Gaming Today Previews Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Demo
Probably the greatest thing about the Guitar Hero franchise is its wide appeal to all types of gamers. I’d even go as far as to say it has probably drawn in many who would not consider themselves gamers at all. Kids love it. Even the 40+ something crowd love it. So what’s the big deal?
For starters, Guitar Hero’s backbone has always been the songs. Without the use of historical and popular Rock songs, Guitar Hero would stand as just another timing and tempo game a la Simon. The guitar itself deserves some mention. I don’t think anyone who’s actually played a guitar would ever compare the Guitar Hero controller that of a real guitar, but the experience of playing either draw similarities. I mean who hasn’t air-guitared at some point in their life? Throw in a little imagination, great sounding songs, and visuals to boot and you’ve got a party in a box. Pictionary and Charades have got nothing on Guitar Hero. I sometimes feel that calling it a game is perhaps a little crude. I tend to think of Guitar Hero as musical imitation.
With less than a week until Guitar Hero III hits stores, I’ve been graced with the chance to preview the game via Demo Kit. To be specific, I will be reviewing the Xbox 360 version of the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Demo. Since the demo only comes with 5 songs, I’m going to be focusing the review mostly on the new controller and the game’s updated engine. There are just not enough songs here to give a good representation of the full game. To give you an idea, here are the songs available in the demo:
- Pat Benatar – “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” (cover)
- Priestess – “Lay Down”
- Pearl Jam – “Even Flow”
- Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane”
- Tenacious D – “The Metal”
Hopefully, this preview will give you an idea of what to expect when opening that GH3 bundle on Saturday.
When the kit arrived at my doorstep last Friday, I was surprised to see it packaged just like the retail box. Were it not for the words “Demo Kit: Not For Sale” plastered in big letters on the box cover, I’d have sworn it was the real deal. Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a very sleek & sexy black guitar controller in that unmistakable shape of a Gibson Les Paul. Well, it must be a Les Paul. It has the Gibson logo printed in white on the headstock. The guitar itself is nearly completely black. Even the five colored fret buttons have a black face. Only the colored edges give their identity away. Much like its predecessors, the new GH3 controller is completely made of plastic. Something new to this generation of the controller is a removable guitar body faceplate. It seems Activision will be marketing swappable faceplates for this particular controller. I’ll go into how you go about swapping the face later. The stock plate has a black piano finish with a white outline at the edge. The GH3 logo also makes its presence here. I find the stock plate very professional looking. It will show fingerprints though.
The strap is about the only thing here that hasn’t changed in some way. One thing I must mention here is that the Demo Kit contained a wired guitar. Rest assured, you will be getting a wireless guitar with your 360′s GH3 bundle. This somewhat gimped version of the new Gibson controller has only a 6-foot reach – quite less than the 360′s wired GH2 Explorer guitar. It’s a demo kit. What can you expect? Other than being wired, this new controller should represent what we will be getting next week.
My first observation when strapping the guitar and holding it was that the guitar itself felt good. It doesn’t have that awkward feel of the 360′s GH2 White Explorer guitar. My only complaint with this new Gibson Les Paul controller is that the thickness of the guitar itself makes it fat like the Explorer. I’m kind of skinny, so I tend to prefer thin bodied guitar controllers… like the ones found on the PS2 platform – at least something with more rounded edges. Still, there is less bulk in the way now. I don’t see this controller causing too much discomfort whilst strumming like the Explorer did. Let’s face it, the Explorer was a brick. The buttons on the Explorer downright sucked. Then again, I was probably spoiled by the PS2 guitar controllers. My biggest gripe with the Explorer was that the fret buttons required way too much force to trigger. This not only made sliding fingers across buttons (something dearly important when playing at Expert levels) nearly impossible, but weaklings like me got tired awful quickly. Well, let’s just say this new controller has gone back to the PS2 button pressure levels. My fingers are happy to dance around the fretboard once again.
Another thing I noticed is that the strum bar is not as clicky. It seems as if the new strum bar barely requires any effort to trigger. Then again, it might just be me. The difference is far more subtle than the fret button comparisons. Still, it is worth mentioning. In fact, as I was playing passages that require a lot of strumming up and down, I found myself strumming way too fast. For me, there is definitely some adjustment to be made when strumming on this new controller.
So what about the whammy bar? When I played my first song with this new controller, I went to grab the whammy bar with my pinky and found myself grasping for air. Immediately, I knew something was different. Subtle changes, once again, were messing with my head. I *think* the whammy bar has been lowered a little. It certainly sticks out more. Perhaps it’s longer as well? Nothing dramatically changed here, but it did take some getting used to. This might be a good thing if you found the whammy bar of previous controllers in your way while strumming. The whammy also seems to have more spring to it. Not so much more force, but more rotational movement. I never understood why some players abuse the whammy bar like they do. No wonder springs get broken.
Another change worth noting is that the D-Pad and Xbox Guide button (360) have relocated from the back of the guitar towards the upper front portion of the guitar. I’m not sure how this will affect those using the D-Pad for strumming notes, as the whammy bar is now completely out of reach from here. The Start and Back buttons are no longer tiny and useless (again, compared to the Explorer). They resemble the PS2 guitar controller buttons now.
Flipping the guitar over to the back, I noticed something brand new: No screws. Instead we have a spring loaded lever near the neck that seems to lock or unlock something within. Possibly an unlocking mechanism for opening the guitar body? I don’t know, I couldn’t figure out how to open the thing. There’s another push-button towards the upper center portion of the back. Pushing this forward unlocks the faceplate. It’s that simple. Just make sure you have the whammy bar turned towards the back so it can slide out over it. As I hinted previously, Activision (or whomever) plan on making a wee-bit of money with customized faceplates. How far they will take this remains to be seen. It’s still a black guitar, so there are only so many attractive possibilities there. I don’t think the paintjob gurus out there have anything to worry about here.
Firing the demo up, I’m not greeted with any fancy intro. A click or two and I’m right at the main menu. Not a whole lot of options here in the demo: Quickplay, Multiplayer, & Training. Seems like all the coveted stuff in Guitar Hero III is saved for the retail version. Multiplayer is basically you and a buddy playing side by side, physically. I didn’t have a buddy to play with this weekend, so I didn’t get to really check that one out in full detail. I did, however, get to try out the bass riffs via Training. The online versus mode is most likely found via Xbox Live menu option. Unfortunately, it is greyed out in the demo. As is the Career & Co-Op modes. Bummer. I wonder where the Leaderboard stuff will be located? Hmm.
Starting a Quickplay game and playing a few songs gave me a good impression of what has changed in the game. Neversoft have given GH3 a more conservative look. All the fonts, graphics, and icons have a professional look and “feel” to them. The Setlist is still on notebook paper; gone is the 4th grade scribbling. The Setlist page is now multi-tabbed. Bonus Songs and Downloaded Song each get their own separate list. Yay, no more scrolling the end!
The songs themselves now list their artist names and year. Just like previous Guitar Hero games, all songs will be grouped by their respective tiers. You’ll have the same ‘ol 3 stars to 5 star ratings and scores tracked to the right of the songs. The difficulty levels are all the same too. Because I’m hardcore, I only tried the Expert difficulty in the demo.
The graphics are definitely better in GH3. All the characters have received a major graphical upgrade. The demo only features Johnny Napalm and Judy Nails (who’s gone all Pink Goth on us). The drum kit is bigger and better. The instruments are more detailed. When the camera zooms in close enough, you can see detailed tattoos on Johnny & Judy (Judy got da’ booty!). Only one venue shown in the demo, unfortunately. The stage looked rather large, obscuring the crowd. Not sure if this was intentional or what. I kind of liked having the crowd showing in the previous games.
The GUI has undergone cosmetic changes. The fretboard and notes haven’t changed that much. The hammer-on notes are easier to spot. When using the whammy bar during sustains, the squiggly lines are more controlled now. The Rock Meter uses the same readout. The Star Power meter has totally changed. Instead of a single horizontal bar that fills up, Neversoft have opted for a row of Bulbs that pop-up and fill as you build your Star Power. After playing a few songs, I can see why they opted for this. It seems Neversoft are allowing for more Star Power to be collected and saved. You pretty much have to play 1/2 to 3/4ths of a song to max your Star Power now. It also means possibly less frequent Star Power deployment. Not sure right now how that will work out. It certainly means you’ll have to be more strategic about when you deploy Star Power. Also, I noticed that accidental triggering of Star Power happens more frequently with GH3. Not sure if it’s the controller, the game, or just me.
The Note Multiplier gauge has been upgraded slightly. We now have a digital LED readout for that. Above the LED is our score. Below the LED is something else new: our note streak. Both the Rock Meter and Note Multiplier have been reduced in size and pushed out away from the fretboard. Props to Neversoft for more efficient screen usage. I can’t tell right now, but I think the fretboard is wider due to this optimization.
Now comes the part that that most have been excited about. Yes, the hammer-ons have been given a large window. Guitar Hero III now loves the sloppy player. If you haven’t reached Hard or Expert difficulty levels, this probably won’t mean much to you right now. For those at the Expert difficulty, this is your bread and butter. The margin for error in timing hammer-ons is so large now that you will often feel guilty when you nail sections that you very well know you shouldn’t have gotten away with. Nonetheless, it does feel good to be able to nail those incredibly fast runs that only the elite in GH2 could do. In fact, I got so easily spoiled that when I went back to playing GH2 later, I found myself missing hammer-ons I don’t normally miss. Whoops. It’s Guitar Hero I all over again.
Overall, GH3 is pretty much a tweaked GH2. Don’t get me wrong, I think Neversoft have done a good thing here. This is their first GH game and they did their best to not mess with the formula. What they did tweak is probably for the best. Yes, I think the new hammer-on system will make 5 starring songs on Expert easier. Of course, Neversoft are going to be throwing lots more of them to make up for it. In the end, I think GH3 will be looked upon by the elite GH community as being “easier” than GH2, mainly due to the new hammer-on system. Beyond that, GH3 only has to impress the rest of us by making it more fun. Based on the GH3 demo I’ve experienced recently, I can very well see that happening. It all comes down to the songs. Expand upon that with good DLC. The technology is certainly there backing it.
(Wow! That’s quite alot of verbiage for just a demo!)
In closing, I shall give my opinions regarding the 5 tracks on the demo. As I said previously, I don’t think they are a good gauge to buying the game. However, I do feel it is worth mentioning the fun I had playing them. So without further ado:
Pat Benatar – “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” (cover)
Grew up around this stuff. Pretty straightforward and easy song. A few tricky hammer-on runs in there. Would have been more at home in Rock The 80′s, if it hadn’t sucked so much.
Priestess – “Lay Down”
One of the more newer Rock songs around. Lay Down rocks hard and is extremely fun to play. Somewhat easy to play though. Solo is tricky.
Pearl Jam – “Even Flow”
Easily my favorite song to play on the demo. Very little repetition going on in the song. All sorts of tricky parts and hammer-on offerings. The solo has some mean fast runs. I really have to bring my ‘A’ game to 5 star this one without using Star Power.
Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane”
At first I thought this should have been put in Rock The 80′s. After playing it, maybe not. It’s not as hard as the Pearl Jam song and maybe not as hard as the Priestess song either. Lots of repeated chord usage. The solo is tough. If it wasn’t for the solo, this song would be a cinch. Large Hammer-on windows don’t make extremely fast runs any easier to play. You still have to hit the notes, eventually.
Tenacious D – “The Metal”
When I first heard news of this song getting into GH3, I thought “Oh boy, another Trogdor”. I’m glad I was wrong. This song is extremely tough on Expert (though no Jordan or Six). It’s not so much that it’s hard. It’s that it wears me out very quickly. I’m not one of these GH players that practice day in & out at the game. As it turns out, by the time I reach the solo, my hands are so tense they stop obeying my brain’s commands. The Metal is an endurance challenge, for sure. For the record, I did beat it after the 4th try. But slopping through is hardly a victory. Yes, The Metal hath stricken me down. It comes from Hell, after all.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock hits stores October 28th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, & Wii.