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Rock and Roll, World! It's Guitar Hero III Day!!!

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We* have just returned from the front lines of the of the cutthroat video gaming industry (okay, maybe it was just the GameStop at the Burbank mall) and I'm proud to report we have arrived home in triumph, bearing before us the brand new Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. It's here, and yes, it rocks.

There were a shaky few minutes there when the controller took a few tries to connect, but we got it all rolling within ten minutes of opening up the package. The wireless guitar for the XBOX 360 is very nice: a shiny black Gibson Les Paul. The newer guitar is more sensitive -- a gentle shake will activate Star Power, and the fingerpad is much more precise (which led to some frustration when I kept missing notes I thought I'd nailed). It doesn't take too long to get used to the new gear, and the game has plenty of amazing features.

The graphics aren't wildly different, although certainly much sharper and more colorful. For the most part, you've got the same characters to pick from, plus additions like Midori, a Japanese pop rocker (errrr?), and "Lou the Devil" -- he's one of your unlockable dudes, just one of the many great rewards you can earn. Real-life guitar heros like Tom Morello and Slash become boss characters you must face off against, or you can choose to play alongside them: "Bulls on Parade" is wicked fun, by the way, and, I kid you not, a pair of go-go dancers show up in tight black pants and wiggle their booties all over the screen.

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A few quibbles: it's harder to see your star power meter, and it's kind of annoying to take your eyes off the notes to check your status. Star Power is very sensitive, as I mentioned: and if you're like me and you like to boogey a little bit while you're playing, you may find yourself inadvertently setting off Star Power at the wrong moment.

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We only picked up one guitar, so co-op play and and head-to-head battles aren't a possibility at this point, although you can play online if you have XBOX Live. (Email me if you want my gamer ID and we'll rock out -- I'm a solid Hard level player and play a wicked bass.) We started the game at around noon today, and as of this writing, we've gotten a solid five hours of play out of it and we're not even through thirty songs yet (we've been switching off).

The opening songs are okay: "Hit Me With You Best Shot" is pretty rocking, and you can't pooh-pooh Social D's "Story of My Life"; you hair metal types will dig the Foghat and Poison (yes, that's Bret Michaels up there singing, too). The second set really kicks it into high gear, though, with "Sunshine of Your Love," "Barracuda," and "Bulls on Parade."

From there, though, the songs just keep getting better and better, and more and more fun. (There are too many to name, check out the track list here.) At one point, my dude turned around and said "'Paint It Black' is the best song I've ever played on this game." The game designers seem to have put some thought into making the songs more balanced -- each track has a nice combination of both rhythmically repetitive chordwork and articulated solos. No longer are you stuck mashing up and down on some ridiculously tiring streak of the same notes; this version does a great job of modulating your fingerwork so you don't get fatigued or bored.

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What else is great about this new version? The cordless guitar is a godsend: no more getting tangled up in wires when you pass your axe over to your friend. You get a special pop-up notifying you when you've hit a 50 or 100-note streak, which is a nice motivational touch. There's a wide variety of sweet outfits and guitars to buy from the store, and we haven't even begun to unlock the bonus tracks. Let's not even get started on the online multi-player and download capabilities -- this game has easily got a hundred hours of entertainment, more once you get into downloaded songs online.

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The new "Battle" mode is ridiculously cool and creative. You can send attacks over to your opponent to screw them over: double their notes, fuck with their note placement, make their fretboard shake all over the place, overload their amp: this is an awesome way to bring a whole new gameplay element to the mix. Kicking Tom Morello's ass on a song he composed especially for the game really does make you feel like a Guitar Hero.

There's been a lot of talk lately in the video game world about how to attract more female gamers: it's not that they need to create different games, they just need to find a way to get more girls to try playing the games that are out there, as well as make it more socially acceptable for chicks to play. I enjoy playing many of the same games my guy does, and games like the Final Fantasy series are packed with good stories, diverse characters, and intense puzzle-solving -- although there's also nothing wrong with just shooting up motherfuckers. Or shocking them with your maxed-out Firaga spell. Just saying.

Chicks dig rock music, so chicks should also dig GH3 -- ladies, if you think you can't play video games, you're dead wrong, and you might even be surprised at how good you can get. I get so many bonus points in the game of life when guys find out I can rock their socks off at GH3. And parents, this game has none of that nasty Grand Theft Auto-style sex and violence (go-go dancers notwithstanding), and as a long-time piano player, I can tell you it does employ a lot of awesome musical skills like rhythm and pitch.

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There's no reason why everybody in the family can't enjoy GH3, and yes, I know that's Wii's line, but it's also true of the XBOX 360. We've already pre-ordered Rock Band, which will have the super extra awesome bonus of a drum kit and a microphone stand.

Now if you'll excuse me, Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing" is calling my name, and once I unlock that piece of work, I'll be moving on to "Even Flow," then I have to kick Slash's ass. It'll be a productive day.

All photos by Carrie Meathrell for LAist.

*Not in this instance using the royal LAist "we," I am in fact referring to myself and what, in the parlance of our times, is called my "special man friend".