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A Step Backward
on November 4, 2007
A note to any official Amazon guys - you might want to merge this review set with the bundle on 360.
Okay. Now, I'm a fan of the franchise. I own a lot of it. All of it, actually, and twice on 360 and PS2 for the immediate predecessor of this installment. So, hopefully you will trust me when I say that I am a fan of the gameplay and the franchise in general in this preface.
It's kind of baffling what's happened with this game. Neversoft has certainly recognized some of the shortcomings of its predecessor, but have somehow managed to not solve even one of those issues, and have, in fact, introduced new problems to be addressed. I'll do this as a sort of point-by-point thing, to keep it organized:
1. Medium-to-Hard. In Guitar Hero 2, the jump from Medium to Hard was only slightly more enjoyable than stepping in front of a speeding bus. The main reason this was such a problem was that the game was very, very poorly designed for getting players over that average-to-hard hump. For one thing, the initial two difficulty settings compel you to adapt your grip on the fretboard to leave your index finger on the green button, pinky on the blue button, and keep each assigned to its place. With the introduction of the orange button, that's no longer really a viable strategy if you want to avoid crippling the weaker side of your hand. Additionally, in 2, upon reaching hard difficulty, the speed of the notes down the fretboard doubled, the fifth button was introduced, and chords and note orders increased in complexity. Those three things were enough to make hard a no-go for a lot of people in principle where a gentler slope would have taken care of that.
In response, Neversoft has tried to reduce the impact of the change in difficulty by making the Medium notes move just about as fast as the Hard difficulty ones. Unfortunately, instead of making the Medium to Hard transition easier (still very difficult because of the whole hand-training thing), it just makes the Easy to Medium transition much more jarring. Hard is still so hard that I barely want to try it at all.
2. Uncomfortable Play - I swear, the designers have put some of these songs together specifically to be painful for me. Seriously - playing Knights of Cydonia I thought I was going to cripple myself. On Medium. These guys really need to get some bad players into the office to see if they're not making something dangerous. I should not find out that I'm bad at a game by giving myself a repetitive motion injury.
3. Guitar Battles - This is a new problem for the single player. Guitar battles in multiplayer might be a good idea. I don't honestly know. Seems more interesting than a score-off to me. Unfortunately, in single player, because of the way the attacks are set up, they're really just an exercise in coin flipping. Some of the attacks are utterly crippling to the computer player while others, in addition to having a large delay before they become effective, essentially have no impact whatsoever. If you get the good attacks while you're trying to play, you'll win. If you don't, you lose. Whether you're any good or not is really not of much relevance. That's bad. Guitar battles in single player, for me, tended toward exercises in frustration at the computer not giving me the tools I needed to succeed and not having any other recourse to win. They need retooling.
4. Cooperative Campaign - This is a wonderful idea. It really is. But what half-brain decided that there should be exclusive tracks squirreled away in it that I cannot get to? That's right - I am totally unable to unlock those tracks, because I cannot play the cooperative campaign online. I'll confess - I'm old. My friends are married and have families. The only time I'm going to have somebody with another guitar at my house is if I throw a party, and I'm not really a party kind of guy. That's not a good reason to keep me from playing frigging Sabotage if I want to. I will grant that they have made the songs themselves available in online coop play, but nothing I do online seems to unlock anything for me to practice (and I SERIOUSLY need to practice Helicopter before I try THAT again). Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I'm going to assume I know what I'm doing.
5. Song List - Guitar Hero 2 was pretty good in this regard. It had a good sampling from a broad spectrum of rock (maybe a little light on new stuff). Guitar Hero 3 seems to be making a point of digging in the dustbins of rock history. It's not that the songs are bad, but many of them are outside of my experience, and that puts me off. I'm a child of the 90s. This game seems to be a schizophrenic effort to appeal to younger people than me and to older people than me. Some of the songs also puzzle me. Kool Thing? Really, guys? I can't even tell what I'm supposed to be doing there. It's barely a song. There's better Sonic Youth. There's a distressing number of songs where the lead guitar is nearly invisible, and that makes it kind of hard to play. The number of master tracks is also disappointingly small, compared to its soon-to-be-released competitor, Rock Band.
Don't get me wrong - the game is fun for what it is, but there's just so much here that could have been done better. Should have, really. I hope Neversoft takes some time on the next installment, puts in a fifth difficulty level (between Normal and Hard), and works out the kinks in their new stuff.