Harmonix is no longer affiliated with the Guitar Hero franchise as they are off to do their own new musical game. The guys at Neversoft have taken over though so the series is in good hands. Does Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock live up to the previous two?
The basic premise of the game remains the same so I won't go too much into how the games' played. Guitar Hero III is a musical rhythm game whereby notes fly down on a line. You have to use a guitar peripheral to match the notes when they hit the timeline and strum when it reaches to that point. The guitar also features a whammy bar which changes the pitch on long notes. You'll see notes in groups of two and three along with the single notes that come at you. The more notes you play in succession, the higher your multiplier is for your score. Some notes will be shaped in a form of a star. Successful completion of the group of notes shaped this way will add to your Star power. Once you build up enough Star Power, you can unleash it by tilting your guitar up and doubling your current multiplier. Really, if you don't know how Guitar Hero's played by now you've probably been in a cave for the past few years. Let's move to what's different for the series.
For the career mode, you'll see little vignettes between sets that are in the cartoon style of the Gorillaz. It tells a story without any spoken words on the life of your band and why you are playing a certain venue. If you play in co-op mode, you'll see different vignettes as well. It's a little better than just seeing a van roll to the next venue and they are a little fun to watch between sessions.
Gameplay has been tweaked a bit here and there. There seems to be more emphasis on hammer-ons and pull-offs in this version and the spacing for these to happen can now vary from notes close together to changing from one long note to another. The game seems to be more forgiving with when you strum the bar as well along with being more forgiving for pulling hammer-ons and pull-offs. I wasn't as good on Guitar Hero II with the two maneuvers but I found myself hitting a higher percentage of them in the third game when the guitar worked. Now there's a problem though with missed notes and strumming that I'll talk about when discussing the guitar but I hope it's an issue with the software rather than the hardware so a patch can be released to fix it.
A nice feature of Guitar Hero III is that when you start hitting large note streaks, it will flash up a message letting you know. You'll also see a running count of notes you hit in a row so you can gauge how well you are doing. Sometimes it does seem to add a little pressure though when you see 200 note streak pop up and rather than being kept in the dark.
A major addition to Guitar Hero III is online play. For online play the PlayStation 3 seems to be broken for me. I never got any successful connections even with people having four green bars. I did a few message board scans and people are having problems with online play which is unfortunate. I'm sure they are working on the fix but it's been two weeks and still no go from my end. I'd like to have tried one song but I was never able to successfully connect to anyone playing online.
Battle mode is the new competitive mode offered in Guitar Hero III. In this mode, you try to knock the other player out by making him fail the song through missing notes. To increase the difficulty, you will be able to pick up power ups to shoot over to your opponent. You can string up to three different types of power ups to really mess them up. Left flip will mirror the fret board so notes appear on the opposite side you are used to. Double notes will increase a one note area to two, and two to three. Similarly, there's a power up to increase your opponent's difficulty. Another power up makes it so you can't play any notes until you shake your whammy bar enough. You can mess with the opponents fret board with one power up that causes it to blink and shake. There's also one that disables a fret note which you can get back by pressing it repeatedly. Not only can you unleash power ups but you can steal them as well. To really put a hurting on your opponent, send a combination of difficulty increase, double notes, and left flip to see them struggle immensely. If though both of you survive until the end of the song, the game goes into Sudden Death where power ups let you drain your opponents power bar and the first to lose all their power fails. I admit, the first time I saw Battle mode I thought it was really busy and didn't seem to fit in with the game. After playing through it with a few friends I think it's OK but we always went to Sudden Death unless we were playing Expert. Rare were the times we actually knocked someone out within the song. I think the feature's interesting and it's almost there but there needs to be a little tweaking here and there to make it fully enjoyable. It's a nice little addition though that I'm sure will be fine tuned more and more as each successive game in the series is released.
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