It’s hard to put out a product that’s just more of the same when you’ve recently acquired the rights to a hit franchise and the original developer is off making what should have been the next logical step in the franchise. That’s not to say that Guitar Hero III doesn’t change things up and feel like its own game – because it does. The interface is updated, the graphics have been overhauled, and the difference in note charts between Harmonix and Neversoft is astounding.
At its core Guitar Hero III is the same game that Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II were before it. You’ve got a plastic guitar and a note chart that scrolls across the screen. Hold down a fret and strum as the note passes the line to play it properly. The feel, however, is different between prior versions and the newest iteration. Note charts feel less like fun and more like work this time around, sections of songs that should be full of hammer-ons and pull-offs are full of individually strummed notes, and hammer-ons and pull-offs about in sections where they feel unneccessary and inappropriate.
When Activision bought the Guitar Hero franchise they didn’t get the Guitar Hero engine. Their replica is passable, but the whole thing just feels off – almost like Guitar Hero merged with the Tony Hawk series in terms of art style. Judy Nails’ new look, in particular, is off-putting. She used to be a cute little rocker with skull barettes; now she’s some sort of harlot relying on her physical assets instead of her musical talent. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are markedly easier now as well. While I appreciate the help (never was any good at pull-offs) Neversoft went a bit too far; it’s not satisfying to earn five stars on a song when you know that you didn’t perform several of the pull-offs correctly but were given credit for them anyway. Guitar Hero has always counted notes and reported the highest streak at the end of the performance. Now, progress is reported to the player at 50 notes, 100 notes, and every 100 note interval thereafter. The counter beneath the multiplier is enough; everything else is just distracting.
Also added to the Guitar Hero experience are boss battles and combative multiplayer. Previously, versus play was a contest of skill. Now versus play is a toss-up depending on which player receives the more powerful battle power-up (broken whammy bar, snapped string, lefty flip, double notes, amp overload, and difficulty up) first. Double notes, lefty flip, and difficulty up and particularly damaging while broken whammy bar, amp overload, and snapped string are easy to fix or deal with. Boss battles are played out in this new versus mode. When I’m competing with somebody I don’t consider it a victory when my opponent fails; I consider it a victory when I perform better in a skill-based competition. That isn’t what this is; the computer will never miss a note unless you hit it with a battle power-up. You haven’t beaten Slash; you’ve gotten lucky and hit him with lefty flip, amp overload, and difficulty up forcing him to fail the song instead of proving that you’re the better musician. There is some strategy involved in determining when to deploy battle power-ups, but the emphasis on failure leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The set list is varied and appropriate for the game, featuring favorites like A