You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world. With the Beatles Revolution playing in my head I think back to how far the Guitar Hero series has come. I remember getting it for the first time back on Xbox 360. It was Guitar Hero 2. People had told me it was addictive and lots of fun, I wasn’t sure but I had to try it.
I took home my plastic guitar, put in the game, set it to easy level and fumbled my way through. I couldn’t quite understand how people played this game. Those 5 fret buttons confused the hell out of me and I was only using, at most, three of them. And then I must strum at the same time? Crazy. A bit of practice and lots of frustration later and I had the hang of it, on easy. Bumped it up to medium and had to learn to get used to the extra key and faster pace.
It was fine though, the track list was so engaging and the need to get better so encouraging that I persisted. It wasn’t long until medium became the new easy and I was on to Hard and Expert difficulties. It caused lots of pain but I understood the love everyone had for the game.
Fast forward to 2015 and after years of absence the music rhythm genre makes a comeback with a new Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero Live tries to start a revolution of the genre, and at the very least some kind of evolution, but does it manage this, or is it a smashed guitar too far?
There’s something different, but don’t Fret it
Guitar Hero Live is the first game in ages to hit the plastic instrument world and the first, and most noticeable thing when you unpack your guitar, is the change in the controls. While previously there were 5 colourful fret buttons lined up next to each other, there are now 6, not-so-colourful, buttons placed in two rows with three buttons each.
When you first see this you might think what the hell is going on, but you will realise that Guitar Hero tries to change things up, and the muscle memory you once had will be of little use to you now. Everything else on the guitar is as expected with a comfy strap, well placed and clicky strum button and of course the all awesome whammy bar.
It’s the six buttons that make the most difference and it did mean me moving back to Normal difficulty, at least at the start while I got used to the new layout. The on-screen prompts were a little confusing at first with the top 3 buttons indicated by a black guitar pick the right way up, and the bottom buttons indicated by a white/grey guitar pick upside down. At first it feels super confusing but given a bit of practice and you will soon start to identify which is which and your fingers will follow suit.
What the 6 buttons do is to really make the game a bit more difficult. Not only is there an extra button but ensuring your hand is at the right place can be quite tricky, particularly when you have to use a bottom and top fret at the same time. It takes some getting used to. Some people will love it as it does appear to give a more authentic feel, but others will hate it.
If you have been playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band previously it will feel real weird and uncomfortable at times, almost like someone took your control and mapped the keys differently. For instance – imagine playing a shooter and L2/LT was now to shoot rather than aim. You’d probably not think of this as progress, but rather a controller out of sync. Depending on which way you see it, you might love it and the new challenge which has you going back to earlier difficulties.
Strum along in the Career Mode
Apart from the changes in the control the entire interface of Guitar Hero has changed. The career mode now has you taking part in a series of “live” performances as part of one of a few bands. You are represented in first-person perspective with a massive live massive crowd in front of you, with your band members and other on stage antics surrounding you on the stage. It’s meant to simulate the real feeling of playing in a rock band, but to be completely honest it’s kind of dull.
At no point did I feel any connect with the crowd, or my random band members who for some reason gave me ill-timed high fives and love nodding at me for no reason. This is coupled with some brief, almost silly intro scenes where your band go onto the stage and you pick up your guitar. Your character, who is meant to be a rock hero, simply has no actual character whatsoever.
The crowds and real life setup of each band act looks brilliant and it’s a good change from the cartoony presentation that used to exist in the Guitar Hero games. Having the crowd sing along at the solos is a nice touch but it’s something that is fun at the start, and barely noticeable at the end.
The career mode format is very basic too. You simply play a number of sets containing 3 to 5 songs at different venues until they are all done. There is no actual failing a song, only miserable fans and bandmates which takes some of the pressure off, but it also feels as though you are just going through the motions. No score indicator or anything like that on-screen during the song is missed from the previous games and makes the career mode something you probably won’t ever revisit.
Play me a song, you’re the Piano Man
You will have to play career mode at least once to unlock all the on-disc songs, of which there are 42 in total and while some of them are great I found the range to be a bit odd. I don’t dislike bands, but having Rihanna, Eminem, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry show up on the playlist just felt completely out of place to me. Some might love the soundtrack but I found it to be average at best.
Once you have finished career mode you can play any of the songs in quickplay mode, which felt much better to play as you can look at scores and leaderboards, and play multiplayer should you have a second guitar (which I didn’t so no comment on how the multiplayer works unfortunately).
While the 42 songs on the disc leave a lot to be desired, Guitar Hero Live more than makes up for it with the new mode called Guitar Hero TV. Essentially what this is, is an ‘always on-line’ mode that has you streaming music that you can play. Guitar Hero TV is split up into different channels, like a radio station, and has various songs playing at different times. You can choose a channel but not the actual song and pretty much play what’s next on offer.
Guitar Hero TV is a great addition and includes over 200 songs to play from the library. It is accompanied by music videos that are streamed at the same time, but be warned that it does use a considerable amount of data when playing. I used 2GB on one night of playing the game as it’s literally streaming HD quality music videos.
I did love the randomness of Guitar Hero TV. It resulted in me finding songs I never knew I loved, and getting to play songs that I know and love. It’s got excellent variety and depending on your preferences you will definitely find more to enjoy than in the on-disc songs.
It’s not totally random though, there is a whole progression side of things to tie in too. By playing songs you can up your level, earn coins and unlock “free plays”. Free plays allow you to actually choose a song you want to play rather than hoping it comes up in the list on a channel. These are earned through progress, but can be bought with real monies if you so wish. It technically becomes a way to rent a song that you want to play, and while this might seem silly to some, I personally think it works very well.
Guitar Hero TV saves Guitar Hero Live from being just a mediocre game. The amount of songs, the leaderboards, the scoring system and the ability to use the much loved “star powers” is integrated in a way you would hope in a new game in the series. Add to that all the aesthetic unlockables and you have a fantastic mode, data implications aside of course.
Rock Star Material?
Guitar Hero Live is a bit hit and miss for me, with slightly more hit than miss. It’s got a great concept with Guitar Hero TV which will ensure that I play it for a long time to come. It has that same addictive feeling as it did way back when and it will be great fun with friends, of course.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that the career mode is dull and the on-disc tracks are not great and can be unlocked in a few hours. Lastly, it just doesn’t feel like the game has been rebooted. Sure the control is different now, and that will take getting used to, but the core gameplay is exactly the same and I didn’t, at any point, feel like I was playing something totally fresh.
That’s fine, I love music rhythm games without them having to be revolutionary, but with the whole reboot opportunity I thought maybe there would just be a little something more. It’s a good start and hopefully gets built upon in the future, but for now Guitar Hero Live is a bit more sidekick than actual hero.