Guitar Hero III delivers the rock to PC owners, but it does it with the performance capability of a second-rate bar band.
- The best tracklist of any Guitar Hero game to date
- Lots of master tracks from the original bands and artists
- Higher difficulty level ensures experienced players won't get bored quickly.
- Higher difficulty level ensures most people's arms will fall off halfway through the expert career
- Battle mode and boss battles aren't interesting additions
- A heavy dose of in-game advertising
- Sluggish performance, even on systems that surpass the minimum system requirements
- Online play has some connection issues.
Guitar Hero III marks the debut of Activision and RedOctane's wildly popular rock-and-roll rhythm game on the PC, and in most ways, it's a solid one. This is a direct port of the Xbox 360 version of the game, complete with an included wired X-plorer model Xbox 360 controller. The core gameplay remains lots of fun, and the track list is long and varied, offering quite possibly the best setlist of any game in the series to date. If there are any chinks in the armor of this sequel, it's that some of the newer mode additions and a few odd design decisions do more to get in the way of the fun than anything else, and the extreme difficulty of some of the game's more severe songs might end up turning off newer players. And PC owners will have their own unique quirks to deal with, such as puzzlingly high system requirements, sluggish performance, and an online mode that's rather finicky about whether it wants to work or not.
We won't spend a great deal of time trying to educate you on the ways of Guitar Hero. The quick-and-dirty explanation is that you have a guitar controller with five fret buttons and a strummer. Notes appear on the screen, you hit the matching buttons, and rock is made. PC owners can also play with the keyboard if that somehow tickles their fancy, but that's not much fun.
In Guitar Hero III, you'll be making the rock with one of the best soundtracks to be found in any rhythm game. The soundtrack spans multiple eras and genres. Classic rock is represented with songs such as Santana's "Black Magic Woman," the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," and ZZ Top's "La Grange." Alternative rock from the '90s is present in a big way with tracks such as Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock," Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Suck My Kiss," and Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" on hand. Classic punk fans will dig being able to play the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia," Social Distortion's "Story of My Life," and the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK." Modern rock hits such as Bloc Party's "Helicopter," The Killers' "When You Were Young," and Queens of the Stone Age's "3's and 7's" are also available. And for all the metalheads, you get major classics such as Slayer's "Raining Blood," Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast," and Metallica's "One." It's an all-around fantastic list with only a few blemishes here and there.
Well over half of the songs in Guitar Hero III are the original songs by the artists, as opposed to covers created for the purposes of the game. A couple of bands, including the Sex Pistols and early-'90s funk-metal outfit Living Colour, actually went into the studio and rerecorded their songs for the game, which is pretty cool. The one downside to having so many master tracks in this game is that it does make the songs that are still covers stick out all the more. It doesn't help that the general quality of the covers has also been downgraded a good bit since the last sequel. The woman covering Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" doesn't really sound anything like the '80s songstress; the version of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" in the game features a uniformly unimpressive Ozzy Osbourne impersonator; and the entire cover of "Holiday in Cambodia" has been pretty badly butchered with some weird structuring changes, badly edited lyrics, and a guy who sounds more like someone trying to parody Jello Biafra than anyone remotely authentic. Of course, the guitar parts in these covers don't suffer much and in fact do a fine job of emulating the real-life songs. It's just the surrounding pieces that rob the tracks of authenticity.
Also of note is the high level of difficulty. The easy and medium difficulties are as good a starting point as they've ever been (though even they are a smidge more difficult than in previous installments), but the curve definitely takes a steep incline when you bump up to hard and expert. The jump in expertise required for each setting is far greater than ever before, and at times it comes across as just too much. As awesome as songs like "One" and "Raining Blood" are, they're so intense that it's unlikely that anyone who didn't get all the way through expert in Guitar Hero II will have a blessed clue what to do with these songs. And then there's that pesky song from extreme power metal group DragonForce, "Through the Fire and Flames." It sounds a little bit like a Dungeons & Dragons dork singing over a tape of the Contra soundtrack that's been thrown in a blender and set to "liquefy," and it is so excruciatingly, arthritis-inflictingly difficult that you'll be thanking your lucky stars it's a bonus song and not something you're required to complete to advance.
Regardless, there are enough songs that do require completion that aren't terribly far behind in difficulty level that it might just be enough to scare some people off from finishing expert altogether. There's an old adage along the lines of, "You win more friends with accessible fun than you do by breaking people's fingers with a fake guitar." Or something like that. Whatever. The point is that Guitar Hero III feels decidedly geared toward the hardcore Guitar Hero fan, and less toward the newcomer.
One thing about the PC version of Guitar Hero III that makes it potentially more difficult than its console brethren is the generally slothful performance the game can turn in. The steep minimum system requirements include a 2.8 GHz dual-core processor, a gig of RAM (2 gigs if you're running Vista), and either a Radeon X800 or Geforce 7600 video card to run. On the two systems we tested, which both exceeded these statistics, we still ran into some general sluggishness with the game. The 360 and PS3 versions of Guitar Hero III had some notable frame rate issues, but nothing quite like this. Notes will sometimes seem to be behind the music, and it's not uncommon to see notes just skip on down the fretboard to catch back up. For a rhythm game this is a killer, since precise timing is needed for success. The Vista machine we tested on displayed issues like this only on a very infrequent basis, and with a bit of lag calibration, it mostly ran quite well. However, the XP machine we used (which included a Pentium D 3.40 GHz dual-core processor, a gig of RAM, and a Geforce 7800 GTX video card) became practically unplayable in spots, even with all the graphical effects turned to low and the crowd graphics turned off. If your machine can run it fine, the game plays great, but if you run into these issues, you're going to end up frustrated.
Painful difficulty and performance problems aside, the game is still lots and lots of fun when it works correctly. The core gameplay hasn't been altered much from previous installments, save for a few minor adjustments here and there. Hammer-ons and pull-offs, the techniques used to hit crazy streaks of tightly packed single notes, are now easier than ever before (possibly to offset some of the extreme extremeness of the harder songs), and the notes that can be hammered on or pulled off now glow brightly to signify as such. While playing, you'll notice that the game also keeps track of your note streaks both with a counter and with periodic exclamatory text messages on the screen that notify you when you've hit certain streak milestones. There are also some changes to the way your star-power meter is displayed, as well as your score tracker, though these are mostly just aesthetic changes.
You progress through Guitar Hero III much as you would any of the previous games. The career mode uses the same tier-unlocking system as its predecessors, with encores at the end of each tier. One wrinkle to this year's mode is the addition of animated cutscenes that sketch a minimal story about your band's meteoric rise and eventual fall (literally) into hell. It's not much of a tale, but there are a few moments of amusement here and there. One particularly interesting addition to this year's game is a co-op career mode. This works much like the single-player career mode, but you can play through with a friend whom you can divvy up either lead or rhythm guitar/bass duties with. Co-op play hasn't changed much since Guitar Hero II, but this new career progression is a neat idea.
Unfortunately, it's a neat idea that's overly restrictive in practice. For one thing, there are six songs you can unlock only in co-op career, which means that if you don't have a buddy with a second guitar who can come over and spend an afternoon playing, you won't get those songs. Also, no version of the game ships with a co-op quick-play option. The only way to play cooperatively on a single console is to play in the co-op career mode, and you have to unlock six tiers' worth of songs before you unlock all the available songs. Interestingly enough, the launch-day patch that updated the Xbox 360 version of the game with a co-op quick-play mode hasn't been applied to the PC version--at least, not yet.
- Player Reviews: 44
- Game Universe:
- Guitar Hero II (PS2, X360),
- Guitar Hero (PS2),
- Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (WII, PS2, PS3, X360, PC, MAC),
- Guitar Hero World Tour (PS3, X360, PC, WII, PS2, MAC),
- Guitar Hero: Metallica (X360, PS2, PS3, WII),
- DJ Hero (PS3, X360, WII, PS2),
- Guitar Hero: Smash Hits (PS2, PS3, X360, WII, DS),
- Guitar Hero: Van Halen (PS3, X360, WII, PS2),
- Guitar Hero 5 (PS3, X360, WII, PS2, WINM),
- Band Hero (WII, PS2, PS3, X360, DS)
- Number of Players: