One of the hottest, and most surprising, game franchises of the past few years has been Guitar Hero. Originally developed by Harmonix and launched on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, the franchise has steadily grown in popularity (Activision made $550 million on Guitar Hero in 2007 alone) and has expanded onto different gaming platforms including the Wii, PlayStation 3, XBOX 360 and, most recently, the PC.
Slash from Guns n Rose and Velvet Revolver is a main character in Guitar Hero III
The most recent version of the game, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, was developed by Tony Hawk franchise developer Neversoft and was released on October 23rd to rave reviews. It comes bundled with a wireless guitar controller and the game disc for around $100. PS2 and XBOX 360 owners can purchase the game by itself for $49-59 and use their existing Guitar Hero 1 & 2 controllers.
The wireless guitar controller and game disc
If you've never seen or played a Guitar Hero game, the premise is pretty simple. You simulate playing along to rock songs from the past 5 decades using a plastic guitar controller. Instead of strings and a pick, you have colored fret buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Well, once you strap on the wireless Gibson Les Paul from the XBOX 360 version of GHIII and play a few songs, you will forget that you have an undersized, plastic guitar around your neck and become immersed in your own rock awesomeness. You may even begin nodding your head vigorously and/or thrusting your hips back and forth in a suggestive manner (It's OK, we're not here to judge you.).
There are over 70 songs included in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Songs range from Southern Rock to hair metal to grunge and speed metal. Some of favorites are "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n Roses, "Lay Down" by Priestess, "My Name is Jonas" by Weezer, "Black Magic Woman" by Santana, and "One" by Metallica.
Single player gameplay -- screenshot courtesy of Gamespot.com
There are 4 difficulty levels (Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert) so you can ease into the game if you're new to the franchise. Anyone who has mastered a previous GH game will want to start on Hard or Expert. The other two levels don't offer much challenge to an experienced player. However, it is worth noting that Neversoft, who took over development from Harmonix after Guitar Hero II, has definitely cranked up the difficulty on Hard and Expert. I am still struggling with the last few songs on Expert (and I'm not sure if I'll make it through any time soon).
In addition to the single player campaign, there are several multiplayer options. Local multiplayer choices include a co-op mode where players team up for a campaign, battle mode where players alternate between passages in the same song and a face-off mode where players compete for the highest score on the same song.
Battle and face-off modes are also available over XBOX Live. So if you have friends who play Guitar Hero III, you can meet up online and challenge each other. The handful of online games I've played have been fun and really competitive.
As with all XBOX 360 games, you can earn achievements based on your guitar wielding prowess and check your scores against other players on the XBOX Live Leaderboards. You can also create an account on GuitarHero.com to post your scores, form tour groups and play in online tournaments. And once you get really good at it, you may want to take on this guy.Fun factor:
Guitar Hero III is the most fun I've had playing a game in a long time. It is also something that appeals to a wide variety of people. My two sons, 7 and 10, love it. I even got my wife, who generally doesn't like video games, to give it a try.Geek factor:
Nothing says "geek" like rocking out with a small plastic guitar hanging around your neck.Value:
Most standalone XBOX 360 games run $59.99, so getting the game and a snazzy wireless guitar for a $100 is a pretty good value. However, I can understand where some would see $100 as a bit steep for a single game.Overall: