Guitar Hero has led the way for music games into the mainstream and has shown there's more to this genre than Dance Dance Revolution and StepMania. Harmonix, previously working with RedOctane and Activision, developed Guitar Hero for the PlayStation 2 oblivious to the incredible amount of popularity the game would receive. Guitar Hero II for both the PS2 and Xbox 360 made this a sensation with even grandfathers and mothers enjoying and living the rock star fantasy in their living rooms. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has splashed onto every major console, including the PC and Mac, and even mobile phones (a DS version is still in the works) with sales strong on every major platform. But how is this latest iteration of the Guitar Hero series? Let's find out.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is a music game that places the player in a band as the lead guitarist (or rhythm guitarist or bassist in co-op multiplayer), and he or she "plays" famous (or not so famous) songs from the 70s all the way to the modern day. These tracks include AFI's "Miss Murder," Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" and The Killers's "When You Were Young." The genres range from heavy metal to pop-like, and the game offers a variety of unique characters to choose from. There are over 70 songs to play, and there will be more once (or if) Activision and Nintendo work out the DLC content that PS3 and 360 owners are able to play. Many of these tracks are master tracks as well. The quality difference between masters and covers are more noticeable than you might think.
The gameplay concept is simple and is similar to most music games. Notes fall on screen, and the player have to hit the corresponding color fret and the strum bar at the same time. There are longer notes where the player will hold down the fret button (but no need to hold down the strum bar) and also hammer-ons and pull-offs, in which the player aren't required to strum. Certain sequences, if played without error, will provide Star Power. With enough Star Power, the player can activate it for double the point value of each note and can increase the multiplier to "x8." There is a "Rock Meter," which has a range of red to green and simply shows the player's performance in a song. If the meter reads green, the player is doing well, but if the meter reads red, the player is on the verge of getting boo-ed off. Luckily for any newbie out there, this game is a lot easier than Guitar Hero II. The timing window for notes is a lot larger, and hammer-ons and pull-offs can be achieved with greater ease.
What will first intrigue newcomers is the guitar controller. Although it is possible to play with a Wii remote, that method isn't exactly how the game was originally intended to be played. This is meant to be experienced with the guitar controller, which your Wii remote nicely tucks into. You have your five fret buttons colored green, red, yellow, blue, and orange; a strum bar; and a whammy bar. The guitar that ships with the Wii (and 360 and PS3) version is based on a Les Paul and comes with a white faceplate to match the Wii remote and console. The Wii version of the guitar also offers a control stick (to navigate the Wii channels when the remote is in the guitar). The guitar, unlike the X-plorer shipped with GH2 for the PS2 and 360, is now detachable for easier storage. Simply turn a lever on the back, and the neck of the guitar pops right out.
There are several gameplay modes ranging from career to a multiplayer battle mode. The career mode has been tweaked to enhance the single player experience. In the previous titles, the player was required to play through several lists in a linear progression. Now Activision has introduced a story and a battle mode in which the player competes against well-known guitarists. The story is weak and unfulfilling, but the completion of each set list provides a quirky, slightly humorous clip. More interesting are the boss battles, in which you play a battle match (more on this later) against Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Slash of Guns N' Roses, or the villain of the story (which I won't spoil). The player will also earn cash for each song played, and this can be spent at the store for secret characters, new guitars, and videos.
In terms of multiplayer, there are 4 options: co-op career, pro-faceoff, faceoff, and battle. Co-op career allows two players to jam, one as the lead guitarist and the other as the rhythm guitarist or bassist (depending on the song). In pro-faceoff, the two players play the same song on the same difficulty in a simple match to prove the better guitarist. Face-off is a similar idea, although the players will take turns playing parts from the track since different difficulties are possible. These three modes vary little from the previous Guitar Hero offerings, but the lack of a regular co-op mode confuses many fans. Now, there is one more multiplayer option that is Neversoft's creation: the battle mode, a pro-faceoff with power-ups. Instead of star power, the players receive power-ups to hamper each other's playing. The goal is to drive the opponent's Rock Meter to red and force him or her to fail the song. These power-ups range from "Amp Overload" to "Broken String," all to force the opponent into making errors. It's a fun addition, but it is highly flawed. Don't be surprised to discover that many battle duels will end fairly quickly because a player can stock his power-ups (a maximum of three) and devastate his opponent at once.
The Wii has only a few Wi-Fi Connection titles, so Guitar Hero III is a welcome addition to the Wii's online library. Despite how much it is hated, the Friend Code system has been implemented so players will need to exchange 12-digit friend codes to rock with or against buddies online. All of the multiplayer modes (including co-op) are available online, though, so the Wii version isn't gimped. There are leaderboards and ranked matches... but my experience has been lackluster. Why? I have never, in my four months of owning Guitar Hero III, been able to connect with a stranger. Regardless of what options I set (the number of songs, the mode, the difficulty, ranked or unranked), I cannot play against anyone unless he or she is on my friend roster. I am sure others don't have this problem, but this is a factor that has personally affected my enjoyment of the game.
Guitar Hero III for the Wii gets a few extra features that none of the systems have. The first is rumble. Since the Wii guitar uses the Wii remote, the option for rumble is easily available (and Activision doesn't have to pay a cent more for manufacturing). The rumble works during Star Power usage, and is a nice although negligible addition. The Wii remote also has a speaker, and sour notes will play from the Wii remote speaker when the player makes an error. This makes it easier to distinguish the person who made an error in multiplayer matches too.
If you've played the previous Guitar Hero games before, this will only seem like more songs with an added battle mode feature. Otherwise, it's still the same gameplay and the same career mode and doesn't offer anything particularly new besides the battle mode that I rarely play. Maybe it's because I've been wowed by Rock Band that I cannot feel that Guitar Hero III offers an incredible experience. That's not to say that the game is bad; it still offers a lot, but the game is nearly identical as previous iterations.
In terms of visuals and audio, the Wii version doesn't look so hot. When compared with the PS3 and 360 versions, the Wii looks ridiculously archaic, although this is because the PS2 and Wii versions were developed separately from the other two consoles (handled by Vicarious Visions). The audience looks absolutely atrocious, but since the only thing you'll be focusing on is the HUD, the other aspects of the visuals don’t necessarily matter. One controversial error was the lack of stereo and surround sound in the Wii version of the game. This is perhaps the only flaw in an otherwise fantastic audio experience with a great soundtrack. Luckily, Activision is willingly to replace all of the flawed discs for free, and is even willing to allow a full refund of your copy (and the guitar).
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock provides a fulfilling experience for newcomers and more of the same for returning players. There are over seventy licensed tracks which means players will be able to recognize at least a few songs they enjoy from the track. Although the graphics are rather lacking, it doesn't affect the gameplay which is still fun to play (beware of the last two set lists and their near-impossible difficulty). The additions of the battle mode and online play are greatly welcomed. The major flaw of the discs, the lack of stereo and surround sound, has been corrected by Activision, a move heavily appreciated by owners of the game. The included guitar is nice and sturdy and feels less like a plastic toy. Let's just hope for some DLC content soon.