Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Review

It’s once again time to rock and roll, as the fourth game to sport the Guitar Hero name has finally been released, this time hitting almost every platform imaginable. But does the game have enough to stand up against the massively hyped Rock Band?

Since the split up of Harmonix and Red Octane, many have worried that the series would suffer being developed by a new team. Well this certainly isn’t the case as Neversoft, the studio behind the Tony Hawk games, has created a near perfect emulation of the experience that has been the backbone behind the Guitar Hero name. Although the game was built anew from the ground up, everything that you have come to love and expect from a Guitar Hero game is there, and many features that fans have been begging for have finally been added.

The developers have stuck to the original concept of the game, but have added a bit more depth to the story of your band. At the beginning of career mode, you choose the name of your band and being at a very modest setting. Throughout the game, your band will perform in one of eight venues ranging from the Backyard Bash to the Video Shoot, and ending in Lou’s Inferno, a makeshift bar in hell. Along the way you will be signed to various sponsors and gain popularity and become a Legend of Rock, assuming you beat several rock stars throughout the game in battles and defeat Lou, a big bar owner who looks strangely like the dark one himself.

While there is no character customization to speak of, there are several returning rockers and some new faces to choose from, you can however, choose from a few styles and outfits for each. Favorites such as Lars Umlaut, Johnny Napalm and Axel Steel, and newcomer Midori just to name a few. In addition, there are two system specific characters that can be unlocked for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, The God of Rock and The Grim Reaper. Also, after beating them in battle mode, Tom Morello, Saul “Slash” Hudson, and Lou the Devil will be in the mix.

As any other game in the genre, the soundtrack makes the game. Activision spared no expense in this department. Where most of the songs in the previous games have been covers with a few master tracks scattered in the mix, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock breaks out of this routine. There are more master tracks than covers this time around, with a few tracks that had been re-recorded specifically for the game. One such track is Anarchy in the UK by The Sex Pistols. After years apart, the group met back up in the studio to make this exclusive track, incorporating a brand new solo. With such devotion to the music, Activision has made a firm movement in the right direction for future games, giving the Guitar Hero name lasting power.

Over 70 tracks provide countless hours of gameplay and plenty of variety. This is only the beginning, however, as downloadable content gives way to an unknown number of tracks to come. As the title of the game suggests, the music comes from all areas rock, and from some of the biggest names. With tracks from Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Alice Cooper, Poison, The Rolling Stones, and many many more, there is more than likely a song to please even the most picky of music lovers. This is, of course, not to mention the mother of all Guitar Hero tracks, "Through the Fire and the Flames" by DragonForce, a song that has quickly become notorious for its extreme difficulty, even on the easiest setting.

All in all, the set list is more than adequate. There are a few songs that, even on harder difficult, become tedious and feel a bit out of place, but hey, you have to get that 300-note streak somehow right? As with the games in the past, you will likely spend little time playing songs from the first few set lists and opt for the more challenging, and more fun, songs from the bottom of the list.

There are eight set lists in all, each with four tracks and an encore. After the second, fifth, and eighth set list, an all-new game mode has been added called the Guitar Battle. In this neat mode, you are pitted up against a famous guitarist in a battle of rock. The song at this time is a riff made specifically for the battle, in which there are no star power ups, only battle notes. You must beat your opponent before the song is over, or else you lose. Upon defeating your opponent, you will then play alongside them in one of their songs for an encore. After all is said, you will unlock that character in the shop, where you can purchase them and use them whenever you feel obliged.

Also new to Legends of Rock is the Co-op career. In this mode, you and a friend play through six set lists to beat the game. There are no boss battles here, but you can unlock a few songs that are only attainable through this mode. This mode adds a sense of achievement for those who like to get friends together and play. But there are still more than an ample share of songs to unlock; throughout the single and co-op career modes, you obtain money by progressing through the set lists and performing well.

Upon completion of a full set list, you "milk" your sponsors for bonuses as well. So, with all of that money its time to hit the Guitar Center shop. Here you will find twenty-four more tracks, new guitars and new paint schemes, new characters, and videos of some of the famous bands that have met in the studio to help on the game. The store provides loads of unlockable goodies, with so much to buy; it will take several trips through the set list before you will be able to get it all. But be sure to unlock the new songs first!

Soundtrack aside, what has really set this series apart is its unique controller. When Guitar Hero first came out, many were skeptical about a game that used a plastic guitar to simulate the real thing. Well, based on sales numbers and the massive popularity of the series, it is obvious that Red Octane found a golden ticket. While the guitar controller wasn’t an entirely new idea (there was actually an arcade game that used a guitar first), bringing one home to a console was, and it hit big. So what’s new with the guitar in Legends of Rock? And how does it stack up?

The new guitar for the PlayStation 3 is, for the most part, a wireless peripheral. A USB "dongle" plugs into one of your free slots and syncs the guitar with your console. Red Octane obviously felt the need to save a few bucks by not going Bluetooth on this one, and it has sort of come back to bite them on this one. Reports of interference issues have been widespread across the Internet within days of the games release.

We at PSU did not encounter this problem, but the dongle does look a bit tacky hanging off of the most powerful console. This is only minor though. The guitar is actually very well constructed; it even disassembles at the neck to facilitate transportation for those on you on the move. Also, customization is a breeze, as the faceplate slips right off and can be replaced with one of many stylish designs that are on store shelves now.

The only downside one can really put to this new guitar is the lack of rechargeable battery options. With Guitar Hero being a big time party game, be sure to keep plenty of AA’s around for the inevitable death of the batteries in the guitar. Basic gameplay has been left almost completely unchanged. Players still strum to the music and rock to the song, all while attaining star power and maintaining a good multiplier. Neversoft did listen to fans and add a streak meter, letting the player know how many notes in a row they have hit without missing a beat. This is put near your multiplier and star power sensor, making it easy to see while playing. Other than this, the developers have clearly stuck by the well-worn philosophy of if it aint broke, don’t fix it – and in Guitar Hero’s case, rightly so.

Being one of the biggest party games around, Guitar Hero just wouldn’t be the same without some of the classic co-op and adversarial modes as before. So this time around, a strong emphasis on multiplayer was set to provide more than ample amounts of gameplay for both online and off. Along with Co-op, Face Off, and Pro Face Off, a new game mode, called Battle Mode has been added. This stems directly from the Battles throughout the single player. During these battles, the objective is to knock out your opponent before the song ends.

To do this, battle notes replace star power notes throughout the song. Once you hit all the battle notes in a series, you will be granted a power up to use against your opponent to get them to mess up and lose all of their rock meter. This mode gets addicting quick, but be sure you knock them out fast, because if a draw occurs, Sudden Death comes up quick and the Death Drain power up will be attainable. The first to get and activate this power up will likely win.

There are several power ups for Battle Mode, including:

-Broken string: One fret button on the opponent’s guitar will not work until it is fixed (by rapidly tapping the button).
-Difficulty up: The opponent will play the song on an increased difficulty for a short duration of time (except for expert difficulty).
-Amp overload: The fret board will shake and cause the notes to blink, making the scrolling notes difficult to read.
-Whammy bar: The opponent will have to use the whammy bar repeatedly before he/she can play notes again.
-Steal power: This will steal your opponent’s power-up (this will be lost if used when the opponent has no power-up).
-Double notes: The opponent will have to play any single note as a two-button chord, and any two-button chord as a three-button chord for a short amount of time.
-Lefty/Righty flip: The fret board will be mirrored, requiring the attacked player to change his or her handedness.

All of these modes are available online or off. While at the time of review, the PS3’s online set-up was all but broken, the games we did manage to get into were virtually lag free and offered a lot of entertainment. Players can even link their band to and track stats, view high scores, and participate in online tournaments. Once we get more time with the online portion of this game, check back for a further review of the features.

The game looks amazing in HD, with lots of bright, vibrant colors and a mostly smooth frame rate. Occasionally, after activating Star Power, some frames will be dropped, which is almost a sin in the music rhythm world. Other than that, the game is very solid. There is, of course, a lag and whammy calibrate option to cancel out and lag you would get from your TV, which is essential.

It looks as if Red Octane and Neversoft just might be able to keep this series afloat for quite some time without the help of Harmonix, who have moved on to work on bigger ambitions at this time. We’re just glad that Activision has taken this project seriously and spent the time to enhance gameplay, rather than simulate and recreate it. Be sure to pick this one up.



The Final Word

Guitar Hero III is rockers wet dream; from everything to the stellar soundtrack to the addictive gameplay, Legends of Rock is a thrilling amalgam of everything you’ve come to expect from the series up to this point, along with some welcoming new additions. Make no mistake – this is a set list worthy of a double encore.