The visuals are easily the best they’ve ever been. All the old favourites – Axel Steel, Lars Umlaut, Judy Nails and Izzy Sparks – are back, but they’ve all been given more detail and a stronger range of animations. The concert presentation is a lot more dynamic, with camera angles that will be familiar to any devotee of late-eighties/early-nineties concert videos, and the lip-synching and lighting is a huge improvement over last year’s 360 port of Guitar Hero II. The only thing that makes you wonder is the increased quantity of, let’s say, T&A on display. As I remember from dubious rock videos, it’s always been a part of the hard rocking lifestyle, but did Judy Nails really need implants between GH2 and GH3? Did the shows really need ‘exotic dancers?’ Did Casey Lynch always wear so little, and was it always so strategically placed?
Now for the real kicker: longevity. As a solo game GH has always been slightly limited, and even with so many tracks and a huge range of unlockable characters, guitars, finishes and costumes that still holds as true as it ever did. Sensibly, then, Neversoft has enhanced the multiplayer mode by introducing a specially re-jigged co-operative career mode, with one player playing lead and another bass or rhythm, and including songs exclusive to it. The 360, PS3 and Wii versions also get online play, with a best-of-three tracks battle mode that makes it easy to find a quick duel or work your way up through the world rankings. It plays very slickly and – importantly – with little sign of lag, and blasting through The Beastie Boy’s Sabotage or Weezer’s My Name if Jonas against the competition and winning is a serious blast. Both these options should see the game last way beyond Christmas.
Downloadable content will also be important to the game’s long term play. The introduction of packs of tracks from Velvet Revolver and The Foo Fighters within the first few weeks of sale is a good sign, and who wouldn’t want to bash their way through All My Life or The Pretender? Let’s hope there’s much, much more to come.
Of course, there is one final reason to get GH3, and that’s the all-new, all-wireless guitar. Now modelled after Gibson’s legendary Les Paul (in the 360 version, at least), it feels slicker and stronger than the old SG or explorer models, and has a less toy-like or clunky style. Personally, I prefer it without the white stick-on scratchplate, but how you rock yours is entirely up to you.
All in all, GH3 is a much stronger game and product than it might have been. Guitar Hero: Rock the Eighties – this year’s glorified expansion pack – showed a series in danger of coasting, but with an excellent tracklist and a few clever tweaks, Neversoft has produced the most well-rounded and consistent Guitar Hero yet. It’s accessible enough to welcome newcomers, but gives those of us who have played all the way through the series our most fearsome challenge yet. We still need to see a little more invention next time around, especially once EA’s Rock Band makes its European debut next year, but I don’t think there are many games out there that will provide as much fun at parties and post-pub gatherings over the next few weeks. In short, the original guitar game still rocks – the only question is whether you rock hard enough to keep up.
The tracklist shines while the boss battles, online play and co-operative career mode make this the strongest GH package yet. This rock monster isn’t ready to be slain quite yet.