When the rhythm genre practically saturated itself to the point of extinction a few years ago, no one was happier to see it go than me. Sure, I’d spent many weekends and summers trying to five-star every song on expert with my friends, and whether it was as a group in Rock Band or a duo in Guitar Hero, it was genuinely a blast. But after years of joking about the hours wasted on cheap, plastic instruments, Guitar Hero Live waited until just the right moment to rear its head, heralding a return to rhythm gaming goodness with a huge stylistic change.
What’s most notable about Live is the redesign of the guitar controller, which is much less colorful than before and only slightly more realistic to play. Rather than using five colored buttons to match the stream on the screen, there are just two rows of three buttons, one white and one black, stacked on top of each other. This means that easier difficulties will stick to the bottom, while each mode higher will introduce the upper row and eventually incorporate both.
While this definitely takes some getting used to, anyone who has played guitar before will feel slightly more comfortable with this new controller. Button presses for chords often mimic the gesture of making a traditional power chord, especially when you’re tasked with pushing both the upper and lower button at the same time as you hit a higher note. This isn’t the Guitar Hero we’re used to, but the change is a welcome one, reinventing the once-stagnant series without losing its identity.
The change in presentation is also welcome, putting you in the shoes of an actual guitarist playing for a stadium of real cheering fans. Your bandmates and the fans will react to how you play, cheering loudly as you hit streaks and pull off solos and booing when you mess up repeatedly. If you suffer from stage fright, Live might just be a bit too similar to the real thing for you.
That being said, there was another mode introduced called GH TV, which is a far cry from what fans of the series are used to. In GH TV, channels have been created that play music videos from various genres of rock music, and each block of programming plays at a certain time throughout the day, just like normal TV. However, if a song comes on that you love and want to play along with, all you have to do is pick up your controller and enter the song. It’s like if one of your favorite songs came on VH1 and you could just play along; it’s a fascinating feature that’s not without a few caveats.
Unfortunately, if a song goes by and you miss it, you have to use currency used in game to replay it at any time. You can also use real money to buy a track so that you can always have it ready to play. Much of GH TV is based on micro-transactions, including the ability to unlock all of the songs for a block of time so you can play them with your friends without worrying about having to unlock them all first.
Other customization features include the ability to unlock new fret boards for the notes to travel along, changing the look of both the notes and the board and sometimes making levels more difficult due to the art style. Your guitar can also be upgraded now, giving you the opportunity to earn more points per note hit or to gain more star power with each string of special notes completed. Other upgrades are in the works as well.
Although many of these features are neat, the inclusion of a pay wall for much of it is a bit disheartening, especially considering that the price just to buy the game and the requisite new controller will most likely reach near the $100 mark. However, having Live mode from the beginning is nice, and being able to leave GH TV untouched and have some great background music for a party is surprisingly awesome.
The track list is expectedly varied and full of classics, new and old. A few of the bands sampled included Green Day, Pierce the Veil and Pantera, and during our look at GH TV, a special broadcast was occurring for Black Veil Brides. Even if none of these bands are up your alley, there are a ton of other artists making up the track list who represent a wide range of rock music.
Whether you’ve been dying to see more Guitar Hero or couldn’t care less, Guitar Hero Live is shaking up the series for better and for worse. Although the inclusion and emphasis of micro-transactions isn’t filling me with hope, the new look, extensive track list and redesigned controller have me more interested in the franchise than I have been for years.