Not knowing what I was letting myself in for, I saw that Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock was coming out for the PC, so I decided to take a chance and pictured myself rocking out on a train with a plastic guitar plugged into a laptop with an appreciative crowd of followers doing the metal horns. I placed an order and waited excitedly.
A few days later a burly delivery man appeared carrying a pretty impressive box which I proceeded to rip open to reveal a slightly smaller than real life plastic guitar and a set of stickers, whilst he stared at me suspiciously.
Soon I was sat down, carefully applying the stickers to the guitar and trying to work out how to get the strap so it wasn't twisted as the game installed. 10 minutes later, I was poised ready to unleash hell whilst doing my best Gene Simmons impersonation. So, I loaded up the first song on the game and decided that I best pick easy, as no one was around.
For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of Guitar Hero, it is remarkably simple. A series of coloured notes travel towards you corresponding to notes on the neck of the guitar. If you strum the button on the base of the guitar and press down the note at the right time, you play it. This is essentially the core gameplay but a few other elements such as hammer-ons and pull-offs are required for the harder songs and difficulties (these involve not having to strum, instead simply pushing down the frets on certain notes). You have a "rock meter" which you must keep above a certain level, otherwise the song is failed.
So, back to my room, the song loaded up and I readied myself. The first notes were coming towards me pretty damn fast, so I did my best, but let's just say that things didn't go too well to begin with. I am not generally the most musical person, but I sat there for a few hours and persevered and soon I was playing the green, red and yellow buttons pretty well. Then one of my friends sent me an e-mail and asked whether I was playing Dragonforce on Expert yet, it was time to step things up a gear�
Anyhow, graphics wise, this game is pretty impressive. Having got it for the PC the graphics aren't exactly top of the range but the cartoony visuals look good enough and fit in well with the style and theme of the game. The Wii graphics barely resemble human people, so it is nice that the PC models are detailed and recognizable. My one issue with the graphics are that they are really pretty demanding, running this with a dual core and an 8600 graphics card I do get occasional slowdown which is rather annoying when you are in the middle of Raining Blood on hard.
The sound in the game is also impressive with a good range of tracks available, all using the original recordings or in some cases having fresh ones made especially for the game. As with many games of this type the mixture of songs might not be to everyone's taste, but as a whole there are enough quality songs to keep rock and metal fans happy, even though some of the inclusions seem a little strange (Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs?). A lot of the songs are also tailored towards a more American audience, which means nearly all the bonus songs are obscure and unheard of.
The gameplay itself if very compelling and offers the kind of addictive, one more try desperation that very few games manage. However this can be a bit of a curse as sometimes the game seems punishingly difficult and if you miss just one note you can quickly see your score diving and the red danger marker flashing. However the feeling when you successfully manage to master a ridiculously tough song like Cliffs of Dover on hard is a special one. This game should come with a warning as there are times when the difficulty has had me close to smashing the controller on the floor and hurling my laptop from a window.
However, where Guitar Hero really excels is in offering a fun multiplayer game. If you get a few mates round the game becomes a great party piece, with more controllers you can use the different modes and challenge one another. Whilst I must admit that I haven't used this, several of my friends have said that Guitar Hero III's multiplayer isn't as enjoyable as previous games and that certain game modes have been left out of this latest version.
After several hours of playing songs on medium, I managed to complete my first song on 5 stars. It is strange as moving up a difficulty level feels like a real achievement and it felt like I had reached a breakthrough where suddenly everything clicks into place. I am currently playing on the hard level, which is challenging but offers an experience closer to playing the songs for real, as the number of notes is more realistic.
It is worth noting that whilst the game advertises an "online mode" I have yet to see how this is a really good thing. The so called downloadable content is unavailable for the PC version at the moment and the servers online have always been largely empty when I have been after a game. The interface seems rather basic and I couldn't find a way of finding any other friends to play against, it seems to be a random selection process. It seems strange when it would be good to get together to play a friend or do some co-op together, but it seems you have to play with whoever is chosen for you.
I can recommend this game as a good party piece and as an enjoyable distraction, but it is a game with a limited appeal and lacks any real depth. However, there is a certain addictive charm that has you returning even when you swear you won't after crippling your left hand trying to play One by Metallica on hard.
One last word of advice, if you try and play Guitar Hero III on a train, don't naively expect to get a crowd of adoring metal head fans like I did. Expect to get disapproving looks from most of the carriage.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
I remember the first time I heard about Guitar Hero. Two of my friends were busy having a pretty serious argument about whether or not one of them could really play Bark at the Moon behind his head whilst blindfolded.