Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock E3 2007 Hands-On

Can't stop the rock: We get an early look at the next Guitar Hero game from Activision.

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Perhaps one of the best indications of the ever-increasing popularity of Activision's Guitar Hero series is the list of artists who are contributing songs to the upcoming third game in the franchise, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Among the currently revealed artists, you'll find songs from the Rolling Stones, the Beastie Boys, and Living Colour--all of whom contributed actual masters of their songs for inclusion in the game. In the case of Living Colour, the band actually went back into the studio to record an updated version of their late 80s hit, "Cult of Personality," complete with new, finger-shredding solos from LC axe-man Vernon Reid. Just before the start of E3 2007, we had a chance to get our hands on the new rock with a look at the next Guitar Hero game for Xbox 360.

Share the rock in co-operative play, or destroy your opponent in battle mode.
Share the rock in co-operative play, or destroy your opponent in battle mode.

Beyond the new soundtrack--and there are more tunes to announce as we get closer to the game's release later this year--perhaps the most striking thing about Guitar Hero III is its upgraded look. Everything from the menu system, to the characters, and even the in-game gauges have a new sheen to them that might take some getting used to for long-time GH fans. For one thing, the guitarists themselves--while still retaining the cartoon proportions that gave them their charm in the earlier games--now have better muscle definition and slightly more realistic skin textures. There's a new axe-slinger on board, too--the pixie-ish J-pop star Midori. And it's not just the guitarists--the Neversoft developers went ahead and motion-captured the mouths of the singers in the game, so that you have actual lip-synching to the words of the various songs on the soundtrack. Heck, even the bearded bass player has a new axe to pluck. The star-power meter is now measured out in tubes like those you'd use in the back of a Marshall stack, and there will be new arenas and clubs for you to rock out in, including a seedy club complete with pole dancers and a desert rock festival that looks like it's patterned after Coachella, though mercifully free from the smell of hippies.

The E3 demo of the game will feature a host of songs including the driving mid-tempo rocker "Lay Down" by Canada's Priestess; "Rock and Roll All Nite" by Kiss; Pearl Jam's "Evenflow"; Tenacious D's "The Metal"; "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse; "Barracuda" by Heart; Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock"; Weezer's "My Name is Jonas"; "Slow Ride" by Foghat; "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys; Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" and, last but certainly not least, "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones. This last track in particular is an inspired choice, thanks to the ever-intertwining guitar parts of Keith Richards and Brian Jones.

Cooperative play seems to be a major focus for Guitar Hero III, because not only will you be able to play co-op online, but the game will also feature a cooperative career mode, where you and a buddy follow the path that documents the rise and fall of a rock band. To encourage playing cooperatively, some songs--such as the Beastie's "Sabotage"--can only be unlocked by first playing them in co-op mode.

The big new mode in Guitar Hero III is a battle mode that, producers told us, is reminiscent of the classic showdown between Steve Vai and Ralph Macchio in the seminal 1980s blues flick, Crossroads. Here, you'll square off against another guitarist in your bid to prove your dominance in a particular song. As the song progresses, you'll be able to "attack" your opponent by tossing difficulty modifiers his way. These modifiers include everything from doubling the amount of notes he has to play, to rattling the other player's screen, overloading his amp, requiring him to play lefty, changing his difficulty level, or even breaking his string (which he will have to quickly fix by rapidly pressing one of the fret buttons). Up to three of these temporary modifiers can be piled on top of one another at a time, and if you choose to use them at the right moment, they can cause havoc for your opponent. If you double an attack (such as dropping two double-note modifiers in a row), you won't quadruple the notes your foe has to play; instead the amount of time the double-note modifier will be that much longer. You can also steal an opponent's attack at certain times and then use it on him.

Of course, all of this bombastic, battling chaos doesn't really do much to serve the song. As you toss attacks at your opponent, the song often becomes a obscured by the sounds of zinged attacks and a cavalcade of missed notes. Your goal, after all, is to make your opponent sound as bad as possible. Playing battle mode, you quickly learn to save your attack power-ups at strategic moments--a double note or lefty flip power-up, for example, is ideal to lay on your foe just as the song is leading into the big guitar solo. Battling it out with an opponent, you spend most of the song with one eye on the screen and one eye on your opponent; the second he flips his neck to toss an attack your way, you'll want to reciprocate the favor or else risk the match-up.

The new stage environments run the gamut from seedy to epic.
The new stage environments run the gamut from seedy to epic.

When you're not taking on a friend in multiplayer battle mode, you'll be encountering some of rock's most legendary guitarists in the game's career mode. After completing a number of songs at a certain venue, you'll be challenged by a guitarist in an axe-wrangling duel that plays just like the multiplayer battle mode. The first guitarist you'll face is GN'R and Velvet Revolver's Slash in an original composition by the guitarist that features plenty of back-and-forth wailing, both with and without a backing band. As with the multiplayer battles, you'll be able to toss power-up attacks at Slash or defend yourself against his six-string assaults. Should you manage to defeat the top-hatted one, you'll get to join him in an encore of "Welcome to the Jungle." In addition to Slash, there will be two other boss battles of similar stature in the game.

Wannabe guitarists whose rocking has been constrained by wired guitar controllers take heed: Guitar Hero III will signal the coming of wireless controllers for the game. No word yet on the price for the new instruments, but we expect they'll be comparable to the current guitars. Combine that with new online multiplayer and the ability to download new songs in the future (though which songs, and how much they'll cost, are details to be revealed later) and Guitar Hero III seems to be shaping up quite nicely. The game is due for release later this year and we'll be bringing you much more in the coming months.

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