Guitar Hero 3 does a lot to make me question game reviews. Or should I say, it brings to light many of their problems.
As I expected, it loses out with much of the standard, value driven review sites. While it stays afloat in many reviewer’s minds by adding online multiplayer and more tracks, it has also been grilled for things such as lack of create a character (a criticism I actually agree with, if for no other reason than developer Neversoft has been doing this since 2000) or online co-op play. Once a good game becomes a franchise, the stakes become continuously higher, and nothing short of a disc filled to the brim with their checklist of standard game features will make a reviewer happy. It also makes me question how every tacky addition to each year’s Madden avoids getting clobbered the same way.
The gaming public isn’t any easier on Guitar Hero 3. Part of this is that Red Octane and Activision screwed up the launch – busted guitars, a launch day patch on the 360 (and no news of one for the other versions), Walmart selling gimped bundles, the stat-tracking Guitar Hero 3 site’s continued problems. I thought this game had been ready for weeks. The fans are making their voices heard, but the issues are tough for the reviewer to sort out.
Aside from the issues with the new wireless guitars, most of these hassles will no longer exist two months from now. Half Life 2 brought Steam down to its knees in 2004, and now no one remembers all the nerd rage that resulted, as the service has grown tremendously. If I live in the here and now, then GH3 has issues up the wazoo. But if I look past the initial hiccups, it isn’t quite as bad. We want immediacy with our reviews, but sometimes it is much easier to accurately judge a game after the dust has cleared.
With this all in mind, we come to the final hurdle; some of us want personal taste in a review, but with Guitar Hero 3 personal taste may not be that useful. Say you are interested in the PS2 version. Some people will tell you it’s a lazy job and a piece of crap, while others have said that they weren’t bothered by its issues. It is almost impossible to get a clear picture without playing it. People have said countless bad words about the new art direction being horrible, but the best reason for that I have heard from anyone is that Judy Nails now looks like a slut. My favorite character from before isn’t even in the game anymore, but I’m not going to judge an entire facet of the title based on this fact, especially since I found a great replacement.
You say there’s too much bloom lighting? In a video game about rock concerts? Have you actually been to a rock concert (rock concert does not equal indie concert)? This is an extravagant game about an extravagant event. Besides, you should be looking at that note chart. And do some folks realize that what they’re now calling the “nice old Harmonix menus” were used for three games with little change? If anyone else did that gamers would have called them lazy and uninspired.
Still others are not fans of the soundtrack of GH3. This holds less weight when you realize that there have always been folks who have been uninterested in every Guitar Hero set list that has been made, and it’s hard to sympathize with someone who wants to play a rock game but is too cool to enjoy The Who or Carlos Stantana. No Guitar Hero has pleased us all, and if we all listened to the dissenters we wouldn’t be playing any of them. Toss in the fact that some folks seem to be out to trash the game because they love Harmonix (who left) and hate Neversoft (who came in), and trying to get an honest vibe requires stepping through a minefield of opinion.
Here’s what we need to know about Guitar Hero – it thrives on interesting songs, and after the 80’s disc we know that we also need interesting notecharts written for them. I think GH3 succeeds on these fronts. The names (and the songs they provide) keep getting bigger and better, and almost all of them are master tracks from the original artists, which does a lot to make them worthy of play. The notecharts require a mix of technical precision and stamina.
For example, take a song like Killer Queen in GH1. Seems simple enough, but throughout the refrains there are a few unexpected plays on the main riffs and some unexpected measures. There are a lot mores songs like this now, where you’ll need to handle some surprises and tricky hammer ons in order to keep your combo going up to the solo. Still others rely on the same riffs and chords throughout, but will tire you out quickly, until you find yourself struggling through the same notes you previously aced. The way chords progress or scales are handled makes a lot of sense when paired with the music that is being played, and that makes it so even the most mundane sections become interesting.
Many were worried about the difficulty of GH3. It was learned that Neversoft was making the timing even more forgiving, which is true, but doesn’t ruin the game. It is true that even on expert, the first few sets are not too demanding, but by the end of the game you will be facing the toughest songs the series has seen. The last few tunes, as well as some of the bonus tracks, are downright brutal, featuring certain areas that some would describe as “instant fail”.
Balance is the key issue here. GH2 was a game that was hard from the start, though if you’ve played the 360 version you will know that the PS2 song order was broken. Regardless, the game is still tricky throughout, and in the course of playing we were stuck dealing with tunes like Institutionalized or Freya that no one really liked. GH3 gets us stuck on Metallica and Slayer, and the easier songs aren’t always boring once you’ve mastered them. Do we want a game that is tough for the sake of it, at the expense of quality, or do we want something that’s just fun to play? Should the series cater to the casual crowd or the hardcore? This is the tougher question, as GH3 tries to do both, and it seems that there are unhappy members in both groups.
The internet savvy and overly critical gamer would mark this as a low point for the series and a bad sign of things to come. No matter what, I am actually worried about the future of the franchise, given Neversoft’s track record with the Tony Hawk games and the sudden flood of blatant, non musical sponsorship going on here. But the fan in me, the guy who usually plays Guitar Hero in various combinations of sobriety and company, sees the best tracklist ever, coupled with Live multiplayer and a nice mix of international bonus tracks. There is a ton of fun to be had, and indeed I still have fun playing it.
I suppose that is the most important lesson to learn from this review. When you stop worrying about the general consensus and how much of a serious gamer you are in the eyes of a horde of anonymous people, so you can play a now-conformist music game that you really like, you stop worrying about the small stuff. Having fun is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than tracking your stats online, yet we sometimes still worry about that.
Just let the music set you free.