FROM STRUMMER TO SHREDDER
Well, I’ve played through Guitar Hero III, and to be quite honest with you, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. On one hand, any fears I had about the franchise moving under the direction of the NeverSoft/Activision empire have been squashed, as the production value and quality of the game is at an all-time high for the series. It looks and sounds great, and the tracklist is superb. (Although, I could have done with a little less of the non-music-related product placement. Ads for Axe body spray and Pontiac? *sigh*)
On the other hand, the game has continued the trend from the previous outing and ramped up the difficulty; to a degree that’s pretty considerable. Now, I have never claimed to be a Guitar Hero expert, but damn, it seems that (at times) Guitar Hero III is trying to be difficult just for the sake of being difficult. With the first two games, most of the tracks just felt right when you played them, as the game seemed to be more concerned with rhythm and timing than anything. In GHIII, it seemed like the game just wanted to throw as many notes and chords (oh dear god, especially the chords) my way, so as to trip me up ASAP. The Hard difficulty level was pretty insane because of this (it’s not even worth my time to fiddle with Expert), and I had absolutely no interest in spending beaucoups of time going through each song note-by-note; giving my memorization skills a workout while “learning” how to play the songs. Hell, if I’m gonna invest that kind of time, I might as well put the toy guitar down and learn how to play the songs for real, no?
It reminds a lot of Dance Dance Revolution, actually. With the easier songs in DDR, you can find yourself doing actual dance moves just by playing the game. However, as the difficulty increases, the gameplay becomes less about simulated dancing and more about endurance — with the focus put solely on speed and complication. There’s no room for nuance or free-form enjoyment; it’s all about stomping on hundreds of arrows that are furiously scrolling down the screen. Instead of looking like you’re actually dancing, you instead look like you’re having some type of seizure. The comparison with DDR and GHIII isn’t totally exact (’cause at the higher difficulty levels, I think the latter retains its simulation better than the former), but I think it’s a pretty valid comparison nonetheless.
I understand that by ramping up the difficulty from the previous installments, GHIII is just trying to advance the series for its veterans and I don’t knock it for that. After all, once you’ve already had a previous release for a game like this, you’ve got to progress to somewhere else to increase the longevity of the series (e.g., “Once more, but HARDER!”). I’m just saying that, for me, when the game loses that simulated feel of actually playing guitar for the sake of crazy, button-mashing madness, I lose interest. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just not my style.
WHO’S GONNA GET THEIR HEAD CUT?
Now, about those boss battles… The general consensus so far has been that the boss battles suck by a great amount, and is usually pointed out as being something that drags down the fun factor of the game. I didn’t fall in love with them, but I didn’t hate them either. In fact, I guess you could say that I even found them to be fairly enjoyable. (Although, I had some trouble with the Slash battle, and it really started to irritate me after a few tries.) This new feature just wasn’t a deal breaker for me…at all.
Overall, I guess it sounds like I’m ripping on GHIII, but I’m really not. It’s definitely one of the best games that I’ve played this year and I did enjoy the time that I spent with it. The audio-visuals, much improved hammer-on/pull-off system and tracklist (featuring many master tracks from the original artists) are absolutely superb, and I really couldn’t have asked for any better; the quality of this game is very high. Still, though, I can’t really say that it’s the best title in the Guitar Hero series, and whether that stems from me simply becoming tired of the franchise or disappointed with GHIII’s infatuation for complexity, I don’t know.