Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Review

I won’t lie to you. I have picked up a guitar before. I have played a guitar before. For a while, I even knew how to play Lowell Mason’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” However, I had not had any more exposure to the Guitar Hero series than a few fleeting moments at a party when the original first came out. So when I was blessed by the powers that be to take this into my personal office and have at it, a tear of joy rolled down my face.

One of the greatest party games — where party is defined as a get together of more than 8 people and at least 1/3rd of them are of the opposite sex — in modern times, Guitar Hero has proven that mainstream music belongs on more than just the radio and overpriced CDs. A collection of great tunes and an actual guitar-shaped controller means that you can’t just sit on the couch and tap buttons until your thumbs explode; you have got to get up and rock the socks off!

We have been disappointed by the third parts of series before: Return of the Jedi, Matrix Revolutions, and let us not forget Spider-Man 3. Guitar Hero III: The Legends of Rock has some chips stacked against it. After Activision purchased Red Octane, Harmonix was kicked to the curb and Tony Hawk’s Neversoft was brought in. Harmonix, not to be forgotten without a fight, grabbed up its old bag of songs and set out to create GH’s nemesis: Rock Band. Are there popular enough songs out there for all these signing/rocking/karaoke-ing games? The future is here, and we can but wait its grip on our fate to unravel.

The graphics are done really well, and that doesn’t come with the qualifier: for the PS2. The graphics are quite good. While perhaps a bit on the bright side, the stages are vibrant, detailed, and clear. Maybe it’s missing a little something with the lack of smoke in the air and all that, but the game appeals to a wider audience than the average bar-hopper so it isn’t a huge loss. There is a certain artistic style that pervades throughout. It isn’t real life, but it isn’t really supposed to be.

Many of the same characters as before are still with us: Axel Steel, Casey Lynch, Izzy Sparks, Johnny Napalm, Judy Nails, Lars

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock features 71 playable songs – 46 of which are “main setlist” songs, while the remaining 25 are “bonus tracks.” In total, 51 of the game’s songs are master recordings (the highest total of any Guitar Hero release). In addition, the career mode includes three guitar battles: one each against Slash, Tom Morello, and Lou (The Devil). Slash and Morello both wrote and recorded original battle music for the game.(

Some of these tracks are a lot of fun for me: The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” takes me way back, Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” harken back to my youth. Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was one of the first concerts I ever went to, and I generally like the melodic materials Muse puts out as well as the heavy duty “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine. There is also Metallica’s “One” which proves even more that they’re sell-out dogs, but makes for a fun track to play.

However, these are all according to taste, and what I like is certainly different from many others. You can get through the early levels getting through all of like 16 songs and so it’s pretty short. If not for the bonus tracks this game wouldn’t last long for anyone with a decent amount of time on prior versions. Since the PS2 users won’t benefit from future packs of songs due to the lack of Internet access and 0.0 megabytes of hard drive space, these are all you’re going to get. The list is long, but so varied the odds are that you won’t give a damn about maybe a 1/3rd of that list. With competition from that other rock game, tracks will get trapped in bidding wars in attempts to outdo the other one. The RIAA must be licking its chops.

That so many tracks are original scores, or re-recorded by the original artist, is testament to the fact that the Guitar Hero series is deeply entrenched in both industries. The artists understand that this is a fun and exciting way to get their music out there. They should be lined up to get into the next one!  For now, we have a decent opening at-bat from Neversoft that sounds great, but the content doesn’t add up. You just can’t please all the people all the time.

The controls are the same, but the guitar that comes in the bundle pack is upgraded a bit. It feels much more sturdy from the former lightweight versions of yesteryear. The buttons are crisp and the whammy bar has some good meaty resistance to it to get that reverb going. Start and Reset are at the bottom and hidden by the whammy bar so there are no accidental pauses during gameplay. The ridge on the yellow button makes for a distinct home-key reference so I don’t spend any time looking at where my fingers are placed.

The wireless guitar has an accelerometer to gauge the motion for power up, and this is a double edge axe. (Hah, see what he did there?) On occasion, I had lost a long note by shaking the guitar which was registered as a finger change. You don’t have to be a total mummy while playing, but dancing with the guitar is somewhat limited. On more than one occasion in trying to activiate the star power I was flailing the guitar all over the place, but couldn’t get it to trigger! This was incredibly frustrating with challenged by Lou at the end of the game. Since there is no online factor, hopes of this being alleviated by patch/firmware are slim. Also, the shoulder strap feels kind of cheap. Lots of the people I know don’t really use it so this is not a major harp against the controller itself.

The actual gameplay is pretty much the same as before. The notes slide down the neck and you strum the appropriate key when they reach the bottom. There is an added feature to help those new to the game where hammer-on and pull-offs come into play. The note that can be hammered or pulled-off is brighter than the regular note. So, if the greeen note is coming down and the yellow note is riding close behind with a glow to it you can press and strum on the green key and switch to the yellow key without having to strum again. It’s nice when they come on the long notes like in Muse‘s Knights of Cydonia, but not so easy to pull off when you get the Cult of Personality by In Living Colour encore! Once you do get it, there’s a tremendious feeling of accomplishment. I shall make no comment towards Slayer‘s Raining Blood. A: Everyone else has already done their complaining, and B: I can’t do the dang song!

The new game-mode is the battle mode. This is for two players to go head-to-head. The song plays and you do your thing and as you pull off key star-power combinations you get a power up. With a quick jerk of the guitar your opponent is beset with: a broken string, broken whammy bar, amp overload — which makes things blink and twitch making it harder to get the proper notes, difficulty up — which has no effect if the opponent is playing expert level, and, my favorite, the string flip — where the strings on the neck are reversed forcing you to play by color and not position (i.e. green moves from the 1-string, to the 5-string). If your challenger is not booed off the stage in the first pass there is a sudden death mode. Now all these power ups become death powers. The large “death bar” comes down the neck of your guitar both obscuring the notes and shaking to distract you. As your opponent pulls off more tricks to get death powers the dancing bar moves faster to the bottom where it will finally force your submission. There are some wicked combos if you save these up too (maximum is 3), but you can get a power stealer to swipe one from the other’s pool at random to use against them. I found it to be a lot of fun as long as both musicians are evenly matched.

The challenges that come in from Tom Morella, Slash, and Lou are another new twist. My first battle with Tom was close since I wasn’t familiar with the track being laid before me. We went on to the sudden death stage. It started off fine as Tom played his set, and I waited for my notes to appear. I played and we went back and forth a couple times. Then he hit me with a death power while I was waiting for my set! I died without a simple chance to compete. Well I learned to not let the battle get to sudden death from there.

Really, the game isn’t all that hard to beat. However, it is quite another thing to master, and that adds value. Sure you can do the level, but can you get 5-stars on every song? Save up that cash you earn for your gigs and get a long list of guitars, bonus tracks, alternate characters, and outfits. You can keep playing this for a long time all by yourself. Add to that the party modes and battles and you never let this disc get dusty (until maybe version 4 or 5 comes out).

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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