Guitar Hero III features 73 songs on the game's media; this includes the 39 single-player songs, three "Boss Battle" songs, six co-op career exclusive songs, and 25 bonus songs. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions support downloadable content in the form of new songs for the game. As of September 12, 2008, there are 59 songs available as downloadable content for both platforms, bringing the total number of available songs for these versions to 132. Four downloadable songs were only available for a limited time. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions each had an exclusive song.
Once a tier is open at any difficulty level, all songs except the Encores and Boss Battle songs become available for all other game modes; the Encore songs become available once they are completed. The three Boss Battle songs are not playable outside of Solo Career mode. However, these songs were available as free downloadable content for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. All songs (except Boss Battles) can be unlocked for all modes through special cheat codes for the game, as to, for example, allow a solo player to access the Co-Op Encore songs without having to play through Co-Op mode.
Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 version of Guitar Hero III feature the ability to download additional songs from the consoles' respective online stores; all are master recordings. Most songs must be purchased in "track packs" of three and cannot be purchased individually while only some songs are available as "singles." There are several free songs available. The downloadable songs have been released on the same day on both the Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Store, with five exceptions. Besides the two console-exclusive songs, the three songs from the Companion Pack were not released for the PlayStation 3 until August 7, 2008. The two console-exclusive songs come from console-exclusive games; the "Halo Theme" is from the Halo series and is only available for the Xbox 360 version and "The End Begins" is from the God of War series and is only available for the PlayStation 3 version.
The game reuses many elements from previous titles in the series, including Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero: Metallica. Beenox designed the game around playing the greatest songs of the series at venues located in the greatest places on Earth, and created venues based on various Wonders of the World for the game. While the game's soundtrack and expansion into a four-player band were well received by reviewers, the game was highly criticized for being a full-cost standalone title instead of being downloadable content for existing games in the series.
Guitar Hero: Smash Hits plays similar to Guitar Hero World Tour, featuring support for a four-instrument band: lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and vocal. In addition to using master recordings for each song, the songs have been charted to use gameplay features introduced in World Tour including the open bass strumming & slider sections for intense solos using the touchpad on the guitar bundled with World Tour. Certain songs have been recharted or remixed to be more accessible to the full band; for example, "I Love Rock N Roll" includes a drum and vocals solo without guitar portions that were omitted in the original Guitar Hero, while the piano introduction in "Killer Queen" is tapped out by the lead guitar player. The game borrows gameplay and graphical elements from Guitar Hero: Metallica, including the "Expert+" difficulty level using two bass drum pedals and the rearrangement of on-screen meters for band mode. Smash Hits includes a Music Studio creation mode and is compatible with the "GHTunes" custom song sharing service present in World Tour and Metallica. Smash Hits also includes all the game modes present in World Tour, including single player and band career modes, and the eight-player "Battle of the Band" mode.
All 48 tracks in the game are master recordings of songs previously featured in the first five published games of the Guitar Hero series: Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. "Freya" and "Cult of Personality" are re-recordings performed by The Sword and Living Colour, respectively, while two other songs are taken from live concert recordings; all other songs are based on original studio recordings. Although the game supports user-created songs through the "GHTunes" service (common to Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero: Metallica), other existing downloadable content does not work with Smash Hits. Songs in either the Career single player or band mode are arranged in tiers roughly in order of difficulty for the particular instrument, with different orders for each of the five Career paths. However, all songs are playable from the game's "Quickplay" mode without completing any Career goals. Twenty-one of the songs were exportable to both Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero for a small fee, with music licensing limiting which songs could be exported. The songs included in the game are as follows.
Guitar Hero: Smash Hits received moderate praise from reviews, many of which cited that the game itself demonstrates the over-saturation of the music game market and the sheer number of titles with the Guitar Hero series that Activision has marketed. Chris Roper of IGN summarized that the game "is the definition of 'milking'", noting that, save for the PlayStation 2 version, all of the songs in the game could have been distributed as downloadable content or reused within other compatible titles. Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb commented that "something about the game's full [...] price tag doesn't quite feel right" and reaffirmed that being able to select a handful of the songs to play again would have been a preferred method of distribution. Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer further suggested that a simultaneous release of both the retail product and the same songs as downloadable content would have been an improvement. Chris Kohler of Wired listed Smash Hits on a list of "raw deals" for gamers, citing Activision's approach that results in "players end up paying more for segregated song lists", and contrasted the approach to that of the Rock Band series, in which downloadable content is integrated into existing games. Game Informer's Matt Helgeson noted that, ultimately, the cost per song was still cheaper than current prices for downloadable content, but he still felt the game's purpose was solely for "creating revenue for Activision".
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