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Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

Is it really necessary to keep pumping out more of the same? To some developers, apparently not. After two smash hits, Harmonix was bought by MTV, with Activision buying the license to Guitar Hero. Of course, Harmonix’s next project wasn’t exactly different- Rock Band is nothing more than an evolution of Guitar Hero- many fans stuck with the tried-and-true Guitar Hero formula. Now, though, the series is under the eye of Tony Hawk developer Neversoft. Since many gamers can’t like more than one series (the skate. vs Proving Ground debate comes to mind), a sort of war is brewing between the Guitar Hero fans and the Rock Band hopefuls. Guitar Hero III features online play, more genuine songs, and a new “boss” mode. Is it enough to keep the name afloat, or does it bite of more than it can chew?

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Guitar Hero III features the exact same gameplay as its predecessors; however, this is perfectly fine. The scrolling notes are really just a vehicle for a great soundtrack, with the same excellent multiplayer that the first two games had (the 360 version also supports online play). Thankfully, this iteration has a far better soundtrack that the previous games: finally, some classics are present. Welcome to the Jungle, One, Sunshine of Your Love, and Paint It Black are just a few of the universally beloved songs from decades gone by. There are some great choices from modern times, as well, but the game predominantly features older hits. There are some songs that stick out like a sore thumb, however. Black Magic Woman? Santana is a fantastic guitarist, to be sure, but why choose that song? Still, this is the best soundtrack of the series and definitely benefits from having the master recordings as opposed to weak covers.

The career mode now has “boss battles” which can be summed up with one word: random. Sure, it’s a nice idea- going head-to-head against Tom Morello is awesome. It’s just that the competition requires no skill. Instead of star power, you can earn attacks for completing certain note streaks. So, for example, you could make the other player’s notes flash different colors, or break their whammy bar, or break one of their strings. The problem is, the placement of these power ups is erratic, and some of them are entirely useless. Why does the computer-controlled character care if their notes are flashing? He’s Tom freakin’ Morello! Or Slash! All in all, these encounters are poorly thought out, and victory revolves entirely around chance. Lame. At least the rest of the career is great, with some ridiculously hard songs that will kick your ass. The difference between a hard song and a hard boss battle in Guitar Hero III is that a song requires skill to finish.

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One change to the game that had many fans divided was the shift in art style. Guitar Hero III features a very gangly, grungy look that is very reminiscent of Jamie Hewlett’s work on Gorillaz album covers. The animation of the guitarists is much more fluid, and overall the game has a very different tone compared to the cartoony folks found in I and II. Some characters look better than others, however. The lead singer looks appropriately menacing, with a large jaw and waving hair, a perfect mashup of caricature and reality. The drummer, however, looks… dumb. Aside from his robotic animations, his face looks like it’s pressed up against a glass window. At least all the guitarists look good, with cool new star power moves and more expressive faces.

If there was one major gripe that positively must be fixed before the inevitable release of Guitar Hero IV, it’s product placement. Guitar Hero III jams AXE body spray, 5 gum, and Red Bull cans into your face so hard it’s almost offensive. The music sponsorships that showed up in Guitar Hero II at least made sense, but in III it seems the floodgates have been opened. I’m sorry, but having dancers dressed in the Bow-Chicka-Bow-Wow shirts from the new AXE ad campaign is not only stupid, but fleeting. How long is that ad series going to last, anyway? Not as long as Guitar Hero is popular, that’s for sure. An entire stage set on the back of a giant Pontiac truck is a bit too much to swallow as well. And is any of it even necessary? Maybe Neversoft just couldn’t resist cramming all of these advertisements into the game, like they did with the already lucrative Tony Hawk series. Guitar Hero is a bonafide cash cow, drawing in gamers and non-gamers alike. It doesn’t need the support of random companies to stay afloat.

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But I digress. Guitar Hero III is everything a sequel should be, with new modes, better music, and a very nice guitar controller. The 360’s Les Paul is a far nicer build than the tacky X-plorer controller from II. Online modes are finally here, with leaderboards, head-to-head play, and the promise of downloadable content. If it wasn’t for the annoying boss battles(which are mercifully few) and random product placement, the game would be practically flawless, but it’s too much of an issue to completely ignore. Still, with the new songs and modes, Guitar Hero III is the party game supreme.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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