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     " ...Unquestionably the pinnacle of the rock game genre. "

      Title: Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock by Activision

      Format: Xbox 360 Rock Game

      Reviewing Monkey: Mojo Jojo

      The Hype: Just like Dance Dance Revolution brought the dancing rhythm game into the mainstream, so too did Guitar Hero 2 for rock games. Selling a kajillion billion copies and forcing wanna-be rock gods across the world to equate what looks like a toddler's guitar to some very intense axe grinding, it revolutionized the music game genre. But can the sequel, now under a new developer, live up to the hype and provide more than just an expanded set list? Read on, my monkeys, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: As we would with any sequel, let's start the graphics with a comparison to Guitar Hero 3's predecessor by saying that, without a doubt, 3's presentation is head and shoulders above the previous offering. No longer a mere port of a Playstation 2-grade title, the characters and environments have a depth and polish that are, to put it mildly, a significant improvement.
          That said, this is still not a game you're going to play for the graphics. Given how little is being rendered (a band of four, a stage, and some crowd) it is a bit of a disappointment to see visuals of this quality on a system capable of so much more. The animations, in particular, are a huge let down--with characters in the band "rocking out" completely out of sync with the music, often even head banging to music that isn't there, and the venerated "star power" animations removed.
          Worse, still missing are an enhanced character library, along with a much demanded create-a-rocker feature, leaving you with a very narrow selection of guitarists to choose from and no control over what the rest of your band looks like.
          Though, on the plus side, one of the female characters did consistently distract Our Ape Masters every time he played, making him botch critical solos as he snuck peaks of her scantily clad, leather-corseted glory. 3 out of 5

      Playability: If, somehow, inconceivably, you haven't played a Guitar Hero game before...because, I don't know, you've been stranded on a barrier reef somewhere and living off of raw fish heads...the premise is that you use a custom guitar controller to play the axe portions of famous songs in a rhythm game similar to the afore mentioned Dance Dance Revolution (and if you don't know what that is, put down the mouse and get the $!*# out of the house now). The guitar controller has five "chord buttons" that correspond to a color and a "strum bar" that, when used in conjunction, make you pretend like your playing a real guitar. Match the chord buttons up with the prompts on the screen and strum the bar in time to the rhythm and you're good to go.
          But what has made these games so magical is that, for reasons that defy proper explanation, the games really do make you feel like you are grinding axe along side the greatest guitarists of all time--and Guitar Hero 3 is no exception. Streamlined, enhanced, and now coming with a new, much improved, wireless controller, 3 is unquestionably the pinnacle of the rock game genre.
          Though the timing on 3 is a bit different than earlier games, and the on-screen display has been tweaked for a snazzier presentation, the old formula is alive and kicking in Guitar Hero 3 (GH3), and by kicking, I mean kicking some serious ass.
          The new controller, relevant to those choosing to get the bundle, is fantastic and well worth the money. Sleeker, sturdier, and more responsive than the old wired guitar from GH2, this new Les Paul licensed axe is a definite step up. The chord buttons have been greatly improved to give them a much more responsive feel, the strum bar has been beefed up to make it more solid, and the neck has been made detachable for increased portability...though the kiddy size does still make it feel a bit more like a ukulele than a true guitar.
          The song line-up is unquestionably the best we've seen in a Guitar Hero game to date and includes some of the best guitar rifts of all time. From Heart's Barracuda to Metallica's One, from The Stone's Paint it Black to Disturbed's Stricken, and from Slipknot's Before I forget to Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast, with very few exceptions the set list is all air-guitar classics. Even better, the vast majority of them are done by the original artists, and the quality of the covers has improved noticeably as well.
          We only had two real complaints, one serious and one niggling. The first, and definitely a noteworthy one for casual gamers, is that the jump in difficulty levels has gotten quite a bit more extreme, especially when going from Easy to Medium, and that may put new players off a bit. It also means that you will be stuck at a difficulty for a lot longer than you were in Guitar Hero 2, and may find the jump up to a harder level untenable if you're unwilling to get serious about playing the game. This was definitely a nod to the feedback from Guitar Hero 2, but it was poorly handled and I would have preferred they put more difficulty levels into the game rather than make you feel like your plateauing between a level that's too easy and too hard.
          The second issue, and much more minor, is that the game, especially at lower difficulties, has you playing bass lines and drum beats more than guitar rifts on some songs. It's an odd choice, one that we're not sure we understand, that can be a little disconcerting as it requires you to "watch" the prompts much more than "feel" the music.
          Still, this is definitely the best Guitar Hero we've seen to date. 4 out of 5

      Story and Drama: Amusingly, and fantastically, a "story" has actually been added to GH3, told in the form of cartoon snippets between new gigs. They're short and silly, but very sweet, and add a nice cherry on the top of your career experience. Even better, you get a separate one for Co-Op play.

      Multiplayer and Replayability: With 4 difficulty levels to master, 48 songs in the single player campaign and more than 20 more available as unlockables, it's unlikely that you'll grow tired of GH3 any time replayability shouldn't be too much of an issue.
          But the bread and butter of the Guitar Hero franchise has been getting two people thrashing on the screen at once, and that multiplayer experience is well preserved here. Even better, a dedicated Co-Op career mode has been added so you can form a band just for rocking with your buddies. Also new to 3 is the long overdue on-line play fans have been clamoring for...though in practice rocking out with someone five states away feels a little sterile and most of the people we found to play with on Xbox Live treated it more like solo play.
          Inexplicably, however, developer Red Octane opted to make some of the songs available ONLY in Co-Op play...which means if you want to rock out to the Beastie Boy's Sabotage you better have a friend handy to do it with. That, or have the All Songs cheat code enabled. 4.5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       All in all, the original is still the best. Sporting improved graphics, a slicker interface, an unbelievable set list, and a snazzy new wireless controller, Guitar Hero 3 is absolutely everything it should be. This is a must-have for anyone who's sat in their living room and strummed an air guitar for throngs of thousands of imaginary fans.

      The Good: Same great gameplay, awesome new controller.

      The Bad: A bit of a letdown in the graphics and could have used some difficulty tweaking.

      The Overall Ugly: Buy it. That's all...just buy it.

      What it's Worth: Market, plus all the bat-heads you can eat.

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