The formula remains fun, albeit tried-and-tested
Originally developed by Harmonix, after two years the beloved Guitar Heroes series has shifted over to Neversoft in ‘Guitar Heroes III: Legends of Rock’ available for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. Many fans will no doubt be wondering how this latest instalment weighs up.
GH III follows the same formula as its predecessors. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, it’s a music/rhythm videogame. Think Dance Dance Revolution with guitars. Players use a controller shaped like a Gibson Les Paul with four ‘fret’ buttons running along the neck of the guitar (green, red, yellow, blue and orange) to strum along to the beat of various rock songs. In each song, colour-coded circles (notes) flow down in patterns from the screen, and you hold the corresponding button and hit the ‘strum bar’. The aim of the game is to rack up the highest score you can and miss as few notes as possible. A ‘rock-metre’ in the corner of the screen measures how well you’re doing via a dial sectioned into red, yellow and green. Missing a note will result in an off-putting scratching noise and moves the metre further away from the green and into the fiery depths of the red. Miss too many, and you’ll fail the track, complete with your rock prowess being shattered. Occasionally star-shaped notes appear which give you ‘star power’, and wiggling the ‘whammy bar’ on these notes will give you more of it. Once enough star power has been built up, just tilt the guitar which turns the screen blue and generously multiplies your score. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are also simulated well in GH III to overcome groups of notes spaced closely together, so no strumming is needed here. It’s all simple enough, but terrific fun and surprisingly addictive. Besides, it’s the closest anyone can come to becoming a Rock God without going through all that effort of, say, learning to play a real guitar.
Boasting a total of 73 tracks, GH III easily has the biggest and best selection yet, including some Rock giants like Kiss and the Rolling Stones. Most of these are the original recordings too, so they sound brilliant. However, there are also a few duds thrown into the mix too. No Queen or Jimi Hendrix, either. This is practically a crime.
These tracks are split into tiers of 5, and you need to pass 3 in each to move on to the next. Completing each song earns you a basic star rating out of five along with stats on the percentage of notes hit and your highest streak without missing, and you are awarded money accordingly. All this Wonga earned can be spent to unlock new guitars, characters, clothes and tracks from the store. These are a nice touch, but don’t affect the game play
Occasionally you’ll come across a boss (hint: one of these is Slash from Guns ‘N’ Roses. No, really). In the form of a ‘battle’ mode. Here you’ll hit regular notes the same as before, but star power notes are replaced with weapon power ups such as cutting one of your opponents’ guitar strings, upping the difficulty for them, or rendering their whammy bar useless until it’s wiggled enough to be re-activated. The idea is to throw your opponent off of notes and ultimately make them fail. Sadly, it’s less fun than it sounds as picking up a weapon first will help you to win most battles and the weapons are a tad predictable. It feels more like a distraction, as you may just want to get back to the traditional game-play of strumming through the rest of the songs.
Boasting a total of 73 tracks, GH III easily has the biggest and best selection yet
Even better, you can unlock new songs by jamming against a friend in two player co-op, pro face-off and battle modes. Or get competitive against an opponent online (although nobody seems to be playing it). Though it’s a shame there isn’t anything beyond two players, the online features are definitely a welcome addition and GH III offers the most fun when played with a friend. A friend of decent enough skill, mind you.
And it’s here where the glaring difficulty problems of GH III really need to be addressed. With modes of easy, medium, hard and very hard these literally do what they say on the tin. Starting off using only the first three fret buttons and a baby-step note speed, this increases the speed the notes flow at, adds the blue button at medium, and orange at Hard. Very Hard just generally throws notes at you at such face-melting speeds, that you’re going to need God-like reflexes and the memory of Dustin Hoffman in Rain man, in order to learn the note pattern. The sharp jump to the higher difficulties means the note patterns become incredibly erratic, so they seem to fit the music much less well. While it’s certainly a good challenge for long-standing Guitar Hero pros, GH III is ‘pick up and play’ for the lower difficulties, but after this point demands relentless practice (beware: it will kill your fingers) in frustratingly hard tracks, and this is where casual gamers are likely to give up.
Little time has been dedicated to the story because there’s such a lack of it, though it loosely revolves around a small-time band battling it out with the devil after accidentally selling their souls to him. But a compelling plot wasn’t to be expected in this kind of game, and that’s all you need to know.
Truth be told, GH III sticks to the same tried and tested formula of the previous titles, and the lack of change may put gamers off. But it’s still addictive fun peppered with that “Just one more go” factor, and for now will be some of the most injury-free fun you can have while enthusiastically waving around a (plastic) guitar.
The Bad: -Essentially nothing new compared to its predecessors; -The guitar battles are weak; -Lack of customisable tracks; -Some track choices are… questionable.;