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Joystiq first look: Guitar Hero III

Kevin Kelly

At this point you would think you could just put the Guitar Hero franchise on automatic pilot and let it coast into the sales charts, but Activision is taking a risk by going with developer Neversoft, who has never published a rhythm--based game before. How were they lucky enough to have this practically-guaranteed-to-land-in-the-top-10-sales title?

Well, it has a lot to do with alcohol, and the one-man, f-dropping bomb that is Neversoft president Joel Jewett. At E3 last year, he was apparently "buzzed" at the Activision party, and he decided to tell the Red Octane guys what an impact Guitar Hero I and II had on the team at Neversoft. According to Jewett, the guys started bringing the game in and setting it up in their mocap studio on Fridays, and drinking a ton of booze (kegs and Jack Daniels preferred) in the process.

Gallery: Guitar Hero 3 | 16 Photos

Well, that little visit paid off, because later Joel got a call from those same guys at Red Octane, who asked if they'd be interested in working on Guitar Hero III. We can only imagine Joel's eyes popping out when the that call came in. Anyhow, it just shows what drinking can do these days, kids!

One of the developers came out and jammed at expert level on the game, while they told us about the enhancements to the graphics and the gaming. They fully updated the graphics, including doing motion capture for the avatars, and the NPCs in the background, like the go-go girls in the stage that's set in a strip club. Neversoft has a full-sized motion capture studio at their facility in California, so why not make good use of it? Especially if you have to mocap some strippers. Tough work, this rock stuff. Based on what we saw, the dancers will be giving Soul Calibur a run for the money. Jiggle factor five, Mr. Sulu.

The interface of the game has been tweaked, but not really changed. The rock meter now has test tubes on the top that light up as you attain Star Power, although it works in the same way. Likewise the multiplier interface is tweaked slightly, with lights charting your multiplier progress on the left side, and they've thoughtfully added a note count meter, so you can tell how long your latest streak has been. There were very highly rendered pedals on the floor in front of the avatars that were playing when we watched that stood out in great detail from the stage, but they didn't address the usage of pedals at all, so that mystery plug on the 360 remains a mystery.

Of course, the game is really only as good as the songs they include, and the success of the first two games in this franchise have made it easier (and possibly more expensive) to get well-known tracks into your hands. For instance, Neversoft was able to get the Rolling Stones "Paint it Black" for GHIII ... but they didn't settle for simply dropping an mp3 or aiff file into the game. They were able to get the actual source tapes from the original recording for the song and use it as a master track. We also spotted Foghat's "Slow Ride" in there, although it's not a master track. There will be more songs released later this week as E3 rocks and rolls on.

However, the coolest part of the gameplay are the multiplayer modes. There's the usual head to head mode, but they've added head to head co-op career, and head to head online and head to head co-op. They've also added a battle mode which is a lot of fun, especially if you're playing against someone who outranks you in the ranks of rock. Battle Mode looks like head to head, but you have the added bonus of being able to hurl attacks at your opponent. You'll see different attacks slot up above the playfield, and you can pass on them, or hurl them across the board at your opponent, affecting their gameplay. Attacks include: Amp Overload (shakes their screen so it's hard to see the notes), Lefty Flip (gotta play all notes lefty/reversed), Broken String (fret pops out player has to pound the corresponding button back down until the string is "restrung"), Difficulty Up (raises them to the next highest difficulty ... we aren't sure what happens is they're already playing on Expert), Whammy (they have to whammy excessively until the screen clears), and more.

You can also block attacks if you're fast enough, or store up to three in the slots, and then stick 'em all on your enemy rocker at the same time. You can even do combos, like double lefty slip, two broken strings, etc. It adds a new element to head to head, so if you've grown bored with simply hitting the notes on time while playing against your friends, this will keep you second guessed and awake.

Just as they wrapped things up, Joel Jewett came out and grabbed the cord for the guitar controller (it was an Xbox 360 Xploder) and said, "You know another thing that f*cks me off? The freakin' cords!" He yanks the cords out, and proceeds to SMASH the controller to bits ... right in front of this writer's feet. If only he'd broken a toe ... free Guitar Hero III! Anyhow, this was all to illustrate the fact that "We're goin' cordless, boys! On the Xbox 360!" Check out the pictures of the new Xbox 360 wireless guitar in the gallery, and check your wallet to see if you have any money left over for yet another guitar. Between Rock Band and GHIII, we'll have enough peripherals to build our own Rhythm-Based Voltron with.

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