'Guitar Hero III' rocks with more of the same

The good — and bad — news for Guitar Hero fans is that in the latest game in the franchise, RedOctane didn't mess much with the formula that placed its predecessors among the hottest game sensations of our time.

So if you were looking for a fresh new experience in this sequel, you might be disappointed. But if you can look past that, you will find Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (www.guitarhero.com) a fun, challenging and (despite some potentially offensive language) great way for the whole family to rock out in front of the television.

Better than strumming a tennis racket in front of the mirror, Guitar Hero games include a guitar-shaped controller that plugs into the video game console. You must then correctly press the right colored buttons on the guitar's neck (and strum at the same time) to match the onscreen instructions. Play well and the familiar rock songs sound like they should, and the virtual crowd cheers you on, but if you press incorrect notes, some sour "twangs" are heard, and the crowd begins to quiet down or even boo you offstage.

Guitar Hero III is the most ambitious of the franchise, with attractive graphics of your cartoon-like band performing onstage (especially with the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 versions), downloadable songs from the Internet and the ability to play with or against friends beside you or online (note: the PS2 version does not allow for Internet play). The wireless Gibson Les Paul guitar (included) is comfortable, lightweight and durable.

One of the more fun (but tough) new features is "boss battles," where you must play head-to-head against the likes of guitar gods such as Slash (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver) and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave). Play well and you'll collect "power-ups" you can unleash on your opponent, such as ones that make the notes harder to see, reverse the colors on the fret board and lock the guitar until your foe rapidly presses down on the "Whammy bar" to shake off the effect. These power-ups can be used in "battle mode" against a real opponent in front of the same TV or over the Internet.

With more than 70% of the songs from the original artists (the rest are decent cover versions), the impressive track lineup includes oldies like The Rolling Stones' Paint It Black, Aerosmith's Same Old Song and Dance and Alice Cooper's School's Out and newer hits like Guns N' Roses' Welcome to the Jungle, AFI's Miss Murder and Kaiser Chiefs' Ruby. In total, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock features more than 70 tracks. Some bands even re-entered the studio to re-record their classics for this game, including the Sex Pistols (Anarchy in the U.K. ) and Living Colour (Cult of Personality ).

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock will hook you from the moment you strum your first chord, but even with the battle mode and online options it's not too different from past games — which is just fine for many.

Music game fans should expect our in-depth review of Rock Band (www.rockband.com) in a couple of weeks, which lets you not only play guitar but also have friends join in on the bass, drums and microphone.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.