Music based games are back as the original king of the genre makes its return after a 5 year absence. With a revamped controller, a new interface, and 2 new modes, Guitar Hero Live is an ultimately fun game but is not without flaws.
THE COMEBACK TOUR
Guitar Hero Live is Activision’s first GH release since 2010’s Warrior’s of Rock. With a brand new developer in FreeStyleGames at the helm, GH has received a much needed facelift. It likely would have been accepted generally well had GH simply been brought back in its original state and with its original controller layout (looking at you, Rock Band 4), but FreeStyleGames’ take on the series makes this a welcomed, fresh addition to the series.
FreeStyleGames was given full freedom in the creative process of GH Live. The game is fun and challenging, finding a good balance between learning the new controller and mastering it.
The first time you load the game, you’ll be greeted backstage by one of your production crew members. He gives you a new guitar and has you test it before you walk out on stage. This is where you get an on-the-fly tutorial in feeling out the new layout of the guitar. Every previous iteration of the GH guitar had 5 buttons, all in one single row. On your new guitar, there are now 6 buttons, divided up between two rows of three. The higher row (where the “E” string would be) consists of black buttons while the lower row (where the “A” string would be) has white buttons. I like the contrast in moving away from the rainbow colored buttons of the past, but sometimes I found it difficult to see if my next on-screen strum consisted of black or white buttons, particularly on higher difficulty settings or when I was in the middle of a “Hero Power” portion of the highway.
If you’ve never played a music-genre game before, they generally have this concept: the game board is the neck of a guitar that is coming at you like a conveyor belt, while you see notes ahead that you must press in accordance with your guitar controller while you strum at the appropriate time. If you’re a musician, it’s much like reading tabs.
The most exciting aspect about the new guitar is that it really brings back the discovery and satisfaction of learning a new dynamic. Back in 2005, this was the case with the original GH and GH2 shortly after. Do you remember how popular that game was? Everyone who is anyone played it. It was the center of so many parties and gatherings with friends. While I’m not sure if that will be the case again with GH Live, it certainly is tempting to want to throw a party. Though it doesn’t quite have the full party appeal that Rock Band does, you can play with a friend if you purchase a second guitar, or you can sing along with a compatible microphone.
The first of two new modes is “Live,” which borrows from past GH settings but features a game changing concept – you play as part of a real life band and play in front of a massive real life crowd. FreeStyleGames filmed multiple different bands and venues. This is essentially a career mode where you play for different bands. Each show is presented by MCs that essentially live-tweet the event.
Each show begins back stage in the first person view. You walk out to the screaming crowd and it’s up to you to keep them on your side. Play well and they will go crazy for you, shouting the lyrics at you, trying to touch you as you get close to the railing, and hold up cheesy signs that you’d probably never see at a real life concerts. Start messing up and they will turn on you. Throwing drinks, booing, and stone cold stares are the norm.
It’s the same with your fellow band mates. You generally are rocking out with them, but if things turn sour, look out. When you’re playing well, that female bassist might be giving you a desiring stare. Mess up and they will call you out on it. Things can get intense quickly if you don’t right the ship. While this is unrealistic to a crowd setting at a true concert, it makes for a real solid video game concept.
Another point to add to this is the authenticity of the feel of a live show. I have been in several bands throughout my life and though I may not have played to 20,000 screaming fans, I can attest to the feel of a sold out venue with a raucous fan base. The energy flow is comparable and the excitement is there, particularly if your friends are there with you to enjoy the experience.
GHTV is the other all new game mode brought to life in GH Live. It truly is a 24 hour music channel. Upon selecting GHTV, you can choose between two channels that are simultaneously playing. Like you would look at a DVR or cable schedule of upcoming shows on your TV, you can see what is currently playing and what is to follow. Every half hour (or sometimes a full hour), a new theme or genre is played. As I write this review, I am in the middle of “Unforgettable Jams,” which is playing a Soundgarden track. On the other channel is “Indie Hour,” which is playing “Cool Kids” by Echosmith.
Whichever channel you choose, you play the song against the backdrop of a music video. This is highly entertaining and makes it fun for group settings. There are certain live videos too. One track that I really enjoyed in a live setting was Black Veil Brides’ “In The End.” FreeStyleGames is adding tracks/videos constantly, much like the former GH and Rock Band DLC used to hit. In GHTV, you are always playing against live competitors in a live leaderboard setting. The top 3 of the 10 total players earn Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals that help you to earn more accolades and currency in the store.
The major flaw with GHTV is the lack of freedom in choosing which songs you want to play and when. You can flip back and forth between the two channels, waiting for a song you enjoy, or you can go to the GHTV catalog and play a specific song/video. The issue is it costs you a token, which is hard to come by. There is a progression system that allows you to earn credits and tokens to unlock add-ons like score multipliers and new dashboards, but tokens aren’t as balanced as they need to be, which is frustrating. In GH Live, you can play any song at any point once you have unlocked it. In GHTV, you must either have a token or spend real life money to purchase more tokens. There is currently a 24 hour pass for $5.99 USD that gives you free reign on playing anything in the catalog, but I wouldn’t do that unless you were planning a party.
In one sense, I liked that I was forced to go outside of my comfort zone and play songs I normally wouldn’t have played. I have to hand it to FreeStyleGames here – the overall songs catalog is incredibly diverse. There’s certainly something here for everyone, from classic rock lovers to smaller indie bands you probably haven’t heard of yet. While you might see a good portion of tracks from previous GH & Rock Band games, they are a fresh experience thanks to the new controller. Also, some of those tracks now focus on a different aspect of the song. For example, The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” seems to have been in every music game ever released, but feels new in GH Live because this guitar line focused on the lead guitar as opposed to the rhythm.
Guitar Hero Live hits the comeback tour with a wave of nostalgia while revamping just about everything. Music games feel new again and I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh look and feel. It’s very addicting.
+ GH Live mode captures essence of a live concert and really keeps the player on their toes.
+ GHTV is fun to play and watch thanks to its music video backdrop. FreeStyleGames has discovered an enticing way to make music games fun in online multiplayer.
+ Song catalog is diverse, featuring mega hits, indie tracks, and everything in between from genre to genre.
-Though choice isn’t everything in gaming, the lack of freedom in GHTV can be a turnoff and in turn make the player turn the game off if they don’t get a song they want to play.
– Inconsistencies with calibration for HD televisions makes for a frustrating experience and pulls the player from immersion.
Guitar Hero Live was reviewed on the Xbox One. It is also available for Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, and iOS.