Game Review: Guitar Hero Live

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The plastic guitars are making their return! Guitar Hero has made its triumphant return this year with the release of Guitar Hero Live! Will this game be a return to glory for the former juggernaut or is Guitar Hero a tired concept?

Release Date November 3, 2015
Genre Music
Platforms PS4/PS3/iOS/XBO/X360
Developer FreeStyle Games
Price $59.99 US
ESRB Rating Teen
Players 1-10 Players

 

The music genre in gaming was a huge money-maker just a few short years ago. Everyone seemed to have a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game and multiple plastic instruments to go along with them. As time passed, people stopped buying the games and there was little done from game to game to improve the gameplay or anything else. A few years have gone by, but now Guitar Hero is back and it’s better than ever.

Let’s talk about that new controller to start. Freestyle Games has added a sixth button and split the frets into two rows — instead of one — on the neck of the guitar. There are now three black buttons and three white buttons versus the old, coloured 5-button scheme.

Guitar Hero Live
Comparison of old Guitar Hero guitar versus the one from Guitar Hero Live. Photo credit: imgmr.com

If you are a Guitar Hero veteran, transitioning to this new button format can be a little tricky at first. I played with 3 different Guitar Hero veterans, and each of us found it difficult to re-program our brains to the new position and colours of the buttons. Although it can be a tough transition for players used to the old format, we all agreed that the new format was almost easier to play with. Instead of having to move 4 fingers up and down the neck of the guitar, you simply use 3 fingers that switch between planes. After playing a few songs it starts to become second-nature, and I personally prefer this new guitar setup. Also, you can now play bar chords (awesome) and it actually feels more like you are playing a real guitar (without having to own or plug in a real guitar)!

Guitar Hero Live
New Guitar Hero Live guitar. Notice the 6-button layout.

The main career mode in this one is named after the games, Guitar Hero Live. This mode lets you hop into the shoes of the guitarist of about 10-12 different fictional bands across a couple different festivals from a first-person perspective. I loved this fresh new take on career mode. Seeing the live crowd respond to your mistakes with boos or cheering you on with every note you hit is definitely a cool new take on the mode. You even hear comments from your bandmates from time to time depending on how well you’re doing. It’s a lot more fun to feel like part of the band than to just see a highway with cartoon characters in the background.

Guitar Hero Live
Guitar Hero Live mode on stage with the band.

As great as the first-person perspective is, Guitar Hero Live isn’t such a flawless mode in execution. In adding all these full-motion video sequences for all of the songs on disc, only 42 songs shipped on disc. Guitar Hero 5 and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock both had over 80 and 90 songs respectively. Cutting the amount of songs in half (or more) is a big deal and one that makes Guitar Hero Live a very repetitive and short mode that you’ll finish in 2-3 hours and possibly never touch again. Normally, this would be a big deal, but Freestyle introduced something new to this version that will keep players coming back for a long time.

Guitar Hero Live
Crowd reactions in Guitar Hero Live.

GHTV is a new online-only mode with two-channels (expanding to three sometime after launch) that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These channels live-stream blocks of songs constantly so players always have something new to play. Music videos play in the background as you rock out and you can even plug in a microphone and sing-along if you want. As you play, you level up and earn credits to spend on stuff like multiplier boosts and customisable player cards for your profile. These credits can also be spent on Plays. Plays are tokens that can be exchanged for a single on-demand play of any track from the library of songs (which is quite substantial). In our experience, we ended up earning Plays rather quickly and haven’t used very many up because the song library is so diverse and enjoyable.

While GHTV is great for its diversity, players who want to master a song may find it annoying to have to use a Play over and over every time they want to play a certain song. The only way to do that is to play other songs first or buy the tokens with real money. GHTV also doesn’t give much consideration to those who only have an hour or so of time in a day. If a person hops on who hates pop and it’s pop hour on GHTV, then they really don’t have much choice other than to use their Play tokens or go back into Live. Even with those slight disappointments, GHTV does a good job keeping players engaged. There is an always-present leaderboard that shows how well you’re doing on a particular song compared to other users. There are also Hero Power Packs that you can unlock at different levels that give you different boosts when using Hero Power (replacing Star Power), like bombs that knock out all the notes on screen.

Guitar Hero Live
This is what the song catalog looks like in Guitar Hero Live. Players can use Play token to pay any song in the catalog on-demand.

Multiplayer is a bit lacking in this Guitar Hero, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt considering they had to work on the main game and a focus on multiplayer will probably come with the next title. You can use a second guitar and have two players playing at the same time, however they’ll both be playing the lead guitar instead of one on rhythm or bass. There is also no option for a multiplayer career, so you’re relegated to GHTV for that. Singing is also only in GHTV. It’s sad that what was once a party game has taken so much of what made it a party game away. The local leaderboard is seemingly absent from this title as well, not a big issue, but one to note.

Guitar Hero Live is a fantastically fresh new take on a genre that started to get stale for a little while. The Live career is something brand new and with more interaction could be one of the most enjoyable experiences in gaming. The added casual difficulty level makes the game accessible to everyone without being too difficult. GHTV pulls the whole package together offering a new experience at any moment during the day. It’s hard to reboot a dormant franchise, but it’s in good hands with Freestyle Games and I’m excited for the future of the Guitar Hero franchise. I’d recommend this title to everyone. Hours of fun are waiting to be had!

*This game was provided by Activision to FYIG for review purposes*

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