Grab the wireless Les Paul controller, crank up the audio and rock the pants off imaginary groupies with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. This feature-packed sequel contains everything needed to turn into a mock rock superstar, thanks to a sweet guitar peripheral and a soundtrack with 40 songs that spans four decades. Take your act "on the road" in a new online mode—a Guitar Hero first—where you test your skills against others around the globe. A few issues, however, will keep this otherwise solid game from going triple-platinum.
Like previous Guitar Hero games, channel your inner rocker to an eclectic mix of songs. Jam to Santana's Black Magic Woman, Rage Against the Machine's Bulls on Parade, Pearl Jam's Even Flow and others. Use a plastic and wireless Les Paul look-a-like, hitting the multicolored fret buttons in conjunction to the similar colored notes flowing down a fret-board onscreen. Meanwhile, your chosen rocker performs in front of a captive and rowdy audience. Sparks fly from fingers, police fire tear gas into the crowd and a mechanic knight chops off a robot dragon's head. It's an insane, over-the-top experience.
Guitar Hero veterans will recognize the usual assortment of modes. Career mode lets you unlock all of the songs as you travel to a host of bizarre venues. As you play, you'll earn money that can be used to buy new guitars, characters, outfits, videos and songs from the game's Store. It's fun, but new boss battles, challenges where you must defeat a famous rocker (Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello or Guns 'N' Roses' Slash) by attacking them with power ups that temporarily break strings (making it impossible to play a certain color note), swap the colors of the notes or make them blink take away from the whole "I wanna rock" experience. We appreciate the effort to add something new, but battling "bosses" ultimately makes this more like a traditional video game than a cool guitar simulator that lets you enjoy playing and listening to music.
Other modes include Career Co-op, where you complete all the songs with a friend. There's also a training mode for you to hone your skills, as well as Quick Play, which lets you select any of the previously unlocked songs.
Online play, however, enhances the package, allowing you to leave the confines of your living room and challenge the world. Post high scores to online leader boards for bragging rights or compete against other players in real time, play songs co-operatively or test their skills in the Battle mode. In addition, the promise of downloadable content, such as new song packs, should keep this game inside your system for a while. At the time of review, we couldn't test the online portion extensively, but we played the online at a recent Activision event, and it ran smoothly. We'll report back later this week if that's still not the case.
As for the guitar, Red Octane constructed a sturdy controller with heavier plastic and built-in wireless. The neck detaches from the base for easier transport, and you can also swap faceplates, which opens the door for almost limitless customization. It's a big improvement over the previous controllers, even though it still looks like a toy when compared to Rock Bands more realistic guitar controller. The Wii version is by far the most intriguing, since you insert the Wii remote into the device and utilize its motion sensing abilities to activate star power by physically tilting the device. Whenever you miss a note, you'll hear it through the Wii remote's speaker, which makes it seem like you actually screwed up on the guitar, instead of hearing the noise through the TV.
The soundtrack consists of 71 tracks in all—46 on the main set list and 25 bonus songs. This is probably one of the most diverse soundtracks to date; the more guitar-driven songs of the '70s have been updated with tracks from Sonic Youth, Sum 41 and Metallica. While playing through the songs—one question stayed at the forefront of our minds – what's up with the white boy soundtrack? We would have liked to see more from legends like Jimi Hendrix and Prince in the mix.
Despite these missteps, Guitar Hero III still warrants your hard-earned cash. It is, after all, a Guitar Hero game, and that alone makes it worth playing. The game works with the Guitar Hero II controller, but we recommend spending the $100 (or $90 for the Wii version) to buy both the game and the new guitar. The new Les Paul can deliver that visceral rock 'n' roll experience better than the other GH controllers. Just make sure you don't break any bones while performing knee-sliding solos on the living room floor.