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'Guitar Hero 3' Preview (Xbox 360)


There's something about Guitar Hero that just inspires awe in everyone watching. And then when it's your turn you step up to the plate, get handed the axe, and then you slip it over your neck. Your hands go to rest on the multi-colored buttons, and suddenly everything just feels right. You know you've just got a piece of stylish plastic in your hands, but when you're rocking and everyone's looking on, you really feel like you're on the stage being admired by millions. If the Guitar Hero 3 we saw is any indicator, guitar playing wannabes are just going to be rocking even harder rather shortly.

It was a little bit worrying to see that the original developers behind Guitar Hero weren't going to be around for the third installment, instead moving over their focus to the more robust and more costly Rock Band, now giving singers and drummers a chance to join in on the music action. However, though there is a new developer in the mix, things are just as good as ever, and if the final track listing sounds as good as the ones we heard then Guitar Hero 3 will certainly be the best of the franchise so far, and it's all because of the songs since not much has changed gameplay wise.

When I fire up Guitar Hero 2 there's a few songs I always go back to time and time again; such numbers as Freebird, Girlfriend, Sweet Child of Mine, and many others. However, there is an equal number of songs on there I just don't care about, and which I only play when absolutely forced to. After giving the track listing for Guitar Hero 3 a run through, I'm struggling to find a stinker in the bunch so far. Even Barracuda, a song I was only barely familiar with, was a great song to rock out to and one I'll definitely be playing over and over again. Looking at the early list of songs and those that were already playable for Guitar Hero 3 – Barracuda, School's Out, Rock and Roll All Nite, My Name is Jonas –there's already some killer songs, and then when you throw in some Beastie Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Smashing Pumpkins things just get better and better.

The controls looked to be like they were with the last game and my first introduction to the franchise, with you following the colored button chords on the screen and pressing the corresponding buttons on the neck of the guitar. There are several different difficulty settings, with only the true heroes being able to rock out on hard and expert. The higher in difficulty you go the quicker the notes come at you and the more complicated their patterns become; plus, you'll also have to press some more complicated power chords, like three notes at once instead of just one or two. Once you've built up enough Star Power, you can then unleash it to give you even more points, and/or to help you overcome a truly difficult strand of button presses within a song.

We also got to see the cooperative multiplayer mode of the game, which has you and a friend teaming up to tackle a song together, with one player handling lead guitar and the other handling bass. One really nice feature is that no player has to cave into the demands of another one, such as if one player is experienced and playing on Expert while the other is a newbie and having to start out on Easy. Instead, before a song begins, players get to choose the difficulty best suited for them, and then only they are affected by that difficulty setting so everyone can have a good time and not have to worry about being too challenged or have their experience dumbed down. It really is a genius feature, as it means nobody will be left out, and everyone will get the chance to experience the music.

One thing that is shared between players in the cooperative mode, however, is the Star Power meter, which can be built up by both of you, but neither one or the other can activate it without the other; so if one of you choose not to crank your guitar to activate it, neither of you will get the powerup. Instead, both of you need to activate it at once, giving the whole maneuver a very ZZ Top inspired choreographed feel. It can be frustrating when you want to activate it but the other doesn't, but when everything gels together it's really enjoyable.

Whether you're playing the single player or playing the multiplayer, Guitar Hero 3 looks like it will please the rock fan in everyone. I can still recall playing Barracuda for the first time in front of people, and though I was only playing on the Normal difficulty people still seemed amazed at my playing, complemented me, and even slapped me five. Honestly, it was a feeling I'd never got before from playing a game, and was one that I completely loved. The Guitar Hero franchise just has that effect on people, as it seems like a game that everyone wants to play, or is at least a game where everyone admires the real rockers of the game. Regardless, whether you've played any of the Guitar Hero games before or if this is your first one, be on the lookout for Guitar Hero 3.