Prior to playing Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the Mac, I never would have guessed that there was an amazing musician just waiting to be discovered within me.
There still isn't, but that doesn't make the game any less fun.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is the Mac port of one of the latest installments of the Guitar Hero franchise. Here, you must create a band, choose from one of several characters available and play through an assortment of songs well enough to move on to the next level while rocking out in the process.
Play well and you'll be courted with more money (which can be used to buy unlocked characters, new guitars, spiffier outfits and additional songs for your playlist), sponsorships from equipment makers, talent scouts, managers and offers from bigger and better venues. Play poorly and the song will ring with missed and distorted notes, the fans will begin to boo and the song will end altogether.
Like many other music-centered games, Guitar Hero III is, at its core, a color matching game. Simply attach the guitar-shaped USB controller to your Mac, install the software (just drag the game folder to your "Applications" folder and watch it munch up 4.08 gigabytes of space), launch the application and you're good to go. Once a band name has been chosen, create a character from one of included templates (such as a brawny surfer type, a ropy, tattooed guitarist with a Sid Vicious build, an asian bubble-gum-pop-meets-punk Lolita-esque guitarist and a husky "Kiss"-esque armor-clad guitarist named "Lars Umlaut") and you're ready to begin.
Prior to their first gig, new players can head over to the Tutorial mode, which walks you through the basic concepts and moves found in the game. Techniques such as the whammy bar, activating star power and "hammer on" and "pull off" techniques prove helpful and you won't feel as if you're walking in quite as blind to a fairly new experience.
As the game begins, you're able to choose from four available tracks while working your first gig at a backyard party. Once the level loads, a guitar neck will appear with notes flowing down it. Match the notes to the corresponding color on the controller's guitar neck, hold down the note, hit the strum bar and this will cause your character to play the note. If more than one note appears in the same position on the guitar neck, just hold down the corresponding buttons and hit the strum bar to continue playing the song.
The audience's approval of your performance becomes your life force in the game. Play well and the on-screen "Rock Meter" will reflect this. Miss too many notes and the Rock Meter will drop from the green into the yellow and red zones. Players can win the crowd back by correctly hitting a series of notes without missing a beat.
On occasion, standard notes scrolling your way will be shaped like stars. Hit several of these to build up Star Power, which can be activated after a given period of time by tilting the guitar neck of the controller. During this time, your score (and any accumulated bonuses) will be boosted, the screen taking on an electrical glow while your character wins the audience over and gets back in healthier territory on the Rock Meter. For an additional means of boosting your score, be sure to hit the guitar's whammy bar on longer notes as well as hitting 50 or 100 consecutive note streaks when possible.
Even if you're uncertain about the title (or the idea of rocking out on your Mac with a guitar-shaped controller with the window shades open), it's the music that wins you over. An expansive catalog covers just about everything from the past 40 years including "Slow Ride" by Foghat, Metallica's "One," "Mississippi Queen" by Mountain, the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," Dragonforce's "Through the Fire and the Flames," Santana's "Black Magic Woman" and Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" with other songs available for purchase and download provided your band has earned enough money. Additional songs can also be accessed via the game's co-op mode
Competitive elements also sell the title and players will occasionally have to take part in "boss battles" against characters like Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Guns and Roses'/Velvet Revolver's Slash, the Grim Ripper and Lou the Devil. Here, players will have to play a song, collect Battle Power and use Battle Power effects to overload their opponents' amp, cause a guitar string to break, double the notes they have to play, temporarily switch their guitar from a right handed guitar to a left handed guitar as well as other tricks to cause their opponent's Rock Meter to bottom out. If a decisive winner hasn't emerged by the end of the song, the Battle Mode will enter Sudden Death mode, in which the only attainable Battle Powers are Death Drain attacks, which inevitably makes the opponent fail by draining his or her Rock Meter.
In as unapproachable as the game could have been, Guitar Hero III warms up to the user by presenting a fun amusing story of a band on the rise via its cut-scenes, which the player looks forward to seeing at the end of the game's various stages. Classic elements of the band on the rise, getting their first gig, the overblown first music video, the world tour through Japan, the concert in the desert, the prison concert put on to defy rumors of selling out (shades of Metallica's "St. Anger") are shown and a few comical twists present a tongue-in-cheek humor that's welcome to the title. The game knows when to take itself seriously and when to laugh at itself and it's nice to see this distinction present.
Guitar Hero III is a marquee title and for good reason. A combination of well-detailed textures and models with cell-shaded elements makes the game visually appealing while the sound work is second to none. Even through your Mac's basic speaker, the quality is there and the game's music catalog is as enjoyable as one could hope for. For players wrestling to master a song, you like what you're hearing and it's fun to head into a stage with a completely unknown song and enjoy the experience nonetheless.
For players looking to go online, the game's multiplayer system is robust yet simple. Create an account, enter the license number the first time and the game can automatically log you in to play with or against other players. Online performance felt brisk with no appreciable lag, though encountering the wrong opponent to face off with proved to be an invitation to be blown out of the water and to practice just a bit more…
Even with a hefty 296-megabyte patch released earlier this year, there remains some work to be done. Though the game performed well 98 percent of the time, there were moments where the game became laggy, its frame rate stuttering for several seconds and throwing off the rhythm of the songs. Although this problem soon resolves itself, this can throw off your timing to an appreciable degree and make the rest of the level an effort to catch up and win the audience back after a series of mixed notes.
The Bottom Line
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock arrives at a somewhat hefty $59.99 price tag via its Amazon.com store link, though this becomes worth it (especially with the game's expansion packs en route). The game itself is fun, the USB guitar controller begins to feel natural and this is the kind of game where the one or two songs you tell yourself you want to play quickly turns into five or six.
Whether this is necessarily a good thing is a matter of perspective, but there's part of me that wants to get back to beating the game's next difficulty level and I can't think of much that will get in the way of that.