• Rockers and rollers alike were giddy with excitement as Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock hit store shelves on a rare Sunday launch late last month. We here at Totally 360 were just as excited to get our hands on the follow-up to last year’s smash success, although we will admit, we did have a few concerns. Would new developer Neversoft be able to carry the torch left behind by Harmonix? Would Xbox LIVE multiplayer modes actually work? Could a wireless axe perform as well as the original wired guitar? We’re happy to report that these questions and more have all been answered thanks to countless hours of shredding our way through that which is Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

    One thing Neversoft really deserves credit for is not trying to reinvent the game. Truth be told, the formula behind the Guitar Hero franchise works and works very well. To have thrown that blueprint away, or even over-tweaked it, could very well have been a foolish disaster. That being said, gamers familiar with any of the previous Guitar Hero entries will find themselves comfortably at home with GHIII.

    The game ships with an impressive 70 total songs covering several generations of music and genres. Thanks to the growing popularity of the series, more than 70 percent of these tunes are master recordings including contributions by Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden and more. Cover tunes include songs from Alice Cooper, Foghat, Kiss, ZZ Top and Santana, rounding out a playlist that should appeal to the masses.

    Guitar Hero 3

    As with previous entries, the primary goal in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is to properly time button presses and strumming on the guitar controller with the colored notes that travel down the guitar neck on the screen. Also making a return is Star Power which, once activated, doubles the players point multiplier for a short period of time. During certain sections of a song, star-shaped notes will appear. Nailing all of these in a row will trigger Star Power which players then activate by tipping the neck of the guitar skyward. Since progressing through a career is still dependant upon players successfully completing each song in their set list, mastering these skills is paramount.

    Last year’s Guitar Hero II, despite its overall greatness, lacked a few key features that disappointed a large majority of players. Thankfully, the team at Neversoft listened to their pleas and set fulfilling their requests as a priority. The end result: brand new online multiplayer modes and a completely redesigned – and wireless—guitar controller.

    The new Gibson Les Paul wireless guitar controller finally gives the Xbox 360 “rockstar” the freedom they’ve so long desired. And it works flawlessly. The new controller also manages its power consumption nicely as evidenced by the long lifespan we experienced with the included AA batteries. Built to resemble a classic Gibson Les Paul, the black body is a good deal smaller than last year’s X-plorer and features a detachable neck, making the guitar less cumbersome when travelling to a friend’s house. The controller body can also be fashioned with detachable faceplates, giving gamers more options for customizing their axe beyond the included sticker pack. All of this, combined with a larger strum bar and more responsive neck buttons make this new Les Paul an awesome controller.

    When it comes to game modes, GHIII offers up a generous amount of options. Players can choose from Single Player Career, Co-Op Career, Face-Off, Pro Face-Off and Battle Mode. When playing in either of the Career modes, gamers progress upwards towards ultimate stardom by successfully completing songs in each stage’s set list as well as the occasional Guitar Battle. When facing off in these new boss battles, Star Power is replaced with Battle Power which allows players to launch a direct attack at their opponent. Successfully hitting each string of Battle Gems will fill a players Battle Meter, resulting in a Power Up. Players can then execute the Power Up attack by lifting the neck of the guitar, forcing their opponent to deal with such challenges as a broken string, double notes, lefty flip and more. Players can also opt to stockpile up to 3 Power Ups in order to launch multiple attacks at once. One thing to keep in mind is that the bosses can also launch attacks and these guys are no slouches. Boss characters include real life guitar masters Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Slash (Velvet Revolver) and even the devil himself. Overall, these new Guitar Battle boss showdowns are a very cool addition to the game, forcing players to strategically plan their attacks while still facing the challenge of hitting each note in the song.

    While Face Off and Pro Face Off both make their return, the developers also made sure to spread some battle-love to multiplayer with the new Battle Mode option. In Battle Mode, players face off against one another in the same style of play as the boss battles. The big difference here is, instead of taking a pounding from guitar legend Slash, you’ll take the same pounding from your neighbors 8 year old kid. Regardless, Battle Mode is fun and adds a great new option for heads-up play.

    Another important feature of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is the ability to play either co-op or head-to-head over Xbox LIVE. Unfortunately, the challenge of online play doesn’t come from skilled opponents, but instead from internal issues which make it difficult, if not impossible, to actually hook up with other players. When trying to join both player and ranked custom matches, we found that the game would consistently fail to connect or freeze up altogether. However, when we were able to make a solid connection, the gameplay was great. Despite the traffic and server issues, the game ran perfectly during each of our matches without any sign of lag or disconnects. But, until the connectivity issues are addressed, online play is mostly an exercise in frustration.

    Overall, we would have to say that Activison’s decision to turn over the franchise to Neversoft was a homerun. The developer definitely recognized the strengths that existed in the game and wisely chose to build on those strengths, delivering new features that compliment Guitar Hero’s core gameplay while managing to make franchise fan’s wishes a reality. If the team can manage to correct the outstanding online connection problems, then they will have succeeded in delivering the best Guitar Hero entry in the series.

    Score: 9/10

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