Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Nintendo, and their DS / Wii affront upon gaming traditions, do not, we must remember, have the monopoly on revolutionary, physical-gaming, nor on appealing to so-called 'non-hardcore' gamers. In fact, somewhere between John Lydon's snarlingly blue interview opportunity and Maximo Park's fantastic closing set at GHIII's launch party, I realised that Guitar Hero III is a phenomenon of the shamelessly populist variety in its own right.
And then I was sick after a kebab on the way home.
Psuedo-intellectual opening gambits aside, then, and its fair to say that Guitar Hero III has already gone down a treat, so much so that publisher Activision have proudly declared in recent weeks that the game could go on to be their biggest-seller ever. Not bad for one of the world's biggest gaming firms, or a game that, at its heart, is all about pressing coloured buttons in time to music.
But oh it is so much more than that, of course. Long-time fans of the series will be keen to know how well Neversoft handle their first game in charge of the venerable GH IP, creators Harmonix having jumped ship to go multi-instrumental with Rock Band (EA play Yoko on this occasion). Suffice to say that this offering is far superior to Harmonix's passing-shot, the somewhat lack lustre Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s, and Neversoft certainly seem to 'get' what makes the game such a joy in the first place.
We're offered for a starters a range of 70 tracks, playable on difficulty levels ranging from from the downright babyish to, well, devilishly hard. Pleasingly, all the tracks are tight as marble, when it comes to the transposition to the five button controller, and with the Gibson Les Paul wireless controller in mind, this really is as close as you can get to playing rock god.
What else is on the table? Well, perhaps the biggest innovation in this Xbox 360 rendition of Guitar Hero III is the multiplayer mode, which is fully compatible with Xbox Live - the word once again being 'tight'. The game oozes polish and fore-thought, and you can even play through an entire career mode (taking in amusingly spartan cut-sequences along the way) co-operatively, should you have a second guitar controller to hand.
Visually, Neversoft have really upped the ante over past outings in the series, delivering a game that is far easier on the eye for spectators and offers a lot more variety and visual tricks to keep you gazing; as well as listening. Of course, the restyled controller helps in this department too, and I challenge anyone not to be sucked in by the idea of playing classic rock tracks with a Gibson that looks the part more than ever. Much hilarity will no doubt ensue, especially among those so-called 'non-hardcore' gamers, who we're constantly told are so averse to normal console control pads.
Hardcore fans of Guitar Hero will pleased to know that number three offers a fresh challenge over the last two games, meaning that on higher difficulty settings you'll actually feel like you are playing the wonderfully taxing riffs on offer. With this in mind, show-downs with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Slash, and, err, Lucifer, offer extra challenges, should the 'normal' tracks not strain your fingers sufficiently.
Looking at the all-important track list again, and we're offered a good mix of familiar and obscure, from both sides of the Atlantic, and almost all the tracks seem to work in the context of a rhthm-action game. Certain rock sub-genres could perhaps have been better represented (where's Journey, damn it!), but overall there should be something for everyone here - and of course more tracks and packs will be offered online.
The characters you can choose to represent you in-game can be customised to even greater extremes of cool (or kitsch, if you prefer), and there are special items to collect which can help you out in boss encounters. Oh, and there's a range of outlandish guitars to unlock, too, all of which will help keep you hooked, if the ever-more taxing range of songs and the lure of the frankly brilliant multiplayer should falter.
To conclude, then, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rocks improves on what has gone before it in a few essential ways. Multiplayer modes and online support already take the game to another level, and coupled with a revitalised track-list, lovely visuals, a great new controller and and an attention to detail and polish previously unknown to the genre, what we have here is the return of a true hero.