It’s been five years since the last Guitar Hero game (Warriors of Rock) was released on the previous generation of consoles. Now a new title, by FreeStyleGames (DJ Hero series), is here to try and get us addicted all over again with Guitar Hero Live.
The series was getting a bit stale but a five year break has done it the world of good. Guitar Hero Live isn’t just more of the same, the developers have created a new experience. This all starts with a brand new guitar controller.
The old guitar controllers featured a single row of five different coloured buttons. The new controller changes this up with six buttons split over two rows. The top row is black while the bottom row is white. It’s a simple change that feels quite alien at first to previous players of the game.
There are five difficulties to take on – Basic, Casual, Regular, Advanced and Expert. On the lower difficulties you’ll find that the game usually only asks you to use a single row of buttons. As you ramp up the difficulty it will use combinations of each row. This allows for some really difficult songs that even veterans will struggle with at first.
Notes come down the highway in one of three lanes. When it hits the bar at the bottom you must play the corresponding note and hit the strum bar. The notes can be black, white or both. When a note is both colours you must press the white and black note in that lane a bit like playing a chord. You also get open notes that simply require you to strum.
Playing certain groups of notes fills up a power meter that you can activate by quickly tipping the guitar neck vertical or pressing the Hero Power button. There are different powers to unlock such as score boosts, note clearing, multiplier and streak protection or invincibility where notes are played for you.
The Guitar Hero Live experience is split up into two different modes – Live and Guitar Hero TV (GHTV). The Live mode is essentially the new story mode and it’s a fresh experience. Here you take the role of lead guitarist for a series of bands. The big difference is that these are real bands performing to live crowds at different festivals.
The developers have recorded the footage using a camera attached to the guitarist that you are playing. This gives you a first person view as though you are there on stage. At the start of each set you begin backstage and actually walk out onto the stage. It’s a fantastic experience and gives you an idea of what it must really be like.
During each song performance the crowd and your bandmates will actually react to how you are performing. If you’re hitting the majority of notes the crowd will act positively by sing along and happily waving. However if you start to miss notes or mess up then they will become negative, stop singing, start booing, call for you to get off the stage and even cry. At the same time your band mates will also become annoyed with you and start gesturing at you to up your game. As you’re told at the start of the game though you can always win them back by playing well.
The way the developers have managed to change the video of the crowd on the fly is really clever and pretty much seamless. When you’re having a good streak and hitting your notes it’s a brilliant feeling seeing the whole crowd enjoying the performance. The only problem with this setup is that while you are learning it’s hard to fully take notice of what is happening. Switching your focus away from the upcoming notes makes it very easy to make mistakes. With practice though it does get easier.
Guitar Hero Live features two festivals, the first is a US festival called Rock the Block with eight bands playing sets of three or four songs. The second is a UK festival called SoundDial with five bands playing sets of three to five songs.
The included 42 songs feature a nice mix of genres including Rock, Dance, Indie, Pop and Metal. There’s something for everyone and artists include Queen, The Rolling Stones, Fall Out Boy, Arctic Monkeys, Paramore, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Kasabian and even Eminem and Skrillex.
You can also play these songs outside of the Live setup in freeplay mode where you can bring a partner if you have a second guitar. Both players always play lead guitar in multiplayer but there is also the option of hooking a mic up as well if you wish.
The other half of the game is GHTV which is a streaming service with over 200 tracks available at launch. It’s currently divided up into two channels with one that steers most towards Rock and the other is more mainstream-oriented. GHTV is described as a living network that will continually change and expand. The developers are promising a third channel will be available shortly after launch. Weekly content drops are expected to expand the library by over 70 new tracks before the end of the year.
The playlists on the channel change every half hour and you can jump in and play whenever you like. They are setup like a TV channel so all players see the same thing. When you take on a song you’ll be competing against other players and you are rewarded with coins based on your performance. All songs on GHTV are played against the official music video rather than a live crowd.
It’s a really cool setup and because you play what it gives you then it’s always fresh. It’s a great way to discover new music and while there will be songs that you’re not a massive fan of it is brilliant when a song comes up that you love.
GHTV does give you the option to play whatever song you wish but to do so requires tokens. Redeeming a token allows you to play one song. The game gives you one to begin with and then another 10 to get you going. After that you must buy them with the coins you earn through playing or obtain them each time you level up.
The more you play GHTV the more coins you will earn and it’s easy to quickly build up enough to replenish your Tokens. Playing the game for five consecutive days also grants you more coins each day as a daily reward.
Your other option for accessing the content you want is to spend your real cash on Hero Cash. This comes in various pack sizes from 300 for £0.79 to 6900 for £15.99. You can also purchase a Party Pass for £4.79 giving you 24 hours unlimited access. In all my time with Guitar Hero Live so far I haven’t hit a point where I’ve felt that I needed to spend real cash.
In fact I’ve been enjoying having so many songs to play. Usually when you want to try out some new tracks in games like this you need to buy each song individually. Here you can keep playing forever for free. The only time I can see people wanting to spend cash is if they are having a party or really want to master a particular track.
Once you hit level six you unlock a new feature called Premium Shows which feature new songs or live concert footage. Once available you need to unlock them by completing certain challenges such as achieving 3-star ratings on set songs. If you’re struggling you can also use Hero Cash to bypass the challenges.
Guitar Hero Live brings back the series in a big way by completely reinventing the game. The new guitar controller just works brilliantly and the changes to its design improve the game and make it feel a bit more like playing a real guitar. It’s easier to learn for beginners yet harder to master for veteran players. If you enjoy music games then Guitar Hero Live is essential.
Guitar Hero Live was reviewed using a retail copy supplied by Activision.
Publisher: Activision Developer: FreeStyleGames Age Rating: 12 Reviewed On: Xbox One / PS4 Also available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U