Everyone talks about difficult second albums, but it's the third that's the killer. Bash out number two with the stuff you had left over from the first and it's fine. By album three, though, the band starts to believe their own hype. This is where they start experimenting with Okinawan throat-yodelling. This is where they get stuck up their own arse.
So... phew. Because despite some dodgy moments - and series originators Harmonix jumping ship for Rock Band - Guitar Hero's still brilliant. The third game equivalent of hiring the Prague Philharmonic in Battle mode, which is a new version of the traditional two-player. Instead of Star Power, key riffs give you the chance to scupper your opponent's fingering by reversing their controls, forcing them to jam on the whammy bar, ramping up their difficulty or giving them a broken string. It's the difference between hearing a beautiful duelling guitar battle and a series of pops and squeaks. It's a bit stupid.
But where Guitar Hero displays a dazzling return to form, see, is the tracklist. After getting a bit too keen on pompous stringcraft in part two, part three turns in an all-killer, no-filler roster of hits. More than half of the game's 71 tunes come from original master tracks, and even the ones that don't - sorry Jello Biafra, they did Holiday In Cambodia without you - sound fine. There's still a minor outbreak of fret-wankery in the upper reaches of the playlist, but most songs are interesting to play, with clever bridge sections and nicely designed chord progressions. It's probably the toughest GH yet, but it's rarely impossible.
Better yet, it's no longer so US-obsessed - although the main setlists are still tailored to appeal to Americans, the bonus selection includes the likes of She Bangs The Drums and Die Toten Hosen's Hier Kommt Alex.
Changes to the rest of the game are superficial but appreciated. The interface is mostly unchanged but gets a glossy next-gen coat, with bonus meters that crackle and hammer-ons that almost leap off the screen. Speaking of the latter, they seem slightly easier - compare doing trills on Megadeth's One to trying them on Freebird and you'll see what we mean. The backing band are better animated and the lead singer's lip-synching's excellent.
So - worth it? Yes, even with the imposing spectre of Rock Band looming on the horizon. True, it's largely the same game - but it's a game that's cost us hundreds of man-hours, given us unbearable hand cramps and made us dream in scrolling buttons. Nothing tops the feeling of switching off brain and letting your fingers fly over the fretboard - except for maybe the joy of pulling off a flawless 200-note run. It might be bettered soon, but for now this is one third album you can't afford to be without.
Overall Nothing much new - except for the most dazzling playlist to grace the series yet. Great.