We’ve already weighed in at length on the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 versions of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which all rock hard and are all pretty similar outside of online offerings and other features like Achievements. For those who have stuck with the series on the PS2, you haven’t been left out — there’s a unique version complete with a new Kramer model wireless guitar. However, that’s where the special treatment ends: while the PS2 version is at its heart the same game as its next-gen cousins and offers plenty of satisfying shredding, it’s undoubtedly the weakest version available, with rough graphics, no online play and no promise of downloadable songs down the road.
With series creator Harmonix moving on to other titles, Activision turned the job of developing Guitar Hero III over to Tony Hawk veterans Neversoft (and in turn, the PS2 port was handled by Budcat). Not wanting to mess with a good thing, GH3 follows the same format as its predecessors: there are eight tiers of modern and classic rock tunes increasing in difficulty, and you rack up points and ratings depending on how well you can strum along with the notes descending down the screen.
Inevitably, no collection of songs will ever please everyone, but GH3′s setlist is solid, starting with classic rock tunes like “Slow Ride” and “Barracuda” and eventually moving on to more aggressive fare like “Welcome To The Jungle” or SRV’s “Pride and Joy.” Unlike previous GH titles, more than half the songs are original tracks this time around, meaning there are fewer painful cover versions to deal with.
What will likely inspire more debate than the song choices is the overall difficulty of the game, which has gotten a bump up from GH2. A tradeoff was made in that the note charts are significantly more complex, with intricate patterns of three-note chords, but the timing was relaxed a bit, making crazy solos a little more possible to hit. This balance helps some songs more than others: the new “Cult of Personality” solo might be impossible to hit without the more forgiving timing windows, but songs like “3′s & 7′s” or “Stricken” will twist most players’ hands into pretzel-like shapes.
By the time you reach the final two tiers, Hard becomes pretty ruthless, with Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and Metallica’s “One” providing more challenge than most Expert songs, and this is arguably one of GH3′s biggest problems. But for hardcore GH players, those final ten songs are worth the price of admission on their own, with songs like Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” and Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” ready to stand up to countless replays. And then there’s the ultimate challenge, the inclusion of Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames,” an insane eight-minute bonus track that’s unlocked after you complete the final song.
Another aspect of the game’s upped difficulty comes in the form of three boss battles, where you face off again Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Slash (Guns ‘N Roses, Velvet Revolver), and “Lou,” who represents the campaign’s final challenge in a metalized version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” In these events, you trade licks back and forth with these characters, and instead of grabbing Star Power phrases, you acquire power-ups you can use to screw over your computerized opponent, like Lefty Flip and Broken String. In theory, these battles were a great idea, but they aren’t particularly well-balanced and turn out to be way harder than the tiers they’re placed in. The final epic fight with Lou boils down to luck more than anything else; he always gets the first shot, which will often knock you so far off-balance that it’s impossible to recover. And yet, with the right combination of power-ups (hope for Whammys), you can beat him almost instantly. It’s all down to luck.