digital_hackery (2007-48)

Riff Master

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Digital hackery

Guitar Hero III rocks on despite its corporate buy-out

by Dave Prince

If you ever want to make a nerd cry, tell him that his favorite video game company was bought by a big, faceless corporation.

Iâ’ve watched countless happy geek-child memories swallowed up and spat out like so many Madden NFL clones by publishing houses whose only interest lies in profitability. Imagine, then, my apprehension when I learned that Harmonix and Red Octane, the developer and publisher of the Guitar Hero series, were bought by two competing companies, and that Neversoftâ"a company best-known for releasing more Tony Hawk games on the market than there are actual skateboardsâ"would be developing Guitar Hero III for Activision. Granted, most Guitar Hero fans probably didnâ’t even notice, and the warm reception Guitar Hero III will inevitably receive this holiday season will ensure the seriesâ’ prosperity.

Luckily for those of us who care, Activision and Neversoft have managed to do the impossible: Guitar Hero III, though helmed by a new team, does its fans none of the disservices typical of the â“old idea, new bossâ” phenomenon. Harmonix and Red Octaneâ’s efforts made the Guitar Hero franchise ripe for future endeavors. With Guitar Hero III, Neversoft found itself standing on the shoulders of giantsâ"all it had to do is not screw it up. Fortunately, it didnâ’t.

GHIIIâ’s gameplay retains its raw charm. For the uninitiated, players use the familiar Guitar Hero controller, a scaled-down version of either a wired Gibson Xplorer or a wireless Gibson Les Paul, to â“strumâ” notes in sequence as they cascade down the screen. Certain sequences, played correctly, build up the playerâ’s â“Star Power,â” which can then be used to provide a bonus to the playerâ’s scoring rate. Repeat this process 34 times, and youâ’ll have played through the gameâ’s Career Mode.

This might sound like it makes for a simplistic game, but nothing is simple when you are rocking out. This cannot be emphasized enough in print. You. Are. Rocking. Out. If you are not rocking out, you are not playing the game right and should be ashamed of yourself. If that controller hasnâ’t gone over your head at least once by the third song, then by God, you take that five-button six-string back to the store RIGHT NOW and let some kid who knows what to do with a whammy bar take care of the living-room superstar duties. Maybe Internet checkers is more your speed, grandpa.

Neversoftâ’s additions, while hardly groundbreaking, serve to expand on the foundations laid by Harmonix without simply being shoehorned into the existing model. Instead of merely nodding to various rock archetypes, Neversoft recruited them. The newly-minted â“Boss Battleâ” feature allows the player to try to out-rock guitar icons Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine fame) and Slash (of If You Donâ’t Know Who Slash is By Now, Youâ’re Beyond My Help fame), both battles having been written and performed by the guitarists themselves. Activisionâ’s deep pockets also helped to secure improved licensing deals, as GHIII features 30 more original master recordings than its predecessor, including such high-dollar items as the Rolling Stonesâ’ â“Paint It Blackâ” and a brand-new recording of the Sex Pistolsâ’ â“Anarchy in the U.K.â” (In typical Sex Pistols fashion, all of their original masters were lost years ago).

Despite my relief that GHIII didnâ’t turn out to be another case of a big publisher buying a popular concept and subsequently ruining it, certain aspects of this new version still irk me. The gameâ’s track list, for example, brings up the question of censorship. Though the censoring of various F-bombs has been present since the first Guitar Hero, Neversoft, having access to more original tracks for GHIII, had to edit more of those originals for inclusion in the game.

The problem isnâ’t even really the censorship itselfâ"in a mixed-audience product that includes mature content, itâ’s going to happen. However, when a developer decides to use a song like the Dead Kennedysâ’ â“Holiday in Cambodia,â” the amount of editing necessary to make the track palatable to the soccer mom who will be buying this game for her child raises a few questions. Why include this song when there are examples of the punk genre out there (by the same band, even!) that would require no editing and are arguably better-suited for the game? Is it in the best interest of the game to include a song with so many blatant edits that players risk mid-game giggling fits? Can the editing process even be taken seriously when the word â“bitchâ” is replaced, but lines about starving to death and having your head skewered on a stake are left unchanged?

These objections are all secondary, however, and pass from memory while playing, like questions about Bret Michaelsâ’ wardrobe during a rendition of â“Every Rose Has Its Thorn.â” GHIII, while not expanding on the concept as much as Harmonixâ’s recent Rock Band, is a solid entry to the series that disappoints only in the minor ways which have been with the series since its inception.

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All content © 2007 Metropulse .

© 2007 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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