Platforms: PS2, PS3, Wii, PC, Xbox 360 - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
Confession time: back in the late eighties and early nineties I read a lot of rock and guitar magazines. It was a dark period - post-Appetite for Destruction and pre-Nevermind - and the pages were dominated by serious-looking, studio bound guitar gods and poodle-haired LA rockers who could all talk knowledgably about the applications of ‘sweep-picking', ‘tapping' and ‘dive-bombing' while promoting albums we'd find virtually unlistenable today. Even at the time, there was a lot of debate about this approach. I remember one interview with a grizzled old musician whose name now escapes me where he moaned about the poodle-hair brigade and the way their obsession with technical skill was destroying what he saw as the important bit: the music. In his opinion, it was turning playing guitar into something more like a silly video game.
Playing Guitar Hero 3, I'm hit by how that argument seems to have come full circle. Struggling through tracks like Slayer's Raining Blood or Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover, you're practically knocked back by how demanding on your fingers these fretboard workouts are, even when all you have to do is press five buttons and waggle a plastic bar in the right time and roughly the right order. You half suspect that these songs were never written for someone to listen to, but to give the hardcore Guitar Hero 3 player a challenge nearly two decades later. And if you want to hear the old grizzler's worst fears borne out, you only have to listen to the Tom (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave) Morello guitar jam you'll encounter about one quarter of the way in. A bizarre collection of weird, hip-hop clicky noises with about a minutes worth of riffs shoved in the middle, it's a compelling argument as to why you should never leave a virtuoso guitarist in a studio on his own for more than fifteen minutes.
Interestingly, the same period - roughly 1987 to 1993 - seems to be a favourite for GH3's new developers, Neversoft. As well as Raining Blood and Cliffs of Dover, we get Welcome to the Jungle, Smashing Pumpkin's Cherub Rock, Metallica's One, Living Colour's Cult of Personality, Pearl Jam's EvenFlow, Sonic Youth's Kool Thing and The Red Hot Chilli Pepper's Suck My Kiss. This means you may get more out of the game if, like me, you're a man in his mid-thirties whose record collection once contained this sort of stuff. In fact, if it had Stone Temple Pilots, Kings X, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains in there, they would probably have had my old collection. Luckily, older guitar heroes can still get their fill in the shape of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love, Santana's Black Magic Woman, The Stones' Paint it Black and The Who's The Seeker, while younger ones get Muse's Knights of Cydonia and The Killers' When You Were Young. There are even a few optional brit hits smuggled in among the unlockable bonus songs, with The Kaiser Chief's mighty Ruby and The Stone Roses' She Bangs the Drums being obvious highlights. For such a diverse collection, it's surprising how naturally they all fit together in the general GH scheme of things.