I feel like Guitar Hero has become the household name for music-based games, like Nintendo has been the household name for just about every console. It was the first of its kind to really blow up on the home console scene, and for a while had largely held a dominant spot before Rock Band nearly forced it to rethink its strategies and offer more than just guitars. Over the years however, it felt that since the divide from Red Octane and Harmonix, both franchises really never went in innovative places. Fast forward to 2015, and we see both resurrecting for the new generation of consoles. Guitar Hero Live is still published by Activision, however Freestyle Games "“ previously known for their interestingly innovative DJ Hero series, is now at the helm taking over the Guitar Hero franchise. Guitar Hero Live seeks to not only bring back the Rhythm Based games with proprietary controllers, but also reimagine the series in ways previously never seen before.
The most notable change to the way we play Guitar Hero is the reimagined guitar controller. For those who remember, Guitar Hero controllers were five colour-coordinated buttons for five different notes, all spread horizontally across the neck of the guitar. With GHL, the new controller adds another button. Sounds easy enough, but the placement of them all makes for a new and improved guitar that makes you rethink and relearn the mechanics. The new controller has two rows of three buttons, that are colour-coordinated like piano keys; black and white. This new placement offers far more in the way of chords and notation, making advanced and expert modes exceptionally challenging "“ far more so than any other guitar hero game before it. I was pretty proud of saying I could beat Guitar Hero 2 and 3 on Expert, even using the hyper speed mod. I can barely get through some of the harder songs on Advanced. It's that much of a difference. Hammer ons and offs return, and because of the new structure of the button placement they feel more challenging and ultimately rewarding when it's successfully pulled off.
Guitar Hero Live is broken up into two central components: Live and GHTV; both are very unique and refreshing ways of playing through a music-based game and offer largely different experiences. Live puts you behind the eyes of one of the guitarists in various bands. Each section is a gig with three to five different songs played back to back. The real kicker is your success and failures dictate the audience and fellow band members. High performers will be encouraged and motivated from members and cheered for by fans, and similarly the reverse is expected of negative performances. It's a great dynamic that really engages the player with the virtual stage. There is a nice selection of gigs right out of the box, with more to unlock as you progress.
I had the privilege of speaking with Nathan Coppard, Senior Designer over at FreeStyleGames regarding one of the more interesting modes "“ GHTV. GHTV is a mode that mimics flipping through channels of music videos playing 24/7 that you can participate and play along with. There are 200 tracks right out of the box in GHTV's music catalogue. Mr. Coppard believes the central idea behind GHTV is discovery, and the charm of discovering new bands and music as you would if you just happened upon a program on TV. New music will be added to the catalogue for free post launch, and there is an option to play songs on demand or to even create your own playlists. At the moment there are only two channels present for GHTV, but a third is expected to release shortly after launch. Eager musicians can purchase the Guitar Hero Party Pass for 5.99 to have access to the entire catalogue for 24 hours rather than unlocking them naturally. It's also worth noting that Coppard mentioned that they are working on new modes, including Rivals Mode "“ so be sure to expect some more news on that soon.
For those who wish to extend the way they play, the Guitar Hero companion app can also allow your phone or tablet to act as a microphone and lets you play vocals and sing along with whoever is playing guitar. Those who own a USB microphone can also do this, but it's a nice alternative for those who may not have a microphone lying around.
While playing GHTV, the player is scored and ranked in order to track their performance. Their scores are compared to other friends and players; the cool thing here is that it not only shows scores that are happening at that moment, but it also shows asynchronous scores. To help boost your overall score, you can purchase "Hero Powers" before you start playing. These are effects that can boost your score and overall performance from a variety of boosters such as score multipliers, board wiping the upcoming notes or to even increase or decrease the density of the notes coming your way. Experience points, in-game money and other bonuses are earned after players complete the songs. Experience points accumulate and show you level up as you go, unlocking various features of GHTV and customizable player card skins to personalize your tag.
GHTV really struck all the right chords with me; on the one hand, it keeps playing the game very fresh by offering a ton of combinations for your channels, and it also gives us the legitimate music videos to either sing or play along to "“ which will definitely appeal to the 80s and 90s kids that grew up on MTV and Much Music video countdowns. Seeing some of the older music videos like Korn's Freak on a Leash really brought back some nostalgia. And the ability to even create your own playlists is a fantastic idea to customize and pick at the very large selection of songs made available.
The soundtrack for Guitar Hero Live is as robust as it is diverse, offering genres for just about anyone. From expected bands like The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, and Killswitch Engage all the way to unexpected artists like Eminem, Skrillex or Zedd; Guitar Hero Live definitely wanted to make sure there was something for everyone. On top of that, the difficulty scale is very impressive, offering tracks to play on a lazy day, to finger-bleeding songs that really test your limits.
The visual presentation is fantastic; the live performances have crisp camera work, and really show the engagement of the band and audiences to such a great extent that you could forgive some of the corny acting here and there. The fret board and notes are all nicely stylized, however for fans of the series it is worth noting that it may take you a while to get accustomed to the black and white colour scheme after being used to five different colours for so long. You may get tripped up as to what is the top and bottom row, but once you put in some good hours you'll get the hang of it in no time. The music videos in GHTV are all varying degrees of quality considering they are borrowing from the sources at their natural time of release, so some will have a bit of sub-HD grain and other current releases will look great in high definition.
Overall Guitar Hero Live is a fantastic revival of the franchise, and a great new approach to their once winning formula. The new controller rocks offering considerable depth from the simplest addition of adding one extra button. Live mode is a clever way of putting the player directly in the eyes of someone performing, and will be given positive and negative reinforcement depending on how they progress. GHTV offers a great way to play as continuously as you want, taking part in channels that play music back to back. And with the prospects of new tracks being released for free via GHTV, replayability seems to be endless.
|Great new controller offers new and more challenging ways of playing than ever before.|
|GHTV offers an interesting way to play alongside music videos.|
|Robust selection of songs to appease just about any crowd.|
|Relearning the new button layout may take some time for newcomers and even veterans of the franchise.|
|Only a couple of channels presently available for GHTV, however we are expecting more very soon.|
|Some corny acting during the Live segments.|