In one corner, you have the sequel to the indisputed rhythm game
champion of 2005 and 2006. The name that introduced us to
the fake guitar and has kept us addicted for over two years.
Developed by rythm newcomer Neversoft, this contender hopes to retain
his predescessor's crown and keep fans playing until their fingers fall
off. Put your hands together for Guitar Hero III!
In the other corner, a newcomer to the genre with a lot of
promise. Developed by Harmonix, the same people that made Guitar Hero
what it is, this contender brings drums and vocals to the stage,
hoping to draw in every casual gamer looking for an excuse to throw a
party. He carries a higher price but comes in a bigger box. Let's
make some noise for Rock Band!
Ladies and gentlemen... let's get ready to rumble!!!
Let the games begin
Though very distinct games, Rock Band and Guitar Hero III are very
much in competition with one another. While Guitar Hero III has an
undeniably powerful name behind it, Rock Band entices with its promise
of multiplayer heaven. Each game has their strong points, and if anyone
out there is sitting on the fence, I hope to make the decision easier.
Both are solid gaming experiences, and I'm not looking to score them
individually. Rather, they will be pit against each other in a number
of categories which I deem appropriate.
Virtually identical. Everyone knows Guitar Hero by this time.
Scrolling notes move from the top to the bottom of the screen on a
virtual fret board and must be held down and strummed on a fake plastic guitar. Special
note sequences spread throughout the song can be played perfectly to
acquire "Star Power" (GH) or "Overdrive" (RB) which can be used to double the score multiplier and help you
through difficult sections (the game is much more forgiving of missed
notes while Star Power or Overdrive is active). In Rock Band,
Overdrive has the added benefit of being able to save a bandmate who
has failed out of the song. Another welcome change in Rock Band is the ability to acquire additional Overdrive during Overdrive.
For people pushing to get the max score and that 5th star, this means
you don't need to be nearly as careful about when to use the power as
in GH3 (or GH2 or GH).
I suppose the slight edge here goes to Rock Band for the changes to Star Power/Overdrive. But don't buy one over the other for that; it's not a huge difference.
Both games feature guitar and bass sections for each song. In
Guitar Hero III, the single player versions of songs differ from the
co-op multiplayer versions, the single player being a combination of
bass and guitar play. In Rock Band, the bass player can build up a
score multiplier of six (all other instruments stop at four), going
into a "Bass Groove". Supposedly this was added to counter the fact
that bass sections can be a bit more sedate than the lead guitar. Rock
Band also features Drum and Vocal sections. The drum gameplay is also
handled through a fret board, something with bugs me a little. This
fret board is four notes wide instead of five. Drummers must also worry
about their foot pedal, indicated onscreen by a yellow bar crossing the
fret board. The vocals are handled in a similar fashion to the Karaoke
Revolution or Singstar games (right to left scrolling bars indicate
the required pitch, while lyrics scroll underneath).
The single player quickplay and tour modes are virtually identical
in gameplay, but differ in the polish. In quickplay you pick and song
and difficulty (and instrument in Rock Band) and you jump straight to
the song with a random character and venue. Guitar Hero III displays
the top score and best star level for each song at the song list,
something which I sometimes miss from Rock Band. In single player tour,
you must defeat a set of around five songs in any order you like. Once
that set is complete, you move on to the next. And so on until you're
done. The GH3 single player has a bit of a storyline to it, and also
allows you to return for an encore at the end of each set. In
addition, you will periodically be faced with a boss battle, in which
Star Power is replaced with "Battle Power", and you and your opponent
will be trying to throw one another off balance with things like broken
strings, increased difficulty, and lefty flip. I don't really want to
give away the ending, but it's actually pretty awesome.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, while RB is a great game, GH3
trumps it on the single player mode. The story, the battles, the
encores... you actually get a sense of accomplishment from beating it
all. Rock Band leads you from set to set, with nothing tying it
together in between and nothing climactic to top it off. I'm not saying
get GH3 if you don't have any friends and will play only single player;
there is more to consider. But as for the single player tour and
quickplay modes, Guitar Hero III is the better game.
Both games present their challenges to be sure. There is however no
question that GH3 is the more difficult game. The catch here is that
developers really need to learn the difference between challenging
and hard. Rock Band's most difficult songs are challenges, but they
are still songs I feel like I could conquer if I practiced at it. In
Guitar Hero III, the only people five-starring Through the Fire and Flames on expert are maniac
fucking savant nine year olds. The game has a difficulty curve like
running headlong into a brick wall. You get to the last three or four
songs on hard mode (we're not even to expert yet) and it's literally like a punch to the throat.
Also, since the single player mode only has one guitar section in
GH3, you will often find yourself playing both the bass and lead guitar
sections, sometimes simultaneously on the harder difficulties, as though they just needed something to inflate the difficulty a bit more. While it can be nice to have something to play during a long bass section (which you
won't have in Rock Band), the sore fingers aren't worth it.
Unless you can play Guitar Hero in your sleep, I would suggest Rock Band to avoid frustration.
Night and day difference. Hell, you don't even need a whole band.
Two people will have a much better time with Rock Band than they would
with Guitar Hero III. If you can scrape together four, well... there
isn't even a way to play GH3 with more than two.
The Band World Tour mode in RB makes you feel like, well, and band
on a world tour. You get to pick your band's home city and play the
first few sets there. If you're good enough and enough people like you,
you'll get a van. Then you'll be able to move into some nearby cities
and play new gigs in new venues. Keep playing well and you'll get a
tourbus for cross country trips, and eventually a jet to tour the
world. All the while, you and your band are picking where you want to
go, what kind of sets you're playing, and just how difficult you want
it all to be. The game does guide you around a bit (in the guise of
asking your manager for advice). For example, you will be required to
play certain sets in certain cities to get that tourbus or jet or sound
guy. But it's not an annoyance. On the contrary, many times it's nice
to have some guidance spread in with the freedom.
Guitar Hero III does have a two player tour mode, but it's the same
as the single player mode. GH3's multiplayer is based around battles,
just like the boss battles you faced in single player. But if you're
caught off guard, those powerups can cripple a person and end the game
before it begins.
Both games also include a co-op quickplay mode and a straight up
"Who can get the higher score"
competitive modes, but they also have much better options for
multiplayer and you probably won't be touching these much.
In the end, the only reason you should choose GH3 over RB for its
multiplayer is if you're really really really want to be competitive.
Otherwise, Rock Band is the hands-down winner.
Just how well do these games actually pull you in? Both allow
you to pick your own on screen rocker and make up a name for your band.
In GH3, you must select from a list of eight predefined characters,
with the option of unlocking another five in gameplay. New outfits can
be purchased for any of them, though the selection is rather limited.
RB, on the other hand, allows you to name and create a totally custom
character. Name, style (the way they act on stage- Rock, Punk, Goth or Metal), appearance, and even hometown are adjustable.
And while, as in GH3, new outfits must be purchased, Rock Band's
selection is vast in comparison. There is also a robust art creator for
designing tattoos and facepaint for your character.
Instrument customization is present in both games, and this one
really just depends on what you like. Both have a fairly wide selection
of guitars available. Similar to the outfits, GH3 has a number of set
finishes for each guitar, while RB allows you to pick a finish and
custom color it. That makes it sound like RB wins again, but many GH3 guitars have several unique finishes such as flags and woodgrain. GH3 also includes far more
themed guitars, such as Lou the Devil's rib cage and spinal column
In spite of the GH3's instrument selection, this one goes to Rock
Band. Your in game character carries a lot more personality than the
instrument they're holding, and GH3 only allows you to pick from a
handful of predefined persons.
Since over half of each games ticket price is going to the plastic
monstrosities masquerading as instruments, let's pull ourselves out of
the game and look at their physical components. Of course, for direct
comparison, I can only consider the guitar as there is no drum set or
microphone in Guitar Hero III. Both are based on classic guitars of
rock; the Gibson Les Paul for (the X360, PS3, and Wii versions of)
Guitar Hero III, and a Fender Stratocaster for Rock Band.
GH3's Les Paul is wireless, which is a big plus for it right off the
bat. RB's Stratocaster is wireless only on the PS3 version. The Les
Paul comes in two pieces; the neck is removable for ease of travel and
when installing new faceplates. This was a nice thought, but ends up
causing more trouble than it's worth. The neck seems to lock in
place well, but will become looser and looser the more you play. My
guitar is loose enough now that the orange fret button works only
intermitently, and I've had to wire the two halfs together in an
attempt to fix the problem. The Stratocaster is one piece and feels
more solid, but I've recently had some problems with the strum bar.
Both guitars have their technical issues.
There are differences when you go to play aswell. The Les Paul's
fret buttons are actual separate buttons, raised from the neck of the
guitar. On the Stratocaster, the fret is itself the buttons, able to be
pressed into the neck. The colors on the Les Paul surround the face of
each button, and are located on the top of the neck on the
Stratocaster. The Les Paul's strum bar is best described as an
additional button, making a satisfying click when strummed, while the
Stratocaster's has a much more fluid motion. What does all this mean?
The instruments have a very difference feel to them. GH3's Les Paul
seems to be built as a game controller first, and a guitar second. The
separate fret buttons and the click of strumming means accuracy. The
Stratocaster is just the opposite. I feel much more like I'm playing a
guitar with it, but find it more difficult to nail some really tough
Rock Band's Stratocaster has a few additional features over the Les Paul. First is a second set of frets, smaller and located closer to the body of the guitar. Meant to be used during solos, these can be played as hammer-ons with no strumming required. There is also an effects switch, which can change the sound of your guitar during solos and while Overdrive is active.
In the end, I prefer the feel of the Stratocaster, but this one comes down mostly to preference.
If you're thinking about purchasing both games, be aware of the
guitars' compatibility. If you're playing on a PS3 or Wii (RB for the
Wii arrives in June), each guitar is only compatible with its own game.
On the Xbox 360, the GH3 Les Paul can be used for RB, but the RB
Stratocaster cannot be used to play GH3.
A quick note: a lot of this section will be biased based on my personal taste in music. Your mileage may vary.
(Master recordings are bolded throughout this section, all others
are covers.) With guitar based games like this, the included songs
can be just as important as the gameplay. Looking over the track lists
gave me the initial impression that GH3 had the edge in this category. Paint it, Black?
Rock You Like a Hurrican? The Devil Went Down to Georgia? Hell
yeah! And with 73 songs on the disc to Rock Band's 58, well, it seems
pretty clear cut, right?
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the GH3 song selection. I
quickly found myself playing only a handful of songs over and over
again, because a lot of them just weren't fun to play. Most of the good classic songs
aren't master recordings, and the covers aren't that great.
Even some of the best songs, like Paint it, Black, just don't
suit themselves well to a guitar game. This isn't Sitar Hero
(although that would be really cool). With Rock Band, however, almost
all the songs are fun to play. And while I didn't find as many stand
out gems when looking over the track list (not to say they aren't
there, Don't Fear the Reaper, anyone?), I found myself saying, "Oh, this song! This song is great!" many times when playing a song I thought I didn't know.
Rock Band also trumps Guitar Hero III in terms of downloadable
content (DLC). Song releases for GH3 are few and far between, and but
for a few exceptions, come only in three song packs for $6.25.
Personally, I find it ridiculous to charge $2 for a song that can't be
moved and can only be listened to while playing the game, when
Amazon sells totally DRM-free music for
$1 a track. While Rock Band songs are only slightly cheaper at $2, at
least you can download them individually if you want (most songs are
also available in a pack for a slight discount). Rock Band also adds
songs weekly as opposed to maybe every month or so. At the time of this
writing, there are 25 GH3 and 100 RB songs available for download. But,
perhaps the best trump card in RB's favor is the song Still Alive from Valve's excellent game, Portal, recently made available free of charge.
A few of the true gems in GH3 include (master tracks are bolded, all
others are covers) Heart's Barracuda, Santana's Black Magic
Woman, ZZ Top's La Grange, The Stones' Paint it, Black, The Scorpions' Rock You Like a Hurricane, Velvet Revolover's She Builds Quick Machines (DLC) and Guns and Roses' Welcome to the Jungle.
Rock Band brings to the table Kiss's Detroit Rock City, Blue Öyster Cult's (Don't Fear) the Reaper, Metallica's Enter Sandman, Boston's Foreplay/Long Time, The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, Foreigner's Jukebox Hero (DLC), Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive, and The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again.
Again, this is based on my personal tastes.
out the full
track lists, as your actual musical tastes may
vary. Though you can't help but notice RB's greater quantity of master
recordings among the awesome songs.
TLDR version: Rock Band has the better song track. Hands down.
There is one final thing to consider. In GH3, the guitar is
(obviously) the focus. As mentioned earlier, the single player
versions of tracks often have the lead and bass sections combined.
What you end up with are tracks designed around the single player
experience. RB's songs, however, are made for the entire band.
This means that any section could have long pauses during, say, a drum
solo. You won't really notice or care if you're playing with all four
band members, and it's barely a deterrant in single player, but still
Drums and Vocals
I've tried to make the bulk of this review a comparison of the
guitar portions of the game, given that there are no drums or vocals in
GH3 to compare. This is a little unfair to Rock Band, however, as the
drums and vocals add a ton of value to the game. All the single player
activities can also be done in these modes with RB. It also makes the
multiplayer a lot more exciting, with more than just a bunch of guitars
to choose from.
There's really not a lot to say here, I just felt it was necessary
to point out. If you want to sing or play the drums, get Rock Band.
It's your only option.
They say that the background and visuals aren't really important
in a game like this. I thought the same thing before I played Rock
Band. While Guitar Hero 3's visuals may have the slight edge in
technical superiority, polygon count or some other such bullshit,
Rock Band looks so much better when it's all put together. You can
really tell that a lot more time was spent on things like character
animation and choreogrpahy. Camera angles, lighting and effects make it
look much more like an actual concert than GH3 could ever hope for. The
guitarists in GH3 literally have two animations, and will continue to
rock out during musical breaks when there is no actual music being played.
Rock Band include appropriate use of film grain, black and white, funky
colors, pyrotechnics, and tons of animations for the entire band. You
will see them stand around when they're not playing, rock out when they
should be, or sing along with the vocalist during solos. The strings on
the guitars move. The drummer spins his drumsticks right before a big
solo. The vocalist pulls out a cowbell and bangs on it during (Don't Fear) the Reaper.
What it all comes down it is that Rock Band feels much more alive.
Guitar Hero III has game written all over it, and is not nearly as
polished. Another point for Rock Band.
In the end, everything above comes down to one simple fact.
Guitar Hero III is a game designed to make the players feel like they
are awesome at Guitar Hero. Rock Band is a game designed to make the
players feel like they are awesome. The feel of the physical
guitar, the character customization, the visuals, the multiplayer...
everything is built around the experience. Guitar Hero III feels more
like a hastily thrown together cash-in by the new developers, with
some extras thrown in that pander mostly to the people who are gods of
the fake guitar.
Guitar Hero III is definitely a solid rhytm game. But Rock Band is less a game than a band simulator.
If you can afford both and are playing on the 360, I'd
say go for it. The GH3 guitar will work with both games, and although
the reverse is not true, it's not like you'll be playing anything but
Rock Band when it comes to multiplayer. (Just remember that your PS3,
PS2, and Wii guitars work only with the game they came with.)
This review is over. Go get Rock Band. It's awesome.