Guitar Hero – the game that started it all – and other peripheral rhythm-based games went the way of the dinosaur due to oversaturation and unoriginality in the genre. While every subsequent entry added killer tunes to rock to and even greater challenge, they all relied on the same tried and true mechanics that kept the game from ever evolving while promoting repetition and staleness. It all led to players eventually getting tired of the same old thing and hanging up their plastic guitars in boredom, never to touch them again.
Guitar Hero Live
Developed by Freestyle Games / Published by Activision
Available on the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U. Reviewed on the PS4.
*Review copy provided by Activision
Today, Guitar Hero lives once again in the form of Guitar Hero Live, a game by Freestyle Games that promises to reinvent the formula with new game modes and a unique new guitar controller. But is this reinvention too late in the game for players to even care?
First off is the all-new guitar controller, which changes up the core gameplay by featuring six buttons on three frets (three on the top, three on the bottom) instead of the classic layout of five, which changes up the experience dramatically. Instead of five lanes on the highway (where the buttons scroll down in the game) that had players stretch their fingers left and right as they fought to land the notes, the game now has three lanes but two note types (black and white), allowing players to move up and down frets, create chords, and move, which is more akin to a real guitar experience than ever before. While it takes a while to fully get used to, as players now have to move up and down frets instead of left and right, and often push buttons from the two levels at the same time to create chords, it quickly becomes second nature and feels much more natural. It’s an absolutely brilliant design change that lends authenticity to the experience, and I honestly don’t think I could go back to the old guitar controller after this. It rocks.
Second, the game modes have also been revamped as well, taking a page from the new controller and offering new ways to play the game. The first is Live mode, which spins the classic Guitar Hero experience on its head as players are now the hero instead of taking on the role of a cartoony avatar. It all plays from a live-action first person experience, and players head to a number of venues as they play with bands in front of massive crowds. Performing well causes the crowd to roar with joy and sing along as well as keep your band mates happy, while missing notes will quickly change the mood and will have the crowd booing and your mates questioning your commitment.
Ultimately, Live mode is good, but not great. While it’s a fun mode that reinvents how you play the game and lets you step on stage and play in a band, it’s a bit short and the way the game transitions between crowd and band moods – the screen blurs and the video changes accordingly – and the acting does take you out of the experience from time to time. However, it’s always great when you can get into the moment and revel in the crowd’s appreciation of your epic guitar skills.
GHTV is the second game mode, and it’s where you’ll get most of your entertainment from after completing the brief Live mode. It plays out like a 24/7 music channel, and players can hop in and out at any moment to play through blocks of themed programming featuring actual music videos and compete with others playing at the same time online. The half hour blocks range from indie music, metal, and more, and players can check out the schedules so that they can catch the music they like and watch the latest videos. This also allows the developer to put in new content without the need for DLC, which is phenomenal.
By playing constantly, players will also unlock currency and free plays which will allow them to play favorites directly, without having to wait for the song to appear on the programming, or they can purchase plays with real money. Earning them however is pretty simple, and the game does provide plenty of in-game currency to do so, which is great for those not looking to pay cash for their favorite tunes, but it’s a bit annoying that you can’t purchase songs directly. Still, it’s pretty great.
If I had some complaints, it would be that TV calibration is a bit tricky, as the game has players set up their screens either by using a slider to match sound to an image, or play the guitar as the game calibrates in the background. Despite the two options, I still had a bit of input lag and never felt completely in tune with what was onscreen.
Another issue is with the controller itself, and the fact that I’m a left-handed player. Most buttons – like the protruding power button and the GH Live button – sit at the bottom of the guitar, so when playing left handed, the guitar is flipped and these now rest on the top. What happens is that when I strum or use the whammy bar too close to the guitar body, my strumming hand frequently bumps into these buttons causing the game to pause, or summon menus. This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened infrequently, but the design of the buttons is such that they easily get caught under my wrist and it happened more often than not. Placing these buttons on the middle of the guitar would have been a happy medium and would have offered plenty of strumming room.
Overall, Guitar Hero Live is a fantastic reboot of the series, offering more authentic and challenging gameplay, and two new modes that completely change up the experience. While Live mode wasn’t as successful as it set out to be, GHTV is a terrific mode that’ll have players rocking out to the music for a good, long time.