Until recently, I had no interest in Guitar Hero. Oh sure, I heard the hullabaloo, and former writer Ron Ayers even interviewed some of those who worked on Guitar Hero 2, but I had already had my share of looking foolish with music peripherals. I had already danced around on oversized pads, banged drums, shaken maracas, and spun on a mini turntable. No, I was content to ignore the world of thrashing, leaving the giant plastic guitar for others to pick up embarrass themselves with. That is until I heard Foghat’s “Slow Ride” in the beginning of Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock. That’s a hell of a song to start off with.
The animated intro that had guitars, lightning, and wailing should have been enough, but it wasn’t. It was Foghat that let me know that I had gotten myself into something rad.
I felt the need to check out the tutorial, because, aside from this being my first time attempting to become the hero of the guitar, the manual’s heft didn’t indicate much in the way of help. For newcomers, there are plenty of aids to help get you on your feet. Aside from the tutorial and four difficulty levels, there is a practice mode that allows for the songs to be played in one of four speeds and in separate pieces.
The game is simple enough: there are five fret buttons on the neck – green, red, yellow, blue, and orange – that are used in conjunction with a whammy bar and a strum bar. As a song plays, notes of various colors fall down a guitar neck – singularly, in chords, or in long notes - and completing the note requires the corresponding fret button to be held down and the strum bar moved up or down to finish. If a red note lands on the end of the guitar while the red fret button is held down and the strum bar is used, then a little flicker is shown and the note is played. Hitting the strum bar with the incorrect fret button held down, or with no fret button held down, results in a twang, indicating a missed note. Simple enough.
Deciding I had the basics, I went ahead to start my career to stardom. I picked the Easy setting, then sifted through the selectable characters of the Lita Ford and Robbin Crosby clones, the generic rockers, and so on, until I decided on the Jimi Hendrix clone. There are additional characters to be unlocked or purchased, including the bosses Slash and Tom Morello, and outfits (which I would like to say weren’t worthwhile, but I purchased a space captain one for faux Hendrix that was pretty cool), but I wasn’t worried about that then. I was more concerned about getting ready for the first performance.
The levels are broken up by venues, with three out of four songs on the set list needing to be completed before being able to continue on. Giving me Poison and Pat Benatar right off the bat set things off just right. The concept is simple, but as strings come down, patterns emerge, notes are connected, points begin to multiply, the crowds begin to get rowdy, and my character’s star power increased, resulting in even higher multipliers. All while I’m trying desperately to not screw up, the screen is flashing with people jumping up and down, the lead singer screaming, and Jimi levitating. It actually made me a little nauseous a few times.
The better the band becomes, the further along the story progresses and eventually a boss emerges. Boss battles are fought by tilting the guitar up on certain notes that contain power-ups and then tilting the guitar again to enact them, with both parties wailing away to trip the other up. Like in regular concerts, the player that gets the crowd angry gets booed off the stage. Tom Morello and Slash both come out to test your mettle, and each brings about two goodies when defeated: selectable for purchase from the store and encores that they play with you and you keep when done, “Bulls on Parade” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” “Bulls on Parade” actually had the aptly named Waah Riffs removed; I don’t know if I was doing something wrong or what, but each time they were to kick in the sound would drop out. I also had the sound dropout of some other songs as well.
Those aren’t the only encores, though. After a solid, five-star set, the crowd demands an encore. Any would-be rocker worth their weight in Aqua Net knows that it’s time to (insert joke about turning something up to 11). At one point, with guitar strapped onto me, I turned to someone and remarked, “Remember ‘Cult of Personality’? By that Something Colour Band? Oh! Living Colour! Man, that song is awesome!” and literally two minutes later I get called out for an encore to play “Cult of Personality” – and not just so, but an updated version with a new solo by Vernon Reid. And that’s really key to the game: it seems to know what you want before you know you want it. Well, most of the time.
One of my few complaints with the game is that the purchasable songs are, by and large, forgettable. I know some people might roll their eyes at “One” by Metallica or “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones for being too known, but those are the ones that are so much fun to play. I know how those songs are supposed to sound and, dammit, I want to rock them. I really don’t care about the In Flames or, and especially, Disturbed. Then again, Lacuna Coil is all right by me. Some other favorites include “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins, “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse, and “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain. Well, Mountain isn’t really playing; a studio band covered the song. A very good studio band, but a studio band nonetheless.
There are a handful of songs that aren’t the master recordings or re-recordings especially for the game (“Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols is one of the latter). The covers are actually pretty good all around, and I’ll go ahead and provide a list for those interested. Those who aren’t please skip to the next paragraph: “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper), “Paranoid” (Black Sabbath), “Cities on Flame” (Blue Oyster Cult), “Devil Went Down to Georgia” (Charlie Daniels Band), “Sunshine of Your Love” (Cream), “Holiday in Cambodia” (Dead Kennedys), “Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson), “Slowride” (Foghat), “Barracuda” (Heart), “Rock N Roll All Nite” (KISS), “Mississippi Queen” (Mountain), “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (Pat Benetar), “Talk Dirty To Me” (Poison), “Black Magic Woman” (Santana), “Story of My Life” (Social Distortion), “Pride and Joy” (Stevie Ray Vaughn), “She Bands a Drum” (Stone Roses), “Rock You Like a Hurricane” (The Scorpions), “The Seeker” (The Who), “Black Sunshine” (White Zombie), and “La Grande” (ZZ Top).
There is also a healthy multiplayer component the features online play for the Wii and two-player for the PlayStation 2. It’s possible to not only battle friends, but to also go through career mode together, sharing unlocked songs. For those not feeling cooperative, there are three versus modes: face-off, pro face-off, and battle. These have pieces being played separately, together, and songs with power-ups like boss battles. Multiplayer is actually good fun and quite a bit healthier than I had imagined.
Lastly, the newest addition to many a households is yet another plastic guitar. The wireless guitars – Les Paul for the Wii and a Gibson for the PS2 - are good units, if you can get one that has a solid neck clamp. You see, the guitar comes in two pieces: the neck and the base. The neck slides into the base, locking into place. There have been problems, myself included, where the neck doesn’t work quite right. In my case, on the Gibson Kramer (PS2), the fret buttons didn’t behave properly. After receiving a new unit, I can say that it’s a fantastic piece of equipment with good wireless performance. The Wii version has a guitar color coordinated for the remote and a slot for the remote to go in, which adds a few features, like missed note pings coming from the remote’s speaker, enhanced wireless performance, and rumble. The Wii remote additions are subtle but still nice.
Oh, and one complaint from a female player: new female character models, please. Apparently not everyone enjoys looking like a skank. Weird.
Overall: 9/10Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock delivers on all that I had heard about the series. Longtime fans might find the series old hat by now, but there is a whole lot to like to newcomers like myself. The track selection is largely fantastic and the system addictive. There isn’t a whole lot left coming out for the PlayStation 2, which makes the fact that Legends of Rock is great even better. For Wii players, it’s a great addition and its guitar will no doubt find future use in subsequent releases.