Rock is built on revolutions. That's why each new generation of head-slammers tries to break the models they're slavishly following—and why the Guitar Hero franchise, by rocking ever harder while sticking to a formula, risks turning into a self-parody. Guitar Hero II charted a rock star's zero-to-hero rise with authentic touches and real heart. But in retelling the story, Guitar Hero III settles for more of the same but dumber: This time, the thrill of exciting ever-larger crowds is captured in a series of cartoonish scenarios, from a gig at a prison to a contract with the devil. Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello shows up for a loser gig at a no-name club—okay, maybe that isn't so hard to believe—and the rock tips on the loading screen make weak jokes in place of the last game's remarkably practical advice. Guitar Hero II was already a cartoon, but Guitar Hero III makes the devil's music seem even safer. Instead of Slash, they should have stunt-cast The Monkees.

Beyond the game: In The Simpsons Game, you win by beating God; in Guitar Hero III, you face off against the devil. There's only one explanation for all this religion: We're in the end-times, and the game industry has thrown in its lot with the Church Of That Would Be So Fucking Awesome.

Worth playing for: Though the story is silly, Guitar Hero III succeeds as a sequel across the bottom line, with new songs, more downloads, and more supported consoles.

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Frustration sets in when: The annoying "battle mode" pits you against star guitarists or other players, which violates the spirit of competition by making you cheat, instead of just letting you play your ass off. Nobody worth talking about has ever won a guitar duel by sabotaging the other guy.

Final judgment: It hits all the right notes, but gets no points for style.