Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review: Get your shred on with "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock"

After playing "Guitar Hero II" on my Xbox 360 earlier this year, I was convinced Red Octane would do a *good* job with "Guitar Hero III," but not great. Boy, was I wrong!

"Guitar Hero III," developed by Neversoft, is published by Activision and Red Octane. It's Red Octane's first attempt at the highly successful "Guitar Hero" franchise. After Activision acquired Red Octane, they ended their relationship with "Guitar Hero's" original developers, Harmonix Music Systems. Ironically, Harmonix went on to create "Rock Band." We'll finish that review later on this week.

If you are familiar with "Guitar Hero," you know the basics. If you don't know them, here's a quick rundown - you play with a guitar-shaped controller and press buttons that correspond with the button displayed on the screen. You play several types of songs - and it's very addictive.

In "Guitar Hero III," Red Octane picks up where Harmonix stopped, and doesn't miss one beat. "GHIII" has tons of new features, including a wireless Gibson Les Paul guitar (Black for 360/PS3/PS2 versions, and White for the Nintendo Wii version) that plays like a charms, Guitar Battle Mode, where you take on "Bosses" Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave) and Slash (of Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver) for some very intense shredding. They appear throughout the game and challenge you to a duel. You can either face them or wuss out.

If you do decide to battle, you have to slam Morello and Slash with power-ups. The power-ups work exactly like Star Power, but you have to hit Battle Gems and activate them the same way you use Star Power. The power-ups cause your opponent to miss their notes. I would definitely recommend timing your attacks and storing them to hit Slash and Morello with a flurry of power-ups. If you are a victim during the battle, you can bust out of the attack with the Whammy bar.

According to Wikipedia, the attacks include:

Broken string: One fret button on the opponent's guitar will not work until it is fixed by rapidly tapping the button.
Difficulty up: The opponent will play the song on an increased difficulty for a short duration of time (except for expert difficulty).
Amp overload: The fret board will shake and cause the notes to blink, making the scrolling notes difficult to read.
Steal power: This will steal the opponent's power-up (this will be lost if used when the opponent has no power-up).
Double notes: The opponent will have to play any single note as a two-button chord, and any two-button chord as a three-button chord for a short amount of time.
Lefty/Righty flip: The fret board will be mirrored, requiring the attacked player to change his or her handedness.
Death Drain: After the players go into Sudden Death mode, the song just completed is restarted. All Battle Powers appearing on the fret board turn into unstoppable Death Drain attacks (any saved Battle Powers will carry over into the Sudden Death mode and will not be converted to Death Drain attacks. When Death Drain is unleashed upon the opponent, a figure resembling a winged Grim Reaper will appear and have a constant negative influence on his or her opponent's rock meter. Every mistake the player makes will add to their rock meter drain. When the Rock Meter reaches the bottom of the red range, the Grim Reaper image will block the player's view of the fretboard, causing the player to fail the song and lose that battle.

Another new feature is Co-Op Career mode, where gamers can team together with exclusive storyline and alternate Encore songs. If you are having problems tackling some songs, having a buddy on a second guitar (You can use the wired X-Plorer guitar from GHII as well) will make things move even faster.

"GHIII" also features over 70 new songs, with a very, very wide variety of guitar styles. At least 70 percent of the songs are master recordings from artists such as Guns N' Roses, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, Metallica and The Rolling Stones, and several other groups. The game also touts game-exclusive recordings including original compositions by Morello and Slash, and re-recordings by original members of the Sex Pistols, and even a new guitar solo for the Living Colour hit, "Cult of Personality."

As far as musical talent, you can unlock Poison frontman, Brett Michaels, as a playable character.

Got Xbox LIVE? Go online and battle other players worldwide! You can play gamers in Face-Off, Pro Face-Off and Battle modes. Don't feel like creating a match? Hop right into the fray with Quick Match to battle foes online.

Want to see who's, who among "GHIII" gamers? Check out the leaderboard to see the top rockers worldwide.

The game also has downloadable content. Just like "GHII," you can download new tracks and even a few free ones. My personal favorite? The rocked-out "Halo Theme." More on that later ...

If you are having problems with songs, definitely play the Tutorial a few times and head to the Practice mode to get songs down pat. Practice mode also allows gamers to slow tracks down as far as 60 percent. You can also play individual parts of the song, just like "GHII."

If you are ready to jam, select your difficulty level and play. For easy, you only use three fret buttons. On medium setting, there's four buttons, sometimes including the blue button and two-note bar chords. On hard, all fret buttons are used, more complex chords and sometimes, three fret buttons - at the same time.

Expert? Every note is played and you can expect a contract for a major record label after your 360 secret e-mails Universal or Sony execs within a few days.

You can also select more characters in this installment. Your character customizations increase as you advance in the game. You can also use your money from gigs to buy new clothing, guitars, instruments and even finishes in the Guitar Center visitor store.

Red Octane really cranked the graphics up a few notches and it shows. Compared to "GHII," this installment shines and the environment, background and even the characters look great. The animations are sweet and the venues are soooo vibrant. The brightness is awesome - you won't be disappointed with the graphic presentation one bit.

The sound? Sick. You can literally see yourself in front of a raging crowd, sending them into a feverish frenzy when you activate Star Power. The covers sound good - and the crowd is engaging. If you loved the fan reaction in "GHII," you'll think you are playing at a real venue. You need to have the surround sound on for this game. If you play it with the volume cranked up on your TV, it won't be enough to contain.

The soundtrack is uber sweet. With over 70 songs, you can expect to find a few you'll love jamming to.

Here's a few of the songs in "GHIII":

"Slow Ride" – Foghat
"Hit Me with Your Best Shot" – Pat Benatar
"Mississippi Queen" – Mountain (also on "Rock Band")
"Sunshine of Your Love" – Cream
"Bulls on Parade" – Rage Against the Machine (Encore played with Tom Morello)
"Paint It, Black" – The Rolling Stones (Encore)
"Paranoid" – Black Sabbath
"Anarchy in the U.K." – Sex Pistols †
"Rock You Like a Hurricane" – Scorpions
"Welcome to the Jungle" – Guns N' Roses (Encore played with Slash)
"Black Magic Woman" – Santana
"Pride and Joy" – Stevie Ray Vaughan (Encore)
"Cult of Personality" – Living Colour (Encore)

There's no denying that "GHIII" steps on stage, dazzles the crowd and performs an encore. Red Octane did an excellent job with "GHIII." I can't wait to see their next installment.

Editor's note: We will have another entry about "GHIII" shortly - an interview with the developer, plus an in-depth comparison between "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" in print as well. Stay tuned for more "GHIII" news.

Why should I care: "Guitar Hero III" is one of the most engaging, intense video games on the market. Recent sales have confirmed this fact.

The good: An excellent follow-up to the runaway smash hit, "Guitar Hero II," over 70 songs, boss battles against Slash and Tom Morello, re-record hits by the original artists, smooth and vibrant graphics, killer sound, online multiplayer modes, co-op play, ability to use older controllers (and save some cash), downloadable content and more options than you can shake a stick at.

The bad: Doesn't come with a mic and a drum set ... ha ha ...

The sick: Me shredding like my name is Hendrix on the rocked out "Halo 3 Theme"

Overall: 9.4 (out of 10): This is one of the coolest video games this holiday season. While "Guitar Hero II" rocked, some gamers had doubts that Red Octane could pull it off. Well, they not only met expectations, but exceeded them with "GHIII." And downloadable content? Greatness. Kudoes to Red Octane to not tampering with a winning formula.

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