Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Impressions - A First Look at Guitar Hero on the PC

Playing Guitar Hero with...a keyboard? It's real, and we take an up-close look.

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The Guitar Hero series has conquered living rooms the world over with its combination of hard-rocking music and its unusual, highly addictive control scheme. The series has traditionally used a guitar-shaped controller that maps buttons to large, oversized frets, which makes playing the games look and feel as if you're rocking out with a real guitar. This has led to countless video game players turning into wannabe rock guitarists in their living rooms as they played the games on their consoles. Now, Aspyr Media is bringing the experience to your desktop computer with its upcoming port of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

Ready to rock? Go get your computer!
Ready to rock? Go get your computer!

Let's get this out of the way first: The game will be shipping with a USB-compatible X-Plorer guitar controller, but you can absolutely play the game using a keyboard. However, if you already have a USB-compatible guitar controller, you can use that instead. If you're familiar with the series, you'll know that the gameplay boils down to hitting the colored fret buttons in time with the colored cues that slide across the screen continuously, then building up enough "star power" to let loose by tilting your controller vertically, which lets you gain huge bonus points while playing.

We watched a pre-alpha version of the game in motion with the highly difficult song Take This Life by In Flames, and with the guitar controller the game seemed to play more or less identically to the console versions. The game looked as bright and as colorful as ever on a high-end laptop, and seemed to run at a brisk frame rate. Though it won't offer any kind of special features that take advantage of DirectX 10, it will be compatible with Vista.

In terms of the keyboard controls, the development team at Aspyr is still tweaking the layout. The current control scheme uses the center row of keyboard keys on the left side (A, S, D, F, and Caps Lock, though that's subject to change) as the fret buttons, as well as the mouse buttons to strum up (left mouse button) and strum down (right mouse button), and to use the guitar tilt (mousewheel). According to the testing team, this combination seems to work just fine, and with your controls limited to the keyboard, you should even be able to get away with playing the game on a laptop computer on the go. (Just try not to rock out too hard if the people sitting next to you on the plane are trying to sleep.)

The PC version of Guitar Hero III will support keyboard-and-mouse controls.
The PC version of Guitar Hero III will support keyboard-and-mouse controls.

The game will feature online play for both PCs and Macs, and even Mac-versus-PC play using built-in code from the middleware that Aspyr licensed to port the game. It's not clear exactly how far or in which directions the game's online components will expand, either; right now, Aspyr tells us that the company's focus is on bringing a faithful re-creation of the Guitar Hero III console experience onto computers. From the looks of things, that's exactly what's happening--all the rock-and-roll gameplay and online options of Guitar Hero III on the consoles seem to fit just fine on a laptop computer. Aspyr is hoping to release the PC version of Guitar Hero III on the same day as the console versions, with the Mac version to follow afterwards.

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