Guitar Hero: Live – Our Impressions

Being a long time Guitar Hero fan, it was a sad time when the franchise came to an apparent end. Despite this, I’m convinced it was a necessary move – each new release was very much like the previous, plus new songs and a new lick of paint. At its core, each game was the same and whilst this was mostly how it had to be, it was becoming stale.

Roughly five years later and Guitar Hero Live comes along under the helm of FreeStyleGames, the developers of the DJ Hero games, and from what ChiefCanuck & I saw at PAX Prime and other media, they’ve got it nailed to a tee – and it’s out tomorrow! (Friday for those in Europe)

The first thing I’m sure many are interested in is the controversial new guitar controller. Does it work? Is it practical? Will it still feel like Guitar Hero? Yes to all of those. For people who don’t know, the new Guitar Hero Live controller is virtually the same as the ones you’ve seen before, except with a full redesign of the fret buttons. Gone are the days of the 5 different coloured buttons, and in their place sit 6 fret keys, 3 white, 3 black as in the picture below.

Whilst it takes a little getting used to, there’s plenty in place to help you find your way. Complexity of songs and the mixture of black and white buttons scales up with difficulty level and after 3 songs on standard difficulty I was pretty confident with the controller layout, hitting most of my notes. One important thing to take note of to help you get your bearings, as note prompts show up on screen they’ll be in the shape of a black or white guitar pick, these picks are rotated to point up or down to correspond with the colour rows’ location.

Of course, in saying it’s easy to get used to the new layout, I’m not by any means saying it’s made the game any easier. Step up a difficulty or two and you’ll find yourself playing with hammer-ons and pull-offs, barre chords, black & white chords, erratic colour swaps and more. It’s the same ole’ Guitar Hero intricacies and challenges with a whole new feel, one that’s more realistic than ever, forcing you to form more real-world-esque chord shapes.

Whilst we’re on the subject of realism and immersion, say goodbye to seeing your cartoon character playing in front of a cartoon band in front of a cartoon crowd. It’s time to play live music from your perspective, in front of a real and dynamic crowd, alongside real and dynamic bandmates! The team at FreeStyle went and recorded fake festival performances from the perspective of a band member, with crowds of real people and a selection of bandmates. The result? A truly immersive live-gigging experience. Play well, and your bandmates will be smiling, giving it their all and the crowds will love you. If you start to slip, the crowds will start to get truly intimidating, visibly angry and boo-ing, and you will never un-see the death glares you’ll be getting from bandmates. Thankfully the crowd have all been drinking and are there for a good time, and thus are very forgetful and forgiving if you start to play well again!

Now, Guitar Hero Live is split into two main “elements”, a solo “story” mode and a new experience galled Guitar Hero TV (GHTV).

Solo mode is effectively what you’d expect from Guitar Hero. You’ll pick one of the “bands” that FreeStyle have made up and progress through a selection of festivals and concerts furthering the career of your band with each success. Pretty similar to the GH of old, but certainly not a bad thing. However, it’s all new and exciting over in the world of GHTV, the game’s equivalent of a music TV channel. GHTV acts as the game’s main multiplayer mode, always active, always ready. When you jump into this mode, different channels will be operating 24/7 offering different types of music for you to play alongside the rest of the world. For example, everyone currently in Channel 1 will be playing the exact same song at the exact same time; as you join a channel, you’ll be automatically and seamlessly matchmade against other players. Once you’re successfully matched, a leaderboard will be displayed showing your score versus other players – the better you do in that leaderboard, the more you progress!

FreeStyleGames will be continually working with artists and publishers to develop new songs for the game which will be implemented via the GHTV mode, at no additional charge. That’s right, no DLC expansion packs – you’ll just get new songs added for free! All songs in GHTV replicate that “music channel” feel too, doing away with the live show background and playing the official music video instead. Expect to see hundreds of songs available at launch with many more to come!

Over in GHTV, songs are also available to play on demand if you wish to do so. Playing a song on demand will require a form of in game currency called “Plays”. Featured songs will also be available for players to buy unlimited access to via microtransactions. As you play songs in GHTV you’ll earn experience, Plays and in-game currency. You can also use the currency for custom note highways, player cards, and more. The more songs you play and the better you play them, the more you earn. Besides, who doesn’t want to show off an epic highway when you challenge your friends? Speaking of which, you can also play GHTV locally with another friend if you so choose.

GHTV will also feature premium shows. These will require players to complete certain songs before they can enter. Think of it as a “trials of rock”, you must prove your worth before you can enter, and if you complete it you’ll be rewarded with some pretty cool cosmetic items like highways which you can then show off to your friends.

“I only have a few Plays left and my buddies are coming over tonight for pizza and video games!” Fear not. Aside from being able to buy Plays via microtransactions, you can also buy a “Party Pass”, which grants timed access to Guitar Hero Live’s entire catalogue on-demand without depleting Plays.

Speaking of Live’s catalogue, make sure to check it out! There’s definitely something for everyone in this extensive tracklist, with plenty more to come.

So, in summary, Guitar Hero Live is set to be potentially the best Guitar Hero game to date, revolutionising the music game experience with an all-new immersive visual experience, a brand new controller that more accurately replicates guitar playing and a killer new mode in the form of GHTV. We can’t wait, what about you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!