars. Also, with the guitar now being wireless – lag free it should be noted – you have full freedom to rock out as much as you want without having an unfortunate accident with the wire. Finally, the inclusion of a removable neck aids greatly in the storage of guitar when it’s not been used, allowing it to easily fit on the shelf of most entertainment units. All in all, regardless of the changes, and just like the guitars of old it still feels great to play, which is the important thing. Although not the most important, as even with the best guitar in the world in your hands you need a quality game to truly impress.

Thankfully, Guitar Hero III lives up to the billing in this regard as well. For the most part, particularly in career mode, the game plays pretty much like it always did where you play songs, get money depending on how well you do, get a star rating, and unlock more songs to play. There is even a fully fledged Co-op Career Mode in there this time, which includes 6 tiers of songs in an arrangement different from that of the solo mode, and a couple of unique exclusive songs as well. Also, expert mode now seems much harder than ever before, and it stared giving me problems quicker than expected on some of the earlier tiers. The harder challenge does not come from extra notes, as you can’t just add more notes into a song, it instead comes from challenging fret changes that make you move your fingers about with much greater speed than ever before. Thankfully, with practice – loads of it – most songs should be able to be conquered, but the usual trying to five star a song you’ve already beaten is recommend if you find yourself getting badly stuck.

The biggest change in career is the inclusion of three separate competitive boss battles – presented in Pro Face-off style – against Tom Morello, Slash and Lou the Devil. In this mode you now collect “Battle Power” instead of Star Power, and if you play all the power notes in a row you pick up an item, which you can store in one of three slots. You then get to toss these attacks over at your opponent (by titling the guitar) to try and mess up their game. There is a selection of attacks on show, some causing the whammy bar to get stuck, making it unable to play the guitar, others overload the amp, which will cause the notes to blink, making them hard to read, and the most annoying is lefty flip which will completely mirror the fret board to truly mess things up. Of course, the opponent can attack back so you have to watch out. Then, if you manage to beat the boss you get to play the encore song for that tier with him, which is a nice touch. This addition could have messed up the game if it was not done right, as it is not really in the sprit of what Guitar Hero is all about. Thankfully, this is not the case, and not only is it a nice addition to career it is also a great addition to the game’s multiplayer and competitive online modes.

Yes, the online mode, something which everyone wanted in the game since they shred their first virtual cord back on the PS2. Everything that was loved from the multiplayer of previous efforts has now been brought online, and it makes the transition very well. Finding someone online for a quick match (both ranked or player) is very easy. Also if you want to be more specific, such as looking for a best of seven battle mode (with the attacks seen in the career boss battles) then it is very easy to navigate menus with guitar in hand and find just what you want. Thankfully, most of the battles seem lag free, and I only had one connection loss during my time with the game (which was about 30 matches). During that time I even met a crazy woman on there who shouted at me for choosing to play on expert when she was playing on easy. As a result the intro to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ got littered with a few more expletives that even I’m used to, and I was repeatedly called a ‘jack off’ throughout the song. Now, I don’t even know why she was angry, as I was been helpful to her by playing on a harder mode, but at least this incident shows that the game is really for everyone, male and female, young and old, as well as sane people or those with their marbles completely lost.

Of course, regardless if they got the technical parts right or not if the song list was not up to par then the whole game would fall apart. Fortunately, a quick look at the song list puts any fear regarding bad song choices to rest. Now, I cannot personally say which songs are good or bad, as everyone has there own tastes, but I do have some favourites which I thought were loads of fun to play. Knights of Cydonia, Helicopter, Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll, Anarchy in the U.K, Welcome to the Jungle and Raining Blood are all obvious high points, requiring furious fretwork on the higher difficulties but somewhat slower stuff like Even Flow, Sunshine of Your Love, and Hit Me with Your Best Shot are also fun to play. In truth, there is nothing absolutely terrible on show, with even the cover songs being respectable efforts, and there is a nice collection of songs for all groups, including zany difficult tracks for experts such as the epicness of Through the Fire and Flames by DragonForce which almost broke my hand when I tired it (and that was just on hard!). In closing, I will admit that both Paint It Black and Barracuda were a lot less fun to play that I was expecting, but maybe that’s just my personal preference.

If I was to get nit-picky there are some facets of the game that are not perfect, but they are not game breakers, in fact far from it. Probably the one that will be most complained about is the change made to the star-power bar. The main problem with it is that it’s no longer a simple easy to read singular bar, and is now a selection of lights arranged in some sort of convoluted multi pronged light show. As a result you can no longer see how much star power you have when making a quick glance. Thankfully, the bar still lights up the neon white colour, along with giving you an on screen prompt when you have sufficient star power to use. So the change is a minor niggle at most. A smaller issue is that some loading screen quotes are no where near as clever or funny as those by Harmonix. A further and final point of contention comes from the vocals volume in a few of the master tracks being quieter that you’d expect. However, this problem only seems to arise when you are playing at lower volumes, so if you turn the volume up a few notches louder, there is no need to go all the way to 11, everything seems to level out and the problem is quickly fixed.

In the end, Guitar Hero has survived the change in developer – there can be no doubt about that. Its signature style, note-charts, and rocking entertainment are still alive and well. The track listing is not only the biggest it has ever been, but also has the most quality per tier, having arguably the most imposing collection of big name artists the game has ever seen. If you always loved Guitar Hero then there is no reason not to pick up this, and if you are new to the series there has never been a better place to start.

From hero to, well to even more of a hero!

9 out of 10
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