You know, I keep wondering, what would I have done if I was in Neversoft's shoes? You've just been handed the reigns of one of the best selling multi-platform franchises of the last few years, and you know that in order to succeed, the game needs a spark of new life, a new hook. Perhaps go nuts with the number of songs, or I dunno, maybe introduce a couple new instruments?
Well it seems the Tony Hawk boys' solution was to do what they do best - bring in some of the biggest faces in business. But this isn't a simple 'slap a famous face on the cover' affair - the 'guitar legends' featured in the game (all three of them) have each written a fresh guitar solo for the game. More on that later. There are plenty of other new features, but what I'm sure everyone really wants to know about in any guitar hero game is the songs.
Original GH developer Harmonix was always spot-on on the tracklist front - you could always rest assured that whatever they threw at us, we would either know and love, or grow to know and love. Well, the track list here is eclectic and vast. The 70 something songs seem to cover every possible taste, and it really feels broad. This means you'll be shredding to smooth classics like Black Magic Woman then immediately move onto modern hits from the likes of The Killers and Bloc Party. Furthermore, almost every track here is from the original recording and sounds fantastic - staff favourites, One by Metallica and Knights of Cydonia by Muse are particularly adrenaline pumping. But just as the attempt to cover everyone's taste means you are bound to find several songs you love, there are loads you will never have head of - and anyone who's played a Guitar Hero before will know that songs you know are dramatically easier to pick-up and play. It's not a major gripe, but you do seem to spend a lot of time looking forward to the next group, in hope of finding another of your favourite tracks.
So what else is new? To look at the visuals of GH3, you'd think the Harmonix team was still at work - the menus the characters, almost everything looks exactly the same as the previous game. But there are differences. The basic structure of the single-player career is pretty much the same - you play sets of 5 songs at different venues as you progress to stardom. However, now when you reach the 'encore' performances, there are three instances where you will begin a guitar challenge against one of the licensed Guitar Legends. So now we have Slash, Tom Morello and Bret Michaels accurately recreated to compete in the new battle mode. This basically involves collecting power-ups to use against your opponent to try and make them fail. It's a feature that is undoubtedly a huge buzz for fans of the given artists, but somewhat uninteresting for everyone else. What we found heaps more exciting was the long awaited inclusion of the co-op career mode. A different selection of 42 tracks from the pool is on offer from those in the single-player career, and is probably Guitar Hero at its most fun. One player takes the role of lead guitar, and another on bass - so you are rarely playing the same combos.
With a new Guitar Hero always comes a new guitar. Don't worry, your GH2 guitars will still work fine with the latest game, but the new wireless Les Paul design is the peripheral perfected - and in GH3 you'll need every trick up your sleeve when tackling the harder difficulties. This is something Neversoft has received some flak for - but the slight boost in game difficulty (even on normal) was a necessary evil. Gamers who mastered the previous games will obviously need a stronger fix - and for the rest of us, there is a lot of reward to be had when you finally nail a tough lick or solo. So yes, you will most certainly have to work on your hammer-ons and pull-offs, but when the eventual result is a perfect sounding Paint it Black, you can't help but nod - hard.
Multiplayer is, again the same old shebang. Of course there is the addition of the battle mode, which can be hilarious when you're playing with an equally matched rival, but otherwise it's still two players taking turns to play a section of a song. Gamers also have the ability to take their skills online now. In all of our tests, the game ran beautifully - even in the most intense, difficult songs, lag never seemed to be an issue. But what you come to realise is that GH works so well as a social game - when you're playing with friends in the same room. So sadly, online perhaps hasn't had the same impact that we thought it would.
Available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2, the four versions have a number of differences. The Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii versions all include online play, while only the 360 and PS3 offer downloadable content. The PS2 game is offline only. All versions of the game can be bought with a wireless guitar, although the Wii guitar uses a Wii Remote as an interface to the console - which fits snugly inside the guitar shell. Visually the PS2 and Wii versions are similar to previous games in the series, while the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions look considerably better. Finally, the Xbox 360 game includes the expected Achievements, which could sway your purchase decision.
Guitar hero 3 should most definitely be praised - for its almost entirely original recording song list, for its attempts to introduce something new into a near perfect formula, and for picking up where Harmonix left off effortlessly. The songs are diverse, hard-rocking and challenging, but in all honesty, these new tracks are the most exciting new thing about GH3. The co-op career and battle modes are great fun, but had the new tracks been released for GH2 as downloadable content, we would no doubt have had just as much fun.