Review: I see a red door and I want to paint it black...
When Activision announced that Neversoft would be taking over the developmental reins for Guitar Hero III from Harmonix, gamers everywhere feared the worst. I'll never understand why as, regardless of whatever Neversoft is working on (be it Spider-Man, Tony Hawk or Gun), they always put out a good product. And that's exactly what the Guitar Hero franchise has become now, a product. Harmonix perfected the formula and Neversoft has ably taken the baton and run with it by producing a spectacular new version of Guitar Hero.
For those that have never known the joys of rocking out to a Guitar Hero game, the premise is actually very simple. Five colored buttons on the neck of the guitar are the frets and the switch-like button near the bottom is the strum bar. In the game, colored notes will come down the screen and once they reach the bottom players have to hold down the appropriate fret button and then play the note with the strum button. That's it, that's all there is to it.
Neversoft (actually, the PS2 version was further farmed out to Budcat Creations) was able to recreate the Guitar Hero formula perfectly and, with the help of the Legends of Rock subtitle, they have added a ton of great music to the Guitar Hero canon. A greater portion of the songs are also done by the original artists as opposed to the mainly cover versions found in GH and GH2. Songs from The Rolling Stones ("Paint It Black"), The Smashing Pumpkins ("Cherub Rock"), The Beastie Boys ("Sabotage") and Guns 'n Roses ("Welcome to the Jungle") are just some of the great new tunes in Guitar Hero III. This is no doubt because of the series' new competition in the form of Rock Band. And if these two games have to constantly up the ante with great songs and new features, we will all be the winners.
In addition to lots of great new songs, Neversoft has added a few new wrinkles to the Guitar Hero formula: Guitar Battles. At three points in the game, players will be expected to square off against another guitarist in a head-to-head battle that's set up a bit like the versus mode in puzzle games. Each side will play a string of notes and successfully playing certain notes will earn the player Battle Moves. Battle Moves can disable the fret buttons, add more notes, up the difficulty level and various other things. The first person to lose all of their Rock Power by missing a lot of notes loses. It's a great idea in theory, but the Guitar Battles are actually pretty lame. It's cool seeing Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machines and Slash of Guns 'n Roses and Velvet Revolver on screen, but the Guitar Battles are dumb. Each one is decided by who gathers up the most Battle Moves first. There's no skill to it at all and the game would not have suffered if it were left on the cutting room floor.
Another new wrinkle added to Guitar Hero III is the inclusion of a Co-op Career mode. It's a very cool idea, but it comes at a price: Co-op Quickplay is no longer an option. If that weren't enough, playing through the game in Co-op Career is required to unlock some songs. So if you don't have ready access to a friend who's willing to put several hours into Guitar Hero, many of the songs will forever remain locked up. And that's just wrong.
Neversoft also changed the game's look a bit as it is slightly more cartoonish in Guitar Hero III. And speaking of cartoons, snippets of an animated storyline depicting the Behind the Music-like career of the band shows up between each tier of songs. It's not a big addition, but it's a fun little sideshow the first time through the Career mode. The look of the Rock Meter and score counter has also been slightly changed for Guitar Hero III and personally I think the one used in Guitar Hero II was easier to read. It's not a deal breaker, and it's really just my preference, but it bugs me.