Activision’s purchase of RedOctane and subsequent passing of the cigarette lighter to developer Neversoft caused some concern amongst fans of the wildly successful Guitar Hero franchise. We knew they had umpteen Tony Hawk titles under their belt, but would these gurus of the skate genre be able to deliver a product worthy of the plastic guitar peripheral? You bet!

As far as game play goes, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock plays just like previous Guitar Hero titles, which revolve around ‘playing’ various guitar parts of famous – and some lesser known – rock tracks, and requires a blend of timing, coordination and manual dexterity to achieve Guitar Hero status. Thankfully, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has retained this core game play with the addition of some shiny new features.

Foremost of these is the cooperative career mode, in which you and a friend can fill the platform shoes of lead and bass guitarists in an up-and-coming rock band, playing bigger and better venues and unlocking new tracks to conquer. Previously this was solely a single player option, and the only drawback that we can see with co-op career mode is that in the interest of fair play – and to gain maximum enjoyment from this mode, two guitar peripherals are required… which unfortunately means more expense.

You can play with a standard Xbox 360 controller; however doing so will deprive you of the full Guitar Hero experience. If you are planning on buying a new guitar controller with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, rest assured it is a good investment as the cleverly designed Xbox 360 version is a genuine improvement on previous models. In addition to being wireless and of sturdier construction, the buttons and whammy bar offer a more positive response - plus the detachable neck makes for more compact storage when not in use. In short, it will improve your shredding experience no end. Currently the peripheral is only available as a bundle, but word on the street is that a standalone guitar controller is on the cards for 2008.

Another attractive new feature of the game is its online capability – for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, at least. You can now pit your skills against other guitarists in the wider online community. The boss battles - in which you get to face off against real rock legends, are another worthwhile addition; however we would have liked to have seen more of this particular aspect as there are only three boss battles in the entire game.

Another of the new features: battle mode, proved less popular with our play testers. In battle mode you compete against another guitarist, employing some low-down dirty tactics in the form of power-ups earned through accurate play, to temporarily disrupt the other player’s mojo. Initially it can be highly amusing watching your opponent struggle with a broken string or an unexpected lefty-flip (where the layout switches to suit a left-handed player), but once the novelty wears off you are left with a game which favours the better player. Lesser guitarists will quickly tire of getting thrashed.

The mammoth and varied track list features over 70 songs, which is a complete turnaround from the meagre and mildly disappointing offerings of Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the ‘80s. A generous proportion of these songs are master recordings, which should please hard-out fans of rock, and most of the covers are pretty good too. It’s worth mentioning that some of the tracks are only available as unlockable content in co-op career mode.

The overall difficulty of all tracks has noticeably increased in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock; a factor which may deter newcomers to the game, or those who struggle with the whole rhythm-coordination concept. Trickier moves such as hammer-ons and pull-offs make a regular appearance and more emphasis has been placed on shredding than on the memorable riffs of old. Having said that, the game’s practise mode and adjustable difficulty settings will offset this to some extent, and most gamers will relish the challenge of biting off more than they can chew.

Graphics-wise, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is a slick, face-lifted version of previous Guitar Hero titles, having undergone a wee nip and tuck that is most apparent on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. It has the same screen layout and features all the favourite characters, plus a few new unlockable ones as well.

Neversoft have certainly made their mark on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, having managed to achieve the innovation expected of a new product whilst retaining the fundamental qualities of its predecessors. Fans of the Guitar Hero series will spend many happy hours pushing themselves to the limit of their capabilities, and it’s an excellent – albeit challenging - starting point for those new to the franchise.

The tracklist includes the following songs:

    * Same Old Song and Dance (by Aerosmith)
    * Helicopter (by Bloc Party)
    * Stricken (by Disturbed)
    * Monsters (by Matchbook Romance)
    * Before I Forget (by Slipknot)
    * Kool Thing (by Sonic Youth)
    * When You Were Young (by The Killers)
    * Devil Went Down to Georgia (as made famous by Charlie Daniels Band)
    * Sunshine of Your Love (as made famous by Cream)
    * Holiday in Cambodia (as made famous by Dead Kennedys)
    * Cliffs of Dover (as made famous by Eric Johnson)
    * Hit Me with Your Best Shot (as made famous by Pat Benetar)
    * Black Magic Woman (as made famous by Santana)
    * Story of My Life (as made famous by Social Distortion)
    * Pride and Joy (as made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughn)
    * The Seeker (as made famous by The Who)
    * Black Sunshine (as made famous by White Zombie)
    * Miss Murder (by AFI)
    * Minus Celsius (by Backyard Babies)
    * Sabotage (by Beastie Boys)
    * Hier Kommt Alex (by Die Toten Hosen)
    * Through Fire and Flames (by Dragonforce)
    * In the Belly of a Shark (by Gallows)
    * Welcome to The Jungle (by Guns N' Roses)
    * Avalancha (by Heroes Del Silencio)
    * Take This Life (by In Flames)
    * Number of the Beast (by Iron Maiden)
    * Ruby (by Kaiser Chiefs)
    * Closer (by Lacuna Coil)
    * Cult of Personality (by Living Colour)
    * One (by Metallica)
    * Knights of Cydonia (by Muse)
    * Mauvais Garcon (by NAAST)
    * Even Flow (by Pearl Jam)
    * Lay Down (by Priestess)
    * Bulls on Parade (by Rage Against The Machine)
    * 3's and 7's (by Queens of the Stone Age)
    * Suck My Kiss (by Red Hot Chili Peppers)
    * Generation Rock (by Revolverheld)
    * Raining Blood (by Slayer)
    * Cherub Rock (by Smashing Pumpkins)
    * Radio Song (by Superbus)
    * The Metal (by Tenacious D)
    * I'm in the Band (by The Hellacopters)
    * Anarchy in the U.K. (by The Sex Pistols)
    * Reptillia (by The Strokes)
    * Paint It Black (by the Rolling Stones)
    * My Name is Jonas (by Weezer)
    * Slash's Original Boss Battle Recording
    * Tom Morello's Original Boss Battle Recording
    * School's Out (as made famous by Alice Cooper)
    * Paranoid (as made famous by Black Sabbath)
    * Cities on Flame (as made famous by Blue Oyster Cult)
    * Slow Ride (as made famous by Foghat)
    * Barracuda (as made famous by Heart)
    * Rock and Roll All Nite (as made famous by Kiss)
    * Mississippi Queen (as made famous by Mountain)
    * Rock You Like a Hurricane (as made famous by Scorpions)
    * La Grange (as made famous by ZZ Top)