by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock & r & Rated Teen; XBox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2 & r & 5 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he phone rang while I was in the middle of a guitar battle with Slash. (You know, the top-hat-wearing guitarist from Guns N' Roses.) I paused the game and took a break to regroup. Slash had just caused one of my strings to break. But since the Guitar Hero III guitar controller lacks actual strings, or even wires, I was required to repeatedly press a single colored fret button to gain the virtual string back. While coping with it, I ignored the other notes I was supposed to play, and my Rock Meter fell into the orange zone as the crowd cooled.

When I returned, it didn't take me long to fix the problem. The guitar gods smiled on me and dropped a few star-shaped notes into the tablature on my side of the screen. The stage lights flashing in rhythm to the beat helped me get back into the groove, and I hit the starred notes perfectly, earning me the opportunity to overload Slash's amp. I immediately threw that power at him and the notes on his side of the screen began flashing on and off erratically, making them harder to track as they dropped into his strum-zone.

I had saved up one of my other powers from earlier in the song. With it, I doubled all of Slash's notes, forcing him to play a chord for every single blinking note. While he struggled, I pulled off another starred riff and amped-up Slash's difficulty level to "hard." As he twanged his guitar, the crowd booed him into defeat, leaving him with his head down and hair hanging in his face. My reward for humiliating him was a duet with the motion-captured icon himself. Together we rocked through Guns N' Roses' greatest hit. (You know, the one that goes "Welcome to the jungle...") This time, we harmonized.

THE GOOD: Thanks to the popularity of Guitar Hero II, the sequel features more master-track recordings than before. It's not that the cover bands used previously were bad, but Guitar Hero III's ambitious track list delves into rock history, drawing on songs by the Rolling Stones and the Beastie Boys that no cover band could cover with any degree of rockable authenticity. And by using original tracks from master musicians, songs like Dragonforce's "Through Fire and Flames" add a level of offbeat notes, syncopation and fast fingering that turns the game into a legitimate musical training toy. It certainly helped me with Alexander Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 10. (You know, the one with all the trills.)

THE BAD: The new wireless guitar controller included with Guitar Hero III doesn't work very well. The neck is detachable, and any minor twist of the instrument causes it to lose track of the frets being held down on the neck. When I simply relax my grip, the game thinks I've dropped a few notes. Fortunately the old, wired controllers still work, even if I can't jump around as freely as a real guitar hero.

THE BOTTOM LINE: By taking the franchise fully online and filling it with recordings from the original artists, Guitar Hero III transforms a rocking game into a legend.

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