There is certainly no arguing just how popular Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise truly is. The sole fact that the creators of South Park have constructed an entire episode dedicated to mocking the addiction to a plastic guitar is proof enough that this series like it or not, is here to stay. With the third iteration in the franchise the reigns of development have been handed over to Neversoft, who you may recognize from their work on the Tony Hawk series. Built from the ground up Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock feels like the same game you have come to know and love with a laundry list of improvements that fans have been clamoring for, but it also boasts a few new features that you will either grow to love or hate right from the start.
Everyone knows that the heart and soul of any good Guitar Hero game is in the track list. If I had to pick which set was the most impressive Legends of Rock wins by a landslide. With the like of Santana, The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, Weezer, and Slayer just to name a few the set list is the most impressive to date. Throw in the fact that rock legends Metallica are finally on the roster with their incredibly fun to play One and you have just about everything fans of the series could want. It is also worth mentioning that a majority of the songs this time around are original recordings.
You will be surprised at how much of a difference it makes to hear the original artists while playing the game. A few have even went back and re-recorded tunes specifically for the game. The Sex Pistols have returned to the studio for Anarchy in the U.K. and Living Colour has remade their version of Cult of Personality complete with a new solo that is as awesome to play as it is to hear. Couple this with the surprisingly great selection of bonus tracks including the likes of Rise Against and Lacuna Coil and you have over 70 tracks that are incredibly fun and challenging to play.
In addition to the incredible song list Neversoft has also added a sort of Crossroads type of battle system where you get to face off against rock legends such as Slash from Guns N’ Roses and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame. During these battles you are treated to an exclusive track performed by said artist and the object is to out-rock them. Instead of star power you gain power-ups that you can throw at your opponent such as difficulty increase, double notes, or my personal favorite the whammy bar attack where your opponent must waggle their whammy bar to continue playing.
These battles sound good in theory but on the harder difficulties become more about luck than anything else. Since you have no control over what power-up you gain it really boils down to playing each battle over and over until you get something to knock the other guy down. This can lead to frustration because there is no way to progress in career mode until you complete these. Personally I wish you could have the option to skip the battles and just try and complete the songs, or at least be able to practice these songs in quick play, but as it stands this is one of those features that fans of the series will either love or despise.
Quite possibly the best addition to the franchise with Legends of Rock is the new wireless Les Paul guitar. This new axe feels so much better than the previous models thanks to smoother fret buttons and the fact that it is completely wireless. I am distraught that the only option for power right now though is an ample supply of batteries so you might be better off picking up a pack of rechargeable ones. It also amazes me that there is absolutely no option of plugging in the guitar for wired play, this means when your batteries die so does your gaming. Outside of these minor gripes the new Les Paul is simply put, the best guitar released so far and it only saddens me more that it won’t work with Harmonix’s upcoming Rock Band.
Now for the most pressing matter of all, how does it play? Well after Harmonix and Activision parted ways many fans were reluctant to jump on the GH3 bandwagon too quickly. The series has acquired a very loyal fanbase and the idea of switching devs was a tricky one. Thankfully the folks at Neversoft have answered the call and created a game that feels safe and true to the original in almost every respect. The note charts are incredibly fun to play and the timing has been toned down a bit to open the game up to a more casual audience, which is what it was intended for in the first place.
The easy difficulty is still just that and the medium is a touch harder than last time, but with a larger window to hit the notes in it becomes a more engaging experience and feels more rewarding for novice players. While long-time fans may scoff at the idea of making the game harder there is certainly no lack of challenge to be found in the hard and expert tiers. Some of the songs towards the end of career are absolute monsters on these difficulties including Raining Blood by Slayer and of course Metallica’s One. There is also the matter of Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and the Flames that serves as GH3’s Jordan. This song is so intense that playing it, even on easy can be difficult. Needless to say there is little to complain about when it comes to finding a challenge.
The one are Neversoft played it the safest was in presentation. While the avatars have been given an overhaul the rest of the game will feel dangerously familiar to fans of the series. Each difficulty still consists of different sets of tiers each ending with a surprise encore. One new feature worth mentioning is that the menu system now sorts your bonus and downloaded songs for easier access. While it doesn’t sound like much it was honestly one of my biggest gripes about the previous game having to scroll down forever just to get to my newly downloaded songs.
Career is not without some salvation though as you can now enjoy the fruits of a complete co-op career with a friend, granted you are both in the same room. The co-op career combines the best songs for two players from the initial set list and even contains a few exclusive songs only available in this mode. It is a bit frustrating that these songs have to be obtained by playing through the career, plus the fact that co-op career can only be played locally, but it is a nice reward for those of you who have the option.
Of course the most sought after addition to the franchise has been added in the form of online play. You can now compete in online face-off matches, pro-face offs, co-op (not career), and even the new battle mode. In our online tests we experienced little lag as long as the note charts weren’t too crazy, but once we hit songs like One the lag did kick in. For the most part it runs smooth, but the best way to play is still in the same room with your friends.
As a freshman effort in an established franchise Neversoft has done just about everything perfectly. The game feels like Guitar Hero with just enough new spice to make it feel fresh at the same time. The track list is absolutely amazing and the addition of online and co-op career are much welcome additions. The questionable character designs are certainly not important and whether you love or hate the new boss battles at least they add something fresh to the mix. Overall Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is exactly the kind of sequel you could hope for when a developer change is made and hopefully next year the folks at Neversoft can add even more to keep this series going strong. As it stands this is easily the best rhythm game currently on the market so if you are a fan there is no reason to hold off buying this amazing entry.