Platform: PlayStation 2
Review Date: 2/9/09
The "Guitar Hero" franchise finally hits the mainstream with "Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock." A change in ownership and direction led to a bigger budget and the ability to license songs from the original artists. This is probably the single most important step in the evolution of the series, as now you can listen to and play along with real thing. While the gameplay is identical to previous versions, the perceived difference in the experience is staggering. The game gets a complete visual overhaul, with brand new menus, venues, and character models, and easier play for entry level players. Most of the characters from GH2 return, including sexed-up versions of Judy Nails and Casey Lynch. Goth rocker Pandora has been replaced with the much cuter and more girl friendly J-pop artist, Midori. Each character has two costumes and a variety of styles to apply to each, which adds more visual variety to the players. The game also includes animated cutscenes to string together the tale of your band's rise to fame, which culminates in a guitar showdown with Satan himself. Reportedly, Charlie Daniels expressed extreme displeasure with the use of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" in the climax of the game, even though it's ultimately a story of good triumphing over evil.
However, all of this extra goodness comes with the cost of longer load and save times, which can be very aggravating after playing GH2. The tutorials in GH3 are also quite annoying and super cheezy as opposed to the straight forward lessons in GH2. But the worst new addition to the game is the inclusion of boss battles, which happen at several points during your band's career. They add an unnecessary competitive aspect to the game, and you cannot progress any further without defeating them. The first time I faced Tom Morello in "easy" mode, it took me over an hour to beat him. It was infuriating and sucked all the fun out of the game, which I had been thoroughly enjoying until then. (not to mention his battle song is extremely irritating to listen to) A later battle against Slash is more palatable, but still frustrating.
Musicians and record companies finally started taking notice of the game and for better or worse began to use it as a marketing tool. Whereas the bonus songs in GH2 were from remarkably obscure sources, GH3 actually features bonus songs from bands you may have actually heard of! (Bret Michaels and Killswitch Engage immediately come to mind) GH3 definitely represents the definitive "Guitar Hero" experience, but much like an overexposed band that grew up too fast, its massive success and popularity can only lead to the destruction and "selling out" of the franchise.