Just when you thought Activision had beaten the Guitar Hero franchise to death, much like a couple of its other franchises, the rise of new consoles is a valid enough reason to bring back plastic instruments and the music game genre. With Rock Band 4 serving as some serious competition, can Guitar Hero Live differentiate itself and feel like a new experience? After being one of the first to go hands on with Guitar Hero Live in New York City, I would have to say the answer is a definite yes.
Before we get to the game, it’s important to know that the guitar controller, which has been a staple for almost a decade, has gone through a big change for this next installment. There are six buttons instead of five, all being in three rows of two on the far end of the neck.
On screen, there are now only three notes. Black notes represent the top buttons and white notes represent the bottom buttons. The buttons are all smaller than the average buttons on the old guitar controllers, but maybe this is a good thing, especially since some songs may have the player holding black and white buttons simultaneously. There is also a star power button next to the familiar strummer and above the whammy bar. The new guitar feels great and the new positioning of the buttons is definitely easier to learn, but will prove to be harder to master. Actual guitarists move their hands up and down the neck as well as across, so I like that the new controller emulates the former.
The gameplay remains familiar, but the aesthetics feel completely new. The game now has live action backgrounds and scenes, a drastic change from the ugly CG characters that used to fill the screen. You also have a first person view of the action. When starting a song, the camera moves to show people prepping you backstage, giving you thumbs up or nods of acknowledgement. Upon entering the stage, you are in front of a crowd cheering you on if you’re doing great and booing you upon doing poorly. During instrumentals, the game’s interface will disappear and have the player’s perspective moving to get a view of the rest of the band as they’re playing. It very much felt like a theme park ride. It was a surreal experience. The surround sound headphones that accompanied the demo unit helped with this too.
The sound mix is also great, with the music feeling like it is fused with the cheers of the crowds to make it feel like live music rather than just playing the song itself, adding to the “realism.” The demo had three songs. I played through “When You Were Young” by The Killers (a staple from Guitar Hero III) and Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up)”. I played both songs on regular mode (medium difficulty). It allowed me to get used to using the new guitar, but after two songs, I was ready to bounce the difficulty to hard, especially considering I normally play on expert mode.
Between the different modes the final game will offer, the new aesthetics, and an awesome new controller, Guitar Hero Live looks extremely promising. I don’t know whether or not it will bring back the plastic instrument fad, but those who have kept up with the franchise year after year will definitely want to keep looking into this game as more news about it arrives.
Guitar Hero Live launches on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Wii U later this year.