Guitar Hero III lives up to hype, totally rocks out, man

by Brittany Coombs | 11/15/07 1:57am

Just in time for the holidays and for the alleviation of post-second-midterm-crunch-time-depression arrives the highly anticipated and universally extolled "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock." The head-bangin', whammy board-breakin', tendonitis-inducin' third installment in the popular music video game series has taken the otherwise cramped, comfortless and poorly outfitted Dartmouth residence hall by storm (along with the rest of the world, for that matter).

Featuring a monster set list sublimely comprised of songs from both yesteryear and yesterday (some are even master tracks), noticeable upgrades to once-maddening gameplay features, dozens of new unlockables, a bevy of new band customization options and super-improved (and creative) character designs, venue graphics and in-game guitar models, "Legends" lives up to a summer's worth of hype, doing the children of greasy hair and bleached jeans very, very proud.

No doubt there were many fans and developers squirming after last year's acquisition of RedOctane by Activision, which pushed day-one developers Harmonix onto side project "Rock Band" and left the folks at Neversoft newly entrusted with engineering a game so culturally important and massive in scope.

Now it's clear there was no need for anxiety.

A vast improvement upon its comparatively unfocused predecessor (and in no way reflective of the unbridled mess that was July's "Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s"), "Legends" cranks out its bread-and-butter, Gibson-Les-Paul awesomeness alongside familiar faces like Aerosmith, Guns 'N' Roses, Heart, Kiss and Rage Against the Machine while also meandering into refreshingly uncharted territory. New additions to the more contemporary set-listing includes Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers and AFI.

All the while, nothing if not imaginative augmentations such as end-of-level battles against rock legends like Slash (and the devil, apparently) and Co-op Career Mode allow for true and novel tests of not only technical proficiency, but also of teamwork, strategy and even a little luck -- a combination which may prove fun, frustrating or both for even the most dexterous of series veterans.

"I feel like the difficulty has gone up a little, which is good because there are three songs I can't beat on Expert this time around, as compared to only one in Guitar Hero I," Stephen Schiraldi '10 said. "On the other hand, I'm not a huge fan of Battle Mode. You really just have to hit the notes to survive, which undermines the point of needing numbers and percentages to pass."

While the noticeably upped ante in terms of difficulty may turn off some newcomers to the series, Guitar Hero novices should still heed the call of the controller when they see it perched, lonely on that dingy unoccupied frat sofa. A slightly renovated tutorial in conjunction with good ol' reliable Practice Mode make the game more user-friendly than it has ever been.

"You don't have to devote too much time to the game for it to be enjoyable," said Carl Hartman '11, who plays to pregame and to take study breaks. "Unlike a lot of games, it's also good in short spurts."

Michael Chin '10, a longtime devotee of the series and third-place finisher in the heavily attended springtime competition hosted by Chi Heorot fraternity last year, also noted Legend's improved elements of gameplay.

"Every song is fun in its own way, and the note charts are amazingly well done. The frets [on the guitar controller] are smoother and more comfortable for sliding, the strum bar is more responsive for fast-picking sections, the whammy bar is sturdier and the select and start buttons are placed in a better location for competitive play," he said.

So while having slipped a bit in the recent past, the Guitar Hero series with "Legends of Rock" reaffirms its status among the elite of music-beat video games and returns to the simple formula that brought it to glory: good music equals good gaming. Splash in the improvements fans have been waiting on for years, and you've got a sure-fire winner. It is impossible to have a better time mashing your fingers against colorful plastic buttons, and the experience this time around is more addictive and challenging than ever before.

"All kids at some point want to play the guitar and totally rock out," Schiraldi said. "This allows us to live out that dream."