Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Review (Xbox360)

Since the birth of air guitar players, people have dreamed of playing the guitar and doing amazing things on it without the lifetime of practice. Guitar Hero is the closest thing to both, and as the roadieís show, itís fun and worth the practice. But unlike the previous two (or three if you donít count ďRocks the 80ísĒ), Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock was developed by Neversoft (maker of the Tony Hawk series), not Harmonix, the musically inclined team. So how does it fair?

Judy Nails and a few of the backgrounds look good. Everything, not so much
Lars is by far the greatest rocker in the lineup, unless you like Death or Zeus more

For those wondering whether to get GH3 because of the changed development team, put those fears aside. Publishers Activision and RedOctane retained most of the rights to the Guitar Hero franchise, meaning little has changed in terms of gameplay and format. In almost every way, GH3 is either the same or improved upon the previous games.

In almost every way, GH3 does exactly what GH2 did. Similar menu system, same controls, same gameplay. What is different are the graphics, which have more of the Neversoft feel. Suffice to say they are pitiful and actually worse in some cases than those found in GH2, but obviously the visuals arenít what you look at when you play, so itís a moot point. But when you see the drummer moving more like a robot than a human being, it isnít because heís a robot.

Guitar playing is exactly the same, with slight tweaks to enhance the experience. Notes still come down from the fret board at the speed of light on the harder difficulties, and far too slow when on easy. Playing multiple notes consecutively without strumming, called hammer-ons, has changed dramatically. Instead of the very stiff, perfectly timed note-hitting, previously required, it is now much more lenient meaning that itís actually possible for someone to get the notes right without strumming every other note.

While some may question the validity in making it easier to do this based on the timing, it greatly enhances the playing experience. Thereís nothing worse than hitting a line of notes and missing one because it was off by a fraction of a second when in reality most musicians cannot play their own music perfectly every time.

The new Gibson Les Paul guitar is similar to the GH2ís, though the fret buttons are shaped differently and the whammy has been improved and doesnít sit in the way. The back button has also been moved so it can easily be used to activate star power instead of tilting the guitar. And finally, itís wireless, so thereís never the chance of self-strangulation or tripping over the wire in the dark.

Following suit with GH2, GH3 uses cartoon animations for their introduction and sequences between moving from city to city. The animations are a great addition, giving just a bit of story behind all the gigs you play, but nothing so important that itís worth thinking about. A quick laugh, and thatís all we need.

The track list is much more varied than GH2, with a lot of older and newer music, but not much in between. More often then not I felt out of place with the given song, mainly because it seemed like something Iíd hear on an oldies station or because the guitar parts werenít really meant to be played on a controller.

One example is Slipknotís ďBefore I Forget.Ē The song itself is fine, one I personally like aplenty, but anything not part of the chorus is depressing to play. It simply isnít music. Obviously, the parts make the whole, but GH3 is about guitar heroes, not band heroes. It may make a great song to listen to or to play in Rock Band with friends, but alone is very questionable.

A few songs fall into this category, though whatís more distressing is the huge difficulty gap between medium and hard. For anyone who managed to beat GH2 on hard and possibly half the songs on expert, that may not be enough to get through GH3 on hard mode. It is extremely difficult. Medium isnít difficult at all with the mentioned experience, making hard that much more frustration when thereís one or two songs that you just canít beat at the very end, but going through all of medium just to do it doesnít seem worthwhile.

Cooperative play returns bigger than ever, now spanning through the Ďcampaigní as well, meaning a bassist/second guitarist can accompany you on your journey towards stardom. The differences arenít huge between playing alone and with a friend, but it is certainly fun to yell at your buddy when he canít play the game on easy while you rock out on hard or expert.

On top of the cooperative play is the new guitar battle mode, where you and a friend, online or locally, can duke it out to see whoís the better player. You can play it old school style, just testing who plays better and earns more points, or actually have a battle and take the other guy out. In that mode, instead of getting star power, there are power-ups that act as your weapons against the adversary. Seven in all, each has a specific and devastating function. One doubles the number of notes, another causes the frets to play in reverse, and yet another kills one fret button until you play it enough times.

The new Gibson Les Paul, a wireless guitar (finally), makes everything better
Everyone loves Bret Michaels. Beat the game and he'll sing a song for you

Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock is the quintessential Guitar Hero game. It has everything the previous games had tweaked to peak performance, but it also carries the visuals of its PS2 brother and has a slightly weaker track list. However, the added battle mode, online play, and serious difficulty setting will do nothing but keep the hardcore fans rockiní for days to come.

Top Game Moment:
Coming back to completely obliterate a friend in a battle, hands down humiliating him.