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Red Octane's original 'performance sim' returns for a third outing, but is it missing something in the Harmonix...
- Great selection of tracks.
- Solid online multiplayer.
- Battle mode adds a new dimension to gameplay.
- DLC packs remain an issue.
- Still not enough Master tracks.
- Occasional slowdown in co-op.
The Battle of the Bands may be hotting up across the Atlantic, but with Rock Band pushed into the New Year in Europe, it's left to the original (and now Harmonix-less) Guitar Hero franchise to have a Rock 'n' Roll Christmas and dominate the stage. Taking the helm this time around is Tony Hawk veterans Neversoft, whose playfulness has already peppered the skateboarding scene in videogaming for the best part of a decade - and they've taken this trademark to their newest undertaking too.
But with its nemesis rising in the coming months, can Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock actually take advantage of the chance it's been given in Europe and forge a riff of greatness from the burning pits of Rock 'n' Roll hell in time for Christmas?
God gave Rock 'n' Roll to you
Before we wax lyrical about the game itself though, it's worth pointing out that the Xbox 360's wireless guitar is probably the best yet. Much more balanced than either of its predecessors, with a certain weight added to the body and a softer edge to the fret buttons, the Gibson Les Paul-modelled guitar just feels less like a Fisher Price toy. Which is a good thing. There have been some reports from across the pond about the guitar connections being a tad flaky, but our wireless axe was more reliable than the German railway. Now, back to the game itself...
It's fair to say that apart from a couple of heavyweights, the soundtrack to Guitar Hero II didn't quite deliver. Cornerstone tracks like 'Sweet Child 'o Mine', 'Killing in the Name', and the still sublime 'Free Bird' aside, there were just one too many tracks that failed to set the audience swaying. Whether this was because of Harmonix's anticipated acquisition by MTV Games, or that Activision were just biding their time until Legends of Rock came out on a greater number of platforms, is unclear.
What is for certain is that the soundtrack this time around is pretty much on the mark, with a varied selection of songs that transcend both genre and musical era, from the 60s right up to the 00s with bands including the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and The Killers. Without sounding too much like an episode of 'Later with...', the cool sounds of Santana's Black Magic Woman contrasts heavily with the likes of Black Sabbath's Paranoid, but it doesn't matter because they are sheer joys to play, and tracks typical of Legends of Rock in that they transport you onto the stage itself. Even the tracks that can be purchased in the in-game store seem to have more bite this time around, with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and The Stone Roses...and for Halo nerds, there's even the newly released 'Mjolinir Mix' of the theme tune to Bungie's FPS franchise.
Like the soundtrack, the overall presentation of the game this time around is much improved; animated shorts following the rise of a band from back-yard performances to global stadia look the part, the character models have been souped up allowing for close up shots of the near-spot on lip sync, with a reworked HUD finishing off a fresh lick of paint for the visuals. But there's a lot more to Legends of Rock than 'more of the same tracks' and slicker visuals.
Rocking till the end of time
Right from the off it's clear that Neversoft and Red Octane have been listening to fans of the series with total concentration, as Legends of Rock pretty much fulfils every axe-owner's wish list. Co-operative Career? Check. Online Multiplayer? Check. A larger selection of Master tracks? Check. But it doesn't stop there, as Neversoft has also integrated gameplay features that perhaps wouldn't have occurred to a lot of people before they were announced earlier in the year. Boss Battles for instance, which see players go head-to-head with two true 'Legends of Rock', Slash from Guns 'n' Roses, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, and a final showdown with the devil, are a near-masterstroke in the Career mode.
Featuring original compositions from the axe-masters, the Boss Battles swap the Star Power multipliers for a selection of 'attacks' that can be used against their opponent, including broken strings, amp overloads, double notes, increased difficulty, and reversing the note layout. The aim is to get the audience support to red levels, causing the opponent to fail the song and paving the way to extra special encore tracks - including Welcome to the Jungle. The option to play Boss Battle-style 'fights' is also available in the multiplayer mode, with players going head-to-head in any of the unlocked songs in the library. A really solid mode that screams 'Neversoft' in style and will no doubt become a stalwart feature in future iterations with rocking aplomb. It's also worth pointing out however that post-release in the US the Xbox 360 version received an update that added an offline co-op Freeplay mode, an option yet to be released for both the Wii and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. Let's hope that Nintendo and Sony fans will get their own updates in the coming weeks...perhaps the Wii version will also get Stereo sound too???
So you've completed the Career mode and the Co-op Career mode with a mate...is that the end of Guitar Hero shenanigans for another year? Well no, since Legends of Rock for the first time in the series features online multiplayer, perhaps the number one feature demanded by fans to date. Available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii versions, the online multiplayer works well and delivers a surprisingly solid experience with ranked and player matches. Choosing to play an odd number of songs (that's the number sequence and not that the songs are strange) before hitting the stage, online rewards the lonesome gamer and makes you feel like less of berk if you're there by yourself fretting away...that's not to say that was the case with me. Honestly. A souped up Community site has also been set up, allowing players to compare their performances with extensive leaderboards, and join social networking groups to further promote Guitar Hero harmony.
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