Monday 5 December 2016

Guitar Hero Live review - Three is the magic number

Published 23/10/2015 | 16:24

Guitar Hero Live - Enjoy your fake music career complete with fake bandmates
Guitar Hero Live - Enjoy your fake music career complete with fake bandmates

You might remember a time when music rhythm games were all the rage, even popular enough for South Park to dedicate a whole mocking episode. Then they all disappeared. Until now.

9/10; PS4, PS3, Wii U, X360, XOne and iOS; FreeStyle Games

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n case you missed the memo, 2015 sees the return of the music rhythm game, just in time to cash in on the next gen Christmas market.

There’s a battle being fought here, one as time honoured as Xbox versus Playstation. It’s time to once again dust off the axes and prepare for Guitar Hero versus Rock Band.

The problem with a genre relaunch is diagnosing what went wrong in the first place. What drove the guitar dinosaurs to extinction?

Each franchise has gone for a polar opposite approach for the comeback. Rock Band 4 returns with the familiar and rehashes the tried and tested fan favoured formula. Guitar Hero Live on the other hand decides the genre died through stagnation and enters the arena with something altogether new.

Gone are the five buttons near the headstock, replaced by six buttons in two parallel rows of three. It’s a brave move, changing a well known style first introduced by Guitar Hero way back in 2005.

Guitar Hero Live: The newly designed six button controller is much closer to a genuine guitar experience.
Guitar Hero Live: The newly designed six button controller is much closer to a genuine guitar experience.

The new layout gamble pays off. Three really is the magic number. As a fan of actual guitars, I never found rhythm games satisfying but this has all changed. Developer FreeStyle Games have cleverly realised that playing guitar is less about the hand moving horizontally and more about what the fingers do on the vertical.

Suddenly the possibility opens up for these wacky things called chords and they’re used in a way that could genuinely convince you that you’re playing the music. There’s a sense of realism that was always lacking with the old layout.

Guitar Hero Live - While the 'highway' might be familiar to music game fans, Guitar Hero Live has switched to two rows of three buttons.
Guitar Hero Live - While the 'highway' might be familiar to music game fans, Guitar Hero Live has switched to two rows of three buttons.

Speaking of realism, Guitar Hero Live has made an astonishing breakthrough in their single player “Live” career mode. First they invented a number of fake bands, each appropriate to a certain genre. Then they filmed the bands miming to well known songs, all from the perspective of the guitarist. The result is spectacular.

Gone are the animated booing crowds and in their place we have real people, usually jam-packed venues full of them, all reacting to how well you play. This human feedback keeps going with your band mates, who will give you happy nods or filthy scowls depending on your performance. You no longer feel like you’re playing for points, your main aim is to stop the attractive female bass player from wanting to kill you.

There are two fake festivals to play through, each with a variety of made-up bands full of character. Live commentary between gigs gives you an MTV feeling and tweets about the festival and performances are a nice touch.

The only possible downside to the Live mode is the limit on songs, just 42 and all from the last ten or so years. It makes sense in the festival setup, but I kept waiting for a chance to bust out some AC/DC.

Guitar Hero Live - This is what happens when you suck. Negative Crowd Feedback.
Guitar Hero Live - This is what happens when you suck. Negative Crowd Feedback.

The second available mode is “TV”. Guitar Hero TV is apparently a nod to the Spotify generation of streamers, but really it strikes a solid chord with an older MTV generation. There are three channels running constantly with music videos. You can’t select a song, you just have to jump in and get on with it like the good ol’ days.

Before playing the game, I hated the concept. Where was the gamer’s control over the content? What do you mean I can’t download songs to play? Then I turned on Guitar Hero TV and it made perfect sense.

I didn’t realise I wanted to play “I fought the Law” but it came on the rock channel and it was exactly what I needed. Hours went by, spread between songs I knew and loved and new enjoyable discoveries.

Playing TV mode puts you in competition with other players. My tombstone will probably read “#1 Guitar Hero Live player at that pop song he can’t remember the name of but totally nailed,” though I’m sure that was mostly release-day luck.

As you play through the channels, you level up, unlock rewards and earn coins. Play Tokens, allowing you to select an individual song from the catalogue, are given out regularly during the game but can also be bought for real money. A purchased party pass will give you access to any song for 24 hours.

Though micro-transactions in premium games usually drive me to a rage, it isn’t the case here. Perhaps the TV channel approach is just too good for me to ever consider buying plays, though I can see how it will make some people see red.

The amount of content available on the channels is huge, with 190 songs available on release day and more due to be added.

Guitar Hero Live is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time and certainly the best music rhythm game to cross my path. The franchise went back to the drawing board and created something truly new and exciting, perfectly fitting for a next gen debut.

Guitar Hero Live is available now on PS4, PS3, Wii U, X360, XOne and iOS

(Playstation 4 version played. Commercial copy of game supplied  for review by publisher.)

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