It seems long overdue to return to the roots of my web personality. It’s been a good long while since I’ve reviewed anything in full, or made fun of something for that matter. With a slew of new games for Christmas, now that I’ve put a good dent in most of them, it’s the perfect time to start up the sarcasm engine and take a ride into review town. Hold onto your mullets kids, first stop is Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.
Legends of Rock, or at least that’s what we would call it for there were any signs of actual rock legends involved with it, isn’t all that bad. It’s unfortunately not all that good either. It suffers from a heavy case of “don’t fuck with a good thing” disease. With the departure of Harmonix so they could continue with their mastery of the musical rythm game genre with Rock Band, Red Octane and Activision were left holding the bag for the series and tried to trudge on as best they could.
Apparently that involves “upping” the graphical quality from “weird cartoon” to “really fucking ugly cartoon”. Also, the main notes, fret boards and various meters got a thorough and completely unnecessary make over, which only leaves me wondering exactly what was wrong with a colored little blob in the first place. Does the obviously cartoonish representation of a note really need to have a rim light, and a bevel and emboss? Regardless, the interface is virtually the same in form and function as the previous games, which is a good thing.
Having played the previous games I’ve become accustomed to the way things work and it’s great that they didn’t depart for the original design. Notes still flow towards you, you still hold down the key and hit the strum bar. You really couldn’t screw up that formula. If they had, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now as I would have written it off all together.
What we really should talk about is the music itself. That’s what we’re really here for right? Well, unfortunately, this is where GH3 starts to look tired and pathetic. First off, by naming your game “Legends of Rock”, you are implying that there is in fact a large amount of rocking taking place. Not only that, but the rocking is so great that it is Legend-wait for it-dary. I have a terribly hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Pat Benatar, Heart and Slipknot are actually in this game, let alone the fact that they’re somehow considered rock… and legendary rock at that. There are a few songs that I would personally consider legendary rock anthems, even though my personal taste in music doesn’t lean in their direction. For example, by all accounts, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses is in fact a classic rock track. As are tracks by The Who, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and Alice Cooper. That is “rock” at it’s most “classic” level. To me you need to be two things to be considered legendary. First, you need to be good, as in musically gifted, I think that’s a given. Second, it needs to be timeless. A legendary track is one that rocked the day it came out, rocked 5 years later and still rocks today. I’m sorry, but nearly 70% of the tracks in GH3 don’t fall into either of those categories. Songs like “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam, “Before I Forget” by Slipknot, and “Kool Thing” by Sonic Youth shouldn’t even be considered songs worthy of guitar playing, let alone be included in a game about rock. Also, some songs are borderline rap, country or blues. I’m sure they’re included to give fans of those respective genres something to do, but “Black Magic Woman” by Santana is not a song I can “rock” to. Maybe if the game was called “dried up toolbox Hero”, maybe we might include Carlos, but not now. In total there are 9 tracks I enjoy playing. About 10 more I’ll tolerate simply for the sake of the game. The rest are complete rubbish. Guitar Hero 2, by comparison, had a much stronger track collection.
Now, since we’ve discussed the rather lack luster tracks, we should probably talk about the quality of said tracks. Horrific. In the cases were Activision was able to license the “Master Track”, since the vocals were usually a priority for the band at the time, the guitar itself is washed out and hard to hear. Instead we get to hear Eddie Vedder screech. Joy. Some tracks were actually rerecorded by Activision, which was a nice thought in principal, but when you bring the Sex Pistols back into the studio after 30 years they are quite liable to (and they do) sounding even more strung out than when the original track was recorded, which is a shame because “Anarchy in the UK” is one of the favorite songs in the game and it sounds completely awful.
The thing I have issue with the most is the arrangement of the tracks in the single player and co-op career modes. This is actually a problem I had with the last game as well. Apparently, “hard” in the Guitar Hero universe means “Metal”. I’m ok with metal for the most part, but I could put up a strong argument that “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan (which appears 3 levels “easier” in the game) is a harder song to play in real life than “One” by Metallica. The only thing in the final bracket for single player consumption that should actually be there is “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson, which is just plain fucking wrong. I’ve got to agree with my man Yahtzee and say that if you can actually play “Cliffs of Dover” on Hard or Expert you’re either a freak, an alien or a Korean. Congrats if you’re any of the three because it is fucking impossible. That’s single player. In Co-op, for some completely insane reason the entire sequence of songs changes. This makes even less sense and the final songs get even more ridiculous. The “final” songs you play include “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse and “Cult of Personality” by Living Color, both of which don’t deserve to be in the game, let alone the songs that are standing between you and final rock stardom. The real kicker is that the final encore song is “Monster” by Matchbook Romance, which is neither hard nor a good song to begin with, which makes it’s inclusion in the final section a bit of a mystery. Maybe someone at Red Octane has a hard-on for crappy emo songs because somehow AFI and The Killers are also sprinkled in the games tracklist. Saying AFI is “legendary” or “good” is an affront to rock as a whole and whoever made the final call on the tracklist needs to be be sat in a room with nothing but old angry mullet wearing, bat-weilding AC/DC fans who can beat the meaning of rock into them.
Speaking of which, if this is truly “Legends of Rock”, they should be completely disgraced that they didn’t include any AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, or any of a dozen bands/musicians I can think of off the top of my head.
Lastly, and most importantly, GH3 really is the game were it stopped being fun. A large portion of that is due to the loss of “Co-op Quick Play” mode. In GH2, if you had some friends over and you wanted to play some songs just for the heck of it, you could just fire up quick play and jam together. For some reason this has been replaced with “Battle mode” which involves hitting sections of notes to collect powerups (much like how you’d collect “star power”) and then unleashing the powerups against your friend to make them mess up on purpose. The point of the game shifts from “playing a song well” to “making someone else play a song bad”. Whoever plays the song the least bad wins. It’s completely ass backwards. The other problem is that the powerups get collected and used so fast that you’re waving the guitar neck around so much you look like you’re trying to flap your arms and fly around the room. It’s completely spazmatic feeling and takes away from the game as a whole. 3 notes, wiggle, 3 notes, wiggle. It’s retarded. You could technically hold onto your powerups and wait for the right time to use them, but inevitably your opponent gets a “steal” powerup every single time, leaving you with nothing and him with 5 powerups to crush you with. So instead the game turns into a horrible chicken dance to the tune of “Cult of Personality”.
All in all, it’s not a horrible game. They haven’t messed up any of the basics and it still plays the same. It’s just less enjoyable than the last one. So much so that after an hour or two play through with a group of friends, we had finished the career on Medium, taken the game out and put GH2 back in. Playing “Freebird” at Stonehenge is the way to end a game. Not playing “Devil went down to Georgia” in Hell (which, in a mutilated form, is the final song in single player GH3, in case you’re wondering).
So, it gets points for trying and I’m sure they’re going to squeeze a few more game out of the series before it dries up, but I think everyone knows that the real musical genius lies with Harmonix and in Rock Band. In a quick count of downloadable content, Rock Band is leading GH3 by a 5:1 at least. It seems like the Major is posting news of new RB tracks on a daily basis and I haven’t seen anything new out of the GH camp since a week or two before X-mas.
It was a good try, but it just doesn’t rock hard enough to be called Legendary. It’s still fun, it’s still playable, but it’s no gem and certainly not the best of the series.