Guitar Hero: Live
Price: $99.99 (single guitar bundle)
Platforms: XB1, PS4, Wii U, iOS, PS3, 360
Guitar Hero: Live went in a new direction with its six button guitar. Whereas previous games in the series used controllers and mechanics nearly identical to Rock Band, GH:L has players using two rows of three buttons each, for finger placement emulating movement and placement of playing real guitar on a much closer level. The top row indicates the note board with white guitar picks pointing up; while the bottom is black pointing down. Note charts includes bar chords, holding both the white and black frets in a single column, frets in the same row (all black or all white). While the new guitar does take a while to adjust to , pulling off tricky segments had me feeling like I was solving difficult, rapid fire puzzles.
The guitar itself is well designed. It has a sturdy feel and the fret buttons are wide enough to easily achieve accurate finger placement while still narrow enough for smaller hands. There’s also dedicated buttons for activating star power and popping back to the Guitar Hero: TV menu. The different consoles require different USB dongles that come included, but specific to each console. So while the same guitar works with both PS4 and XB1, different USB dongles are required. If you were hoping to grab the mobile version and use your console guitar, you are also out of luck. The guitar controller that works with iOS devices (and eventually Android) will not work with any bluetooth enabled consoles like PS4 or Wii U. It would have been nice to have the option to purchase one controller and be able to play it on both mobile and consoles.
The first thing you’ll encounter after syncing the new guitar controller to your console is a live action tutorial explaining the different type of notes you can expect. These live action moments are over the top and incredibly corny but it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed them. When playing Guitar Hero Live, the player needs to put most of their attention into barrage of notes flying at them. This means that for players to actually notice what is happening in the background things have to be exaggerated; which is exactly what Guitar Hero: Live does. How well the player performs directly corresponds to one of two videos that occur during a song. When performing well the crowd is excited, the band and crew are giving the player thumbs-up and fist bumps, but if performance starts to slip the screen blurs for a second and fades into view. Lots of over acting with a disinterested crowd, lots of head shaking and band members mouthing “come on!” I found myself laughing and surprised at how cruel some of the cast members appeared. It is especially noticeable when the note UI disappears when a song has during a break in the guitar playing. In some weird way, the fully live action shots actually made me feel like I was on stage, even if it felt like a weird talent show, or play than an actual rock concert.
Ever since music video TV stations shifted from playing music videos to 24 hours of trashy ‘reality’ shows there has been a void. Watching music videos on YouTube is good enough for videos or bands you already know exist, but it is difficult to discover new videos or be reminded to seek something out you heard on the radio. Guitar Hero TV fills this void in a very satisfying manner. GH:TV has two music video channels that are streaming content in blocks, all day long. Players can jump in at any point, pick up mid song and compete in a score battle against random GH:TV Players. How well you perform, and how high you rank among the other players determines your reward. The lowest you can rank is 10th place for a song, and the closer you are to the first rank, the more coins and rep you’ll earn. Coins are used to buy cosmetic items such as player cards and skins for your note highway. They’re also used to purchase play tokens that lets you play any song from the GH:TV catalog. Rep is used to level your player, unlocking more cosmetic items to buy, and often come with a stipend of play tokens. Unlike previous games, you cannot buy DLC in the traditional sense, playing a GH:TV song on demand will always cost a play token. Real money can be spent on play tokens, and a party pass which gives players unlimited plays of the entire catalog for a specified length of time.
It would be nice to be able to flag blocks of music genre’s that you might be interested, and even set up alerts in-game, or on a system level, so if you noticed that two hours from now is the start of “Metal Hour,” you could simply have the game remind you. Instead you have to be diligent and set your own reminder, or more likely forget like I did most of the time. Another useful change that would work in tandem with a scheduling service is the ability to see the entire day’s breakdown of a blocks as the schedule currently shows the future couple of hours.
If you just want to watch music videos, GH:TV kind of lets you do that. You can drop out of a song at any time and the music and video will continue to play, but the note highway remains with a giant “Press to Play” icon floating on the middle. Not ideal if you’re looking for a purely music video experience, but a great way to take a break from the action and keep the music going. I used it to multi-task; play a song I like, then drop out and continue working on this review and once another song I want to play starts up, I just pick up and play.
I enjoyed the Guitar Hero: TV components a lot more than I thought leading up to the release of GH:L but it isn’t without some pretty major faults. The first downside to this streaming music video system is: there are no options to purchase any additional content for offline play. If you are disconnected from the internet, you will only have access to on disc, GH:Live songs. The multiplayer and scoring isn’t clear; I’d hit 99% of the notes, and still only earn second or third place to players hitting 96% but somehow earning a much higher score. The streaming nature means the song will have to buffer, and any troubles with internet can disrupt gameplay.
The Final Word: Freestyle Games has changed the Guitar Hero formula in a satisfying manner by pivoting focus on the player at the center of a live action band. The Live sections of the game, are corny and over the top, but are a lot of fun to experience, more so than the computer generated characters of previous titles. The selection of music is very subjective but I was pleased with the mixture of modern hits and classic rock songs. Guitar Hero: Live takes the plastic instrument genre of music rhythm games and modernizes it in a way that feels appropriate of next generation consoles.
MonsterVine Rating: 4 out of 5 – Good