Guitar Hero is an award-winning music game based on the concept of being a rock star — a "guitar hero," if you will. While colored notes scroll down from the top of the screen toward the bottom, you have to press the corresponding buttons on your guitar controller with one hand while strumming the bar, which represents the guitar strings, with the other hand. Doing this properly racks up points and ensures that the song sounds the way it's supposed to. Doing this incorrectly? Well, that makes you a "guitar zero." You can select a difficulty level ranging from easy to expert, so new players can take some time to get acquainted with the control scheme, while fans can jump right in.
Guitar Hero III, the third entry in the series, boasts a larger track list and a few new gameplay elements. The music is one of the most important features, if not the most important, of the game, and Guitar Hero III doesn't disappoint. Over 40 tracks, many of them originals, are in full effect, giving you and your buddies even more options for fun. From good old songs like "Mississippi Queen" from Mountain to newer tunes, like "One" from Metallica, most of the track list is well done. Without a doubt, "Through the Fire and Flames" by Dragonforce was the game's most enjoyable and difficult song. Sex Pistols fans will be thrilled to find that the band went back and re-recorded "Anarchy in the UK" just for this title. Some bands failed to come together and re-record the song exclusively for Guitar Hero III, but don't fret! Some cover songs are also present, and while they aren't performed by the original artists, they still sound great.
Playing a song in normal mode on Guitar Hero is quite simple. You have a meter that tracks how much your fans are enjoying the performance; it starts off in the middle yellow zone, and as you mess up, the meter goes down into the red area. If it bottoms out, you fail the song and must start over. As you hit notes correctly, however, your meter goes up all the way into the green zone, which simply means you rock, man! Rocking out and hitting the correct notes consecutively will build up your streak multiplier, which increases the points you get for hitting each note, up to 4x.
During each song, there are certain notes that are encompassed by a blue star, and correctly strumming the guitar and the respective notes will build up your star power meter. Once your star power meter is full, you may tilt the guitar to activate your star power. Enabling your star power will double the points you get for each note, including any current multiplier you may have. For example, with no active multiplier, you'd get 2x the points per note, and with a 3x multiplier, you'd get 6x points per note.
Guitar Hero III provides an improved version of career mode for those who prefer to go solo. It's pretty difficult to create a unique and innovative storyline for the title, but Neversoft goes pretty far with it. From performing at a backyard bash to performing in Hell for the devil himself, Guitar Hero III's single-player career goes through the ups and downs of being a rock star. As in other Guitar Hero games, you play through a set of songs that will unlock the next set of harder, and often more exciting, tunes.
After every couple of sets, you'll encounter a boss fight against a rock legend in order to proceed; the ultimate goal of battle mode is to cause your opponent to fail the song so that you may emerge victorious. Rather than going head-to-head on a song and letting the crowd judge your performance, you take part in a battle. While you still have to keep your fan meter above the failing point, your goal is not to build up a big score or hit star power notes along the way, since both of these features have been removed from battle mode.
Replacing star power notes, however, are battle notes, which are represented by a spiked note graphic. Successfully playing an entire streak of battle notes will give you a power-up to use against your enemy. The power-up is utilized in the same way as star power is activated in normal matches: tilting the guitar. Using these, however, do not make your life easier — they make your enemy's life harder by breaking guitar strings, busting the whammy bar, increasing the difficulty level of the song or just doubling up the number of notes that need to be hit. Possible resolutions to these acts of guitar terror are to simply wait them out, slam on the string until it works again or wham on the whammy bar until it responds. It's quite difficult to continue pumping out the correct notes with these power-ups in place.
Guitar Hero III gets a much-needed graphical touch-up. Guitar Hero II was originally created for the PS2, so the visuals in the 360 rendition were understandably less robust than expected. While Guitar Hero III won't win any breakthrough graphics awards, it does improve on both the guitar-playing interface and your rock star performance.
Of course, multiplayer is a huge part of the Guitar Hero experience. While you could cooperatively play individual songs in Guitar Hero II, this iteration features a cooperative multiplayer mode, which lets two players roll through the game at differing difficulty levels and work through the song sets to achieve the status of Guitar Heroes. A rather annoying part of co-op, however, is that the difficulty level on which you and your friend start is the difficulty level on which you must stay. You do have the option to go back and completely change your difficulty levels, but any progress you've made on your previous difficulty level goes away. What does this mean exactly? If you and a friend are tearing it up on the hard difficulty level through the sixth set of songs, and after several attempts, you realize that medium is a more suitable difficulty for you, you must go back and play the first five sets of songs on medium before getting back to where you were.
Battle mode introduces a new and fun way to take on your friends, which cause hilarity and anger in multiplayer action. It's fun to unleash a chain of three power-ups on a buddy and watch as his fan meter quickly drops into the red. You can now challenge people to rock out online using Xbox Live, either competing in normal face-off matches, battle matches or even kicking off a co-op career. The online service seems rather shaky right now, though. I was easily able to invite a friend to join me in a game, but nearly every time I tried to get a random match-up with someone online, it simply failed. Out of 20 attempts, only about one-fourth of them succeeded in placing me in a match, and about half of those attempts disconnected partway through the song.
Progressing through the career mode — either single-player or multiplayer — will earn you cash to buy items from the store; items range from new characters and songs to new outfits and guitars. Guitar Hero III offers quite a selection of new content to buy, but as in the previous games, I often found myself not really caring to earn a lot of cash to buy anything new, but rather trying to beat my high score on each song.
Without a doubt, Guitar Hero III is an obvious step forward in the Guitar Hero franchise. On one hand, it's Guitar Hero. Messing it up would've been sacrilege, and Activision did a pretty good job of not doing that. It's just as fun as it ever was, and the song selection is pretty great. On the other hand, they could have done a little more. Revolutionary new steps forward weren't exactly expected, but Guitar Hero III feels a little too much like more of the same. The formula is starting to feel a little stale, though the cinematics help make the career mode a little more fun. Perhaps in the future, there may be the possibility for a more in-depth career mode. Guitar Hero III is definitely a must-buy for any Guitar Hero fan, and it should be looked into by anyone who's looking for a great new PS2, Xbox 360, PS3 or Nintendo Wii game.
David Brothers also contributed to this review.
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