Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guitar Hero III Demo Impressions (360)

I've played the demo several times in the last two days, switching back and forth between GH II to get an idea of how the games feel different. And they do.

There are certainly a few improvements--most notably, that Star Power can now be reliably engaged every single time. The arenas and character models also look very, very sharp now.

Unfortunately, those are the only improvements I found, while there are quite a few areas that have regressed. Most importantly, I think the note charts are much poorer in this version. Songs in GH II had a very cohesive, readily identifiable flow, but in GH III, many songs have long sections of chords followed by a few seconds of incomprehensibly fast hammer-on/pull-off sections. To compensate for this, the timing for HO/PO has been relaxed significantly, which is something else I really don't like.

The result of this (subjectively) choppy note charts is that I don't feel as engaged when I'm playing a song, and immersion in a game like this is hugely important.

I also think that visually, the note charts don't look as clean. The "cap" for HO/PO notes is still white, but it seems fuzzed out just a bit (as a graphical effect). I don't want anything on the note chart softer--I want it razor sharp. It makes it more difficult to see the HO/PO sections, at least for me.

Another technical issue is the size of the Rock Meter. In GH II, when I get in trouble, the Rock Meter is large enough that I sense it flashing--I can see it well enough in my peripheral vision for it to register. It's significantly smaller in GH III, and I never see it before I fail a song. That's something I might get used to in time, but it's annoying, because other, totally unnecessary bits of information have been added that are actually distracting--primarily, that when you get to certain points in note streaks, a big "XXX Note Streak" message pops up. It takes you out of the "music" feeling, at a minimum, and it's also just not needed. Meanwhile, the piece of information I desperately need (deeply in the red) is so small that I don't even notice it.

Those are the technical issues, but there are a few subjective issues as well. The "plunk" sound that gets made when you miss a note is more intrusive than the sound in GH II. It also seems like it's more frequent, although it could just be that it's more noticeable now.

Lastly, and this is totally personal, they've really butchered Judy Nails (my favorite character). She's gone from cute rock chick to a muscular Goth who looks like she carries a cue ball in her purse in case she gets into a fight in a bar.

Did I like the demo enough to buy the game? No, at least not now. Maybe I'll feel differently when the game has actually been released, but I really wasn't impressed. Plus, with the relaxed note timing, I'm wondering if it will actually screw up my ability to play Rock Band songs (which, I assume, will have the old HO/PO timing or very close to it).

For now, no sale.

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