Sunday 25 November 2007

Thoughts on... Guitar Hero 3

Guitar Hero 3 finally came out here in rainy England and I've just finished a three hour session. Impressions? Well... First of all, I'm surprised just how far I've got already. While there does seem to be some bad song timing (the ZZ Top one springs to mind), GH3 is also more forgiving than GH2. As such, I'm already over halfway through and I've not failed a song yet on Medium.

The second thing I noticed is that the song selection is GREAT. Rather than it being made up of songs and bands that I've not heard of, here I find myself knowing much more of the songs, and even if I don't know the band, recognizing the song... It's great. Playing Weezer's My Name is Jonas was worth the price of admission alone (almost).

My third impression is what's wrong with GH3: I know it's been said by others but Neversoft (the new developers of Guitar Hero) just don't appear to understand the music. The game looks nice, don't get me wrong, but with GH2 you could feel the love. Here it's all a bit cold, corporate and sometimes embarrassing.

After your "guitar battle" with Tom Morrello you get to play a classic Rage track... but before it comes on, the "camera" follows a female dancer in some stupidly tight leather pants and a tight top and she starts to dance.

This is RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE here - not KISS! Rage were a very serious, politically-aware band. Morrello's guitar has "arm the homeless" on it, not "suck my love pump"! Zack Da La Rocha used to write FUCK SEXISM FUCK HOMOPHOBIA FUCK RACISM on his chest... and yet the camera is following this bored, half-assed, no-brained representation of a dancer across the stage... it's so incredibly NOT about the music. If you love Rage, this just feels incredibly inappropriate.

It's not the end of the world, obviously, but it really makes me imagine a bunch of guys in suits, smoking cigars saying, "Hmm, this track is a bit serious isn't it? Let's sex it up a little, eh?".

More evidence of Neversoft "not feeling the love" (if any more is needed) can be easily seen comparing GH2 and GH3's Career path. In GH2 you start off in a college gym, playing to a small crowd. You move to a small club. To a reasonable venue. To a massive venue. To an insane gig at Stonehenge with UFOs. (All, except the last one, rendered with nice, accurate touches of authenticity.) For you and your band, it's all about the music... You've become successful, obviously, but it's all about the live performance.

With GH3 you start off in a trendy winebar (or something weird), move on to what looks like a cross between an MTV video and a stripbar and then, on the third level, you're in a STUDIO, on the back of a fake truck, with smoke machines, filming a music video.

Woah, Neversoft, woah....

Firstly, one of, if not THE most enjoyable thing about Guitar Hero is playing your music to a screaming, adoring crowd... The thrill of the cheer, as it were. Except, on level three we're in corporate land, playing the songs to a director and some guys in suits... What the hell?! The crowd nose is still there... except there's no crowd. It's an oddly hollow experience and I was glad to finish the level and move on.

(Talking about crowds: The first time I got an encore in GH2, it felt great. The crowd kept cheering and then clapping in unison. I felt their love. Oh yes. In GH3 it couldn't be any less exciting if a Windows dialogue box popped up and and said "Play encore? Yes/No". Seriously. There is zero atmosphere.)

Next level: England. A great time to bring out some brilliant British rock acts, eh? Tip the hat to some classic Brit rock! The Who? Iron Maiden? Black Sabbath? Spinal Tap (nudge, nudge)? David Bowie? Led Zeppelin? So many more to choose from and it could all culminate in the specially recorded version of Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols! It would have a nice touch and a cool level...

Instead, we get, Black Sabbath (good start), The Sex Pistols (great), Sonic Youth (huh?), Weezer (what?) culminating with...... PEARL JAM! (wtf?). Why even bother?! I know that GH2 had the Stone Henge level, but that was iconic, this just seems a wasted opportunity.

After this, in the little animations that tell the story of your career, you're accused of "selling out" so you do a gig in a prison to increase your credibility. This could have been REALLY cool. It would have been a perfectly level for some moody, heart-felt blues-ey tunes. The songs could have really made this work, but, as ever, Neversoft don't get the tone, so we get... Scorpions...!? SCORPIONS!?! *sigh*

After the successful prison gig we get another animation... and with this one the ideology behind GH3 is revealed in all its corporate glory: Your band are bored, watching the news, when they're mentioned; Apparently their popularity is up from last week... THANK GOD! They cheer! Yay! Being in a band is like playing the stock market! Yay! As long as we're popular, that's all that matters! Yay! High five! Maybe we'll get that Coke commercial! Yay!

GH3 was not made by music lovers.

Some of the comments between songs, really, truly suck, too.

When it comes down to it, GH2 was a true-to-its-roots, honest to god, all-about-the-music rock band. It was Led Zeppelin. In comparison, GH3 is a corporate assembled and approved rock band... with all the slick production that goes with it. By comparison, it's Hanson.

I'm sure most people won't give a flying monkey's about all this stuff, and they probably don't even notice, either. Overall, it might be humourless, but it's still Guitar Hero and the track-listing is AMAZING. Even the non master recordings sound really really good.

I'll play it. I'll really enjoy it. I'll recommend it to friends. But it won't get my heart.


There's been quite a reaction from Guitar Hero fans regarding the portrayal of women by Neversoft in Guitar Hero 3, and it makes very interesting reading:

Portrayal of women in Guitar Hero 3
Guitar Hero 3 vs Rock Band

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