Guitar Hero III

It's hard to imagine how the game developers could improve on the successful Guitar Hero series and change very much about it. So Guitar Hero III sticks largely to the formula of the previous games, with a few mostly cosmetic changes, and of course all new songs.

Most of the playable characters from earlier games are back, plus five new unlockable characters. They come with a lot of outfits, styles, and guitars to unlock. In short, you will need to earn a lot of money by playing the guitar in Career Mode before you can unlock all of the goodies in this game. The good news is, you start earning money right from the Easy difficulty level, so unlocking things is easier. It's almost too easy, because it doesn't matter who unlocks items: once one player has unlocked an item it is then accessible to all of the bands you set up in Career mode.

42 basic songs are available in this mode, but if you want to play the full set they are only available in Co-op Career, where you work with a partner to master each song. This seems like a cynical plan to sell more guitar controllers, because it means you don't get the full value out of this game unless you have two guitars. But there are over 70 tracks in all, when the bonus tracks are included. What's more, there's a lot of good quality rock music which has obviously been selected by people who know the genre well. It covers a range of styles, from pop-rock such as Poison's Talk Dirty To Me, to more hard-edged, thrashier sounds such as Slayer's Rain in Blood and Metallica's One, without straying too far into the realms of pop music. There's also a new recording of Anarchy In The UK by the remaining Sex Pistols.

As you progress through the levels, the band moves to new locations, some of them quite bizarre. Each time you complete a new level there's an unashamedly cheesy animation to go with it. A new feature is the guitar battles, in which you have to play against an opponent and put them off, at the same time as countering their attacks and hitting your own notes. There aren't many of these, but they do add variety to the game.

Guitar Hero III improves on a game that was already good. It does make your fingers and forearms sore after a while, particularly on some of the faster tracks, but this is barely noticeable. Yet perhaps the most important factor in any musical game is the track list, and this title has a solid and extensive one.