Guitar Hero 3

At one point in Guitar Hero 3, after your band achieves enormous success, you are sent to “Lou’s Inferno” where you have to battle (with ROCK) to win back your souls[1]. It’s a perfect analogy for Guitar Hero 3: the third installment in this now super-successful series lacks the soul that made the previous games so good.

As I play my way through the Hard Career I find myself less than enthused about it all. It might be that the formula is getting tired. Maybe it’s the song selection (though the large number of master recordings is awesome.) Or, more likely, it has a lot to do with the great Harmonix, Red Octane schism. After MTV bought Harmonix, the developers of Guitar Hero, and after Activision bought Red Octane, the publishers and IP holders of Guitar Hero, development was handed off to Neversoft. Neversoft is a good developer and there never was any questioning of their technical ability to pull this game off but somewhere in the transition Guitar Hero lost a lot of that irreverent Harmonix charm.

Guitar Hero 3 takes itself too seriously. Neversoft did a good job maintaining the style of the previous games and tried to keep it as true to the original presentation as they could but it all comes across as less than genuine. All those little hand-drawn doodles in notebook margins and low-tech animations of the band going from one venue to another (with the vocalized sound fx) are now replaced with overly slick cartoons and illustrations. That “do-it-yourself” garage aesthetic seems to be gone. In its place is an overly designed imitation.

Guitar Hero 3 is skankier. It’s a game that comes across as far less gender neutral than the previous two. There are (clothed and disinterested) strippers on a couple of levels (including a strip club). There’s more hinting at “groupies” and, maybe it’s just me, the female characters seem to have larger assets and smaller pieces of clothing.

Guitar Hero 3 is far less accessible. In part because of the above cosmetic reasons but also because the game feels harder. During development they took a lot of input from the crazy Guitar Hero prodigies at Score Hero and it shows. The fret patterns are somewhat different but also, I find, a lot more repetitive[2]. That might be attributed to the song selection; the tracks here feel “samey” and repetitious, save for a handful of fun standouts. It’s a shame as I was really looking forward to some of the songs offered here but I’m left feeling disappointed.

Nonetheless, the increased difficulty can be clearly seen in the game’s achievement points. Guitar Hero 2‘s achievements were hard enough as it was but these take the cake. Gold Star 20 songs on Expert? Beat one of the creators of Guitar Hero 3 at their own game? Win 15 consecutive Ranked songs online using a standard controller?!? These achievements might be close to Ridge Racer 6 territory. I guess I can’t blame Neversoft for this: if they made it easier their expert fans would have been pissed off and if they made it harder they’d be excluding a lot of casual, music fans from the action[3]. A lose/lose situation.

Then there are the newly added boss battles, the second worst thing to happen to Guitar Hero (the first being the Harmonix split). They are horrible and stupid. Zen of Design sums it up nicely, along with some other points I agree with. I could write an essay about why the Boss Battles are so bad but I’m going to save the energy and just point to a rambling, quick forum post.

Sure, they’ve expanded the Co-Op and added online options (that’s rad) but it’s what they lost that counts[4]. That’s what has left me feeling disappointed. Guitar Hero is dead. Long live Rock Band.

  1. This is not a spoiler. Who plays Guitar Hero for the story?
  2. As said by someone on the Score Hero message boards in response to a bonus Marilyn Manson song: Wow the Manson song would be amazing if it actually had any variety at all in it. Why the same thing over and over? And why doesn’t it have any notes in the section in between? Do they know they’re allowed to map non-guitar notes for the purposes of a video game? I think that about sums up Neversoft‘s approach to the fret patterns: accuracy over fun.
  3. One great thing about Guitar Hero 2‘s Leaderboards is that they counted your best score of a song from any difficulty. It leveled the playing field a bit, putting everyone on equal ground. This is mostly gone. Now there are all sorts of Leaderboards for specific difficulties, no doubt to appease those prodigies, which further contributes to that feeling of segregation between the casuals and the hardcore. Everyone isn’t equal anymore. It’s a minor thing but it really shows off Harmonix‘s focus on accessibility.
  4. PS. The new in-game user interface sucks.
  5. Hello Neversoft people. You should make a new Gun game. The original was so-so but the idea behind it was great. A little bit of refinement and you could have something great there. What we need more of is some videogame Westerns.
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