Rythem games always seemed like the odd duck out in video gaming to me. This could be because in most other video games, a great soundtrack is the least of necessities needed. Of course in the best case scenario, a great soundtrack can surround you and help draw you into the game's atmosphere. Most games regarded as classics have great soundtracks. But still, a soundtrack is the least essential thing needed to make a classic game - Lunar: Silver Star Story is a prime example of a near-perfect game which has attained exalted status without a good soundtrack. But in rythem games, the soundtrack is the MOST important thing. If a rythem game doesn't sound good, the general rule of thumb is it ain't good, period.
I haven't played a lot of rythem games, and so Guitar Hero would have eluded me completely if it weren't for that fancy controller. Guitar Hero uses a guitar-shaped controller, and to play the game you have to pluck the button where you would strum a real guitar and press five buttons located on the neck of the pseudo-guitar. You have to do it in a specific sequence which races to the bottom of your screen, timing your plucks just right as the notes in the sequence reach the bottom. That's pretty much all the gameplay involved in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, unless you count trying to navigate through the menu screens. (And the guitar controller comes equipped with a select button, a start button, and most models even sport a d-pad for that purpose.)
My mother likes to say that when she is reincarnated, she wants to come back as a rock star because rock stars can get away with anything. I share her sentiments, and Guitar Hero III is the closest contact I've ever had with rock stardom. In fact, Guitar Hero III is the closest contact I've ever had to being anything close to a great guitar player. The objective in Guitar Hero III is to be a great guitar player as you band starts, builds a following, becomes legitimately famous, and sells its soul to the devil. (Or, as he is known in this game, Lou.) The career mode has you rocking out through progressively tougher stages of rock superstardom involving real rock songs. The stages include a backyard talent contest, a video shoot, a tour, and a descent into hell where you battle Lou for your soul.
The stages give you five songs, and it's necessary to play four of them well to progress. Once you accomplish that, you play an encore, and in a few stages, you play a guitar showdown with a famous guitarist. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello is one of the bosses, Slash is another, and the final guitar battle of the game has you going one-on-one with Lou in a very clever rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" you two duke it out to be the supreme guitarist of hell! One of the unfortunate features of Guitar Hero III is that the free play mode only unlocks as you progress in career mode. If you just bought Guitar Hero III and you're hoping for a quick jam session before you embark on your journey to rock star status, you'll only have five choices.
If you invite a friend to be part of the band, you'll have the option of being either the guitarist or the bassist. In a few songs, like Aerosmith's "Same Old Song and Dance," the bassist option is changed to a rythem guitar option.
The progression of the songs is extremely well done. In the beginning, songs seem almost too easy to be true. Near the end, even the easy mode produces songs which would give hardened guitar legends fits. Songs like Metallica's "One," which sound deceptively simple on CD, prove to be very fast and difficult to keep up with. Some songs have tricky curveballs to throw at you. Santana's "Black Magic Woman" has a hard rhumba right smack in the center, Living Color's "Cult of Personality" has a short section where all the music stops briefly, and other are just plain, old-fashioned HARD. It keeps things challenging without letting them become frustrating. In most songs, you can easily fall into a steady rythem only to fall apart during the guitar solo.
The encores don't progress quite as well as the songs do in difficulty. I found the easiest song in the game was the first encore, "Rock and Roll All Nite" by Kiss. Are the encores supposed to be a boss? Because if they are, then all the bosses are very easy. It wasn't until Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy" that I really had trouble fighting through the song. The battles against the guitar heroes are challenging, but once you beat them, you join them in jams which are very easy.
The difficulty mode makes a real difference. In easy mode, you only have to work with three buttons, and the notes are slow to boot. Medium mode gives you use of four buttons, more multi-button pushes, and faster notes. Hard and harder modes make use of all five buttons, and the notes fly at you insanely fast. During songs, you'll sometimes have to press more than one button at once to hit the note right, sometimes you'll have to hold the note, and you can make use of a treble bar on the controller to change the frequency of the long notes. It increases your score. Yes, you read that right - Guitar Hero III has an old-fashioned score counter. You also gather something called star power, which really just causes your score to increase with every note and the audience to go nuts. It makes things interesting, but there are times when the notes are actually packed too close together for you to hit all of them. The sequences in general are more complex than they are in Guitar Hero II, and it's easy to find the pattern of a song only to be thrown completely off by one little note change.
The songs make the game. I actually thought Guitar Hero II had a better selection of songs, but Guitar Hero III has a better variety, which might say something about my tastes in music. You get a lot of great classic songs in Guitar Hero III, like "The Seeker" by The Who, "Paint it Black," by The Rolling Stones, and Foghat's "Slow Ride." Mixed in is more contemporary fare like Pearl Jam's "Even Flow," and work from newer bands I've never even heard of. There are unlockable songs from bands all over the world, and the most notable of them may be "Through the Fire and the Flames" by metal outfit Dragonforce, which has been called the most difficult song in the series be several reliable sources. I haven't played all the Guitar Hero games, but with well over 1000 notes, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of room for argument. The music all sounds great, and the tracks in which you do battle against the professional guitartists were all written exclusively for this game. The remake of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is a highlight for all video games. If you miss notes, they get cut out of the song in favor of a sound I can't quite describe.
Graphics are interesting. The character designs are good but not original - among the characters you can choose are a Kiss member wannabe and a Jimi Hendrix lookalike. Other than that, there's really nothing to write about. When you deploy your star power, all the notes turn greenish-blue, and the slight screen bump can really throw you off, which is frustrating if it causes you to miss a single note in an otherwise perfect performance.
Guitar Hero III is worth the extra money for the controller. It's more addicting than any drug any rock star ever got addicted to.
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