Factor in the fact that 51 of the game’s 71 songs are master recordings, and it should be clear that GH3 has cracked the most important aspect of the game: the setlist. There really is something for pretty much everyone, and an awful lot of it rocks hard. When You Were Young joins More than a Feeling and Killer Queen as a classic GH party track – not so difficult that you can’t play it when inebriated, but with the sort of epic quality that demands you play it from a standing position on the Sofa. Knights of Cydonia, meanwhile, is this year’s YYZ: the fiendishly tricky track that no GH show-off will be able to resist.
But how has Neversoft fared with the rest of the Guitar Hero formula? Well, with a few minor caveats, pretty well. In fact in some crucial areas it has actually improved on original GH developer Harmonix’s efforts. For one thing, the main career mode now hangs together far better than it ever did before. The characters and performances still ooze that old-school rock sensibility, but there’s now a sense of a slightly silly story unfolding, and one that cheerfully embraces every rock cliché you can think of. For another, the game’s major innovation – the boss battle – actually works pretty well.
It works like this. After specific content a boss character will challenge you to a duel. Two sets of scrolling guitar tabs come on screen, and you play along with your parts in the piece as normal. However, instead of building up the star power gauge, the special star-shaped spots now allow you to dish out special attacks at a sudden tilt of your headstock. These unleash several effects that put your opponent off balance. Force him to slip through the red zone into disaster, and you’ve won the duel. Fail to do so, and it’s back to the good old retry screen. The duels are tricky and the songs – bar a final masterstroke – aren’t so great, but it’s definitely a fun addition to the franchise.
As far as difficulty goes, the curve isn’t quite as smooth as on previous Guitar Heroes, with a few nasty peaks and one absolute nightmare even in the Easy mode. Medium probably hits a better balance between feeling playable and getting close enough to the notes to give you that weird GH sensation that you’re actually playing the song, but here the peaks are still a little bit too scary. I suspect Hard mode will cause the most moans, not because the note layout isn’t logical, but because certain tracks are so fiendishly tricky that even GH veterans should be terrified. On the plus side, there is an awful lot here for them to chew on. The career now plays out over more chapters and gigs, with encores and boss battles adding a little extra drama to each one.