I've been playing a lot of Guitar Hero 3 lately and I'm a bit torn when it comes to expressing my sentiments for the game. On the one hand, I think it has the best collection of songs out of all the games in the series. "Cult of Personality" (Living Color), "Cherub Rock" (Smashing Pumpkins), "Even Flow" (Pearl Jam), and "One" (Metallica) are among the 42 featured songs and "Helicopter" (Bloc Party) is one of the Co-op bonus songs and "Ruby" (Kaiser Chiefs) is among the 24 bonus songs -- these are all great songs that get frequent play on my iPod. Sure, there are the purists who decry this dip into mainstream rock, but I'll be honest: I'm tired of playing death metal and classic rock. So, for me, the song list is a nice change of pace as I positively hated the song selection in Guitar Hero 2.
Nevertheless, there is something about this game that irks me. I'm not a guitar gaming demigod, so I don't immediately jump right to the Hard or Expert modes like a lot of people do. Instead, I like to quickly blast through the Easy mode then play on Medium in attempt to 5-star all of the songs on those two modes, knowing I will never accomplish that feat on Hard mode. And when I do this I expect a nice steady increase in difficulty as I progress through the 8 set lists and move from Easy to Medium.
This is how my experience in Easy mode went: I got a 5-star ranking on every song on my first try with the exception of Slayer's "Raining Blood". I've always hated the band Slayer and now here they were stopping me from 5-starring all of Easy mode. I barely got a 3-star on the first try. So I tried a couple times and got a 4-star rating but no matter how much I used Practice mode, and no matter how certain I was to get a perfect ranking, the 5-star rank eluded me.
So I went to Medium mode and quickly racked up a collection of 3-, 4-, and 5- star rankings. But it wasn't until "Even Flow" in the 4th set that I finally hit every note in a song on Medium and got the 500-note streak Achievement I was struggling to get. But why not until the 4th set? There were many much harder songs in the previous sets (songs that I know very well too) yet here I was breezing through songs in latter sets with perfect note completion. So I continued and eventually made my way to Metallica's "One", the very last song in the 8th set. The spot traditionally reserved for the hardest non-bonus song in the game. On Easy mode I had a 482-note streak on my first attempt on "One" and almost perfected it on the first try. On Medium mode? I couldn't even pass it. I got 79% completion on my first try and then 98% completion on my second. I needed to complete either "One" or "Raining Blood" to unlock the final Guitar Battle to beat Medium mode so I begrudgingly decided to give the murderously hard "Raining Blood" a try. No problem. I got past it on my first try with a 4-star rating. So I beat Lou the final boss you face in Guitar Battle and completed Medium mode.
I then went back to give "Raining Blood" another try on Easy mode, thinking that if I can 4-star it on Medium, I should have no trouble getting a 5-star on Easy. Wrong. I did finally get that 5-star ranking and earn the "Axe Grinder" Achievement, but it took me several more attempts, during which time I nearly smashed my plastic axe to pieces on the bamboo floor. I've seen other people on message boards decry the increase in difficulty (and seemingly randomness of it) and I must say that this is definitely bothersome. I know if I play on Hard mode and use the Practice mode I should be able to get good enough to 5-star all of the songs on Medium mode like I did in previous Guitar Hero games. Yet, for some reason, this time around I just don't think that's going to be possible for me. I'm sure there will be plenty of songs on Hard mode I have no trouble with, but that there will always a be a few on Medium that I just can't do that well on. And to me, that doesn't make much sense.
Aside from the difficulty wavering all over the place, the other common criticism of the game revolves around its use of Guitar Battles during the Career mode. Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is. There are only 3 of these boss battles and they're quite easy to get past (at least on Medium mode they are). The way the Guitar Battles work is that you face off against Tom Morello or Slash and take turns playing riffs in a song and while you do you collect power-up attacks to hit the other person with. These attacks range from "Amp Overload" where the fret board flashes on an off repeatedly for a few seconds to a "Broken String" where you can't play particular string until you mash on that one fret button 8 or so times. There's also the sadistic "Lefty Flip" which reverses the colors on the fret board to mimic a left-handed player holding the guitar. So long as you manage to stock up 2 or 3 of these attack icons, wait till the second half of the song and then release them during the opponent's busiest sections (causing him to miss the most notes) the battle will be won.
I see people saying that it's pure luck and it takes no skill, but I disagree. You can eliminate the randomness by holding onto your attacks and using them strategically to interrupt the other player's attempts at gaining attack icons of his own. Also, I don't understand the seriousness people place on this game. I hate to sound like a jerk, but this is a videogame and I'm happy that Neversoft added the Guitar Battle mode to remind us as such. I know a lot of people -- myself included -- play this game to live out their own fantasies of rock stardom, but people need to also lighten up. It's not a guitar simulator. You're really not playing any of these songs. It's a rhythym game, plain and simple. If you're that bent out of shape over the inclusion of three measly Guitar Battles (only one is required to complete Career mode) then you really ought to back away from the Xbox and buy yourself a real guitar.
Anyway, this has gone on long enough. I'll be online most of today playing Ranked Matches on Xbox Live so if anybody out there wants to play, shoot me a text message through Live and we'll get together. One of the guys Kristin works with is coming over tonight to play through Co-op Career mode with me, which just so happens to remind me of my one other complaint about this game: you can only play Co-op Career mode with two people in the same room. Although you can play Co-op songs over Xbox Live, the Co-op Career mode requires you to be in the same room playing on the same television. Why, I have no idea, but apparently Rock Band is going to be the same way. Which, in 2007, just seems positively antiquated.