When I hear Guitar Hero, I always think back to my college days. I was the only person in my circle of friends who had the game and two of the guitars. People rocked out at my place and I was always asked to bring Guitar Hero to other people’s homes; everyone wanted to play with the controller. It was something new, something strange, but most of all something fun. But for me, as much as the game was fun, it was also quite an experience getting to show people the new guitar controller. It will be a while before something will recapture those same feelings of newness, but Guitar Hero Live comes close.
One of the biggest changes to the franchise is the new controller. With this new controller you’ll only need to use three fingers since the five colored buttons along the fret board are now gone. In its place, six buttons. Yes, one additional button and using one less finger. Confused? It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Looking back on previous Guitar Hero and even Rock Band controllers, the neck consisted of five separate colored buttons, separated by frets. Having to use your four fingers meant that you had to shift your hand up or down the neck. For some players this was a hard concept to grasp. Most of the people I know who played with the guitars usually picked difficulties where the fifth button was rarely needed. Guitar Hero Live’s new controller takes up only three frets; there is no need to move your hand up and down the neck anymore. Instead there are now upper and lower frets to manage. So you’ll end up in situations, on trickier difficulties, where you’ll be pressing an upper and a lower button but on different frets. You’ll get to feel like you’re making chords now, creating some interesting game play. I personally love the way the new layout works, I have a refreshed sense of feeling like I’m actually playing a guitar. With this new setup I’m having tons of fun while doing it. The controller is built well and the buttons feel tight. The strum bar clicks like previous Guitar Hero controllers and the fret buttons don’t need to be pressed extremely hard to register your input. Overall, it’s built very well.
But that’s just the guitar; the game on the other hand is a good first step in the right direction for the franchise. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the updated interface. Booting up the game leaves you with only two options to choose from, GH Live and GH TV. Live is your single player component and TV is a whole different beast that we’ll get to in a bit. Going into Live you’ll have the options for a progressive story mode and two player quick play. Two player is just simply two guitars doing a high score competition with the 42 songs included in the game. If you have a USB microphone hooked up, you’ll be able to sing as well. One odd thing that happened while playing; I was in a PSN Party chat with our wonderful EIC Scott Ellison and when I booted up a song, it brought up the mic and was registering my voice going through the party as vocals. So I guess if you wanted to annoy your friends or serenade your significant other over voice chat you can; lucky us.
Past the quick play stuff and you’ll have two festivals to play, with multiples shows in between. Each show has a different live band play a three song set and yes I did say live band. Gone are the stylized animated characters from previous Guitar Hero games, you now are behind the eyes of a guitar player for these bands. It’s in first person and you get to see the camera move around the stage, your band mates, and the crowd. It’s quite a sight to see at first, yet it doesn’t interfere in how you’re playing. In fact the on screen action is reactive to how well you play. FreeStyleGames has done an incredible job with the full motion video and the switches between the crowd reactions. Ranging from excited to them booing you, FreeStyleGames have made the transition seem seamless with a short dazzling flash. It’s more of something that’s really interesting to see as a viewer rather than a player, but don’t take that to mean it’s not beneficial because when it pans over and you see the faces of your band mates, you’ll easily be able to see how well your doing from excited hand gestures to disgusted faces.
The live action isn’t the only thing you’ll notice that’s changed once you’re actually playing. With the change to the controller, comes a change to the note highway. You’ll only see three columns for the notes but since you now have to deal with upper and lower notes, you’ll see a black or white note to strum corresponding to either the upper or lower position. You’ll also find that you’ll need to create bar chords for some notes when it asks that you hold both white and black on the same fret. On regular, the game can get tough for a casual Guitar Hero player and if you’re an expert, good luck on the hardest difficulties; those notes come fast and boy is there a lot of them.
One big downside to Guitar Hero Live is the lack of any online multiplayer. The closest you’ll get is the new Guitar Hero TV. Basically it’s a playable music video network with other Guitar Hero TV players. To start, Guitar Hero TV only has two channels to choose from GH1 and GH2. Personally I think thats terrible naming since I see GH1 and GH2 and associate that with songs from Guitar Hero 1 and Guitar Hero 2. Each channel has different blocks of music that will play from the library’s current list of available songs; the harder rock songs are usually on GH1 and the softer stuff on GH2. If you happen to boot up the TV mode in the middle of a block and a song is already playing, it’ll throw you right in and start going. Just like radio and TV, you don’t select songs on these channels, you just play what they have in rotation. But you can play any of the songs in the library at any time without having to buy a single song; there is no DLC for the game. FreeStyleGames will be adding new songs to the list and everyone will have access to them; you’re streaming in the music rather than downloading it, you don’t “own” any of the music.
So how do you play the song you want then? There is a leveling system in the TV mode where you earn credits and song plays. Those song plays let you play any of the songs in the library. Every time you level up you earn more plays and more credits. You earn these rewards in the channels or on individual songs, so after playing for awhile you’ll earn more and more to use. Luckily you won’t have to use real cash to play. That isn’t to say you can’t, there is a thing called Hero Cash that you can spend actual money on to let you bypass the play requirements. You can also purchase a 24 hour music pass that will let you play all the songs in the library with no restrictions. This is a great option for parties and something I really wish Rock Band would have in it too. You’ll also be able to use the credits you earn to customize your player card, the note highway, and power ups to use within the TV mode.
As I mentioned earlier, you can’t play online multiplayer but you will see a score of 10 people in your skill level. Some are currently playing at the same time you are and some are high scores. The game doesn’t give you an indication between the two so it always looks like you’re playing against ghost people. The closest sensation of multiplayer I got was having Scott get on the same TV channel I was on and we played the same song. The game isn’t designed to look for friends if they are playing at the same time so it won’t populate the score chart with their scores. Very unfortunate for a game that lacks any online multiplayer. We had to tell each other our end of song scores in the party chat. Something unexpected happened with the TV mode though, I found that we ended up playing through the TV mode for quite a while longer even after we wanted to get off. There was just something about hearing the next song and seeing the notes pop up that kept me hanging on through the next song. This mode has the potential to be a good time waster. When Guitar Hero gets some more songs I enjoy in there, I’m not a big fan of the song list at all, I can see me losing hours to it.
It’s actually very refreshing to have the Guitar Hero franchise back. The game has tweaked things for the better on the controller and in the game. The visual presentation is entertaining and their no DLC strategy is neat. The lack of any multiplayer or being able to hop into a GHTV channel with friends is unfortunate and is the only thing holding this back from a higher score. Okay, let me get off this computer and get back to rocking out.
A PlayStation 4 copy with game and controller was provided by the publisher for review purposes