After a long hiatus, music rhythm games made a comeback in 2015, including the famed Guitar Hero franchise. Activision brought in Guitar Hero Live with an aggressive marketing campaign, but unlike the original games in the franchise, this new reboot quickly slid down the video game sales charts. This fact should not deter those who are interested in getting the game or giving it as a gift this holiday season, as Guitar Hero Live is actually better than the originals from the last generation of video game consoles.
At a glance, very little has changed in terms of the gameplay. Various notes roll toward the player as they play the selected song, requiring perfect timing on pressing the appropriate button(s) and strum bar on the guitar controller. However, the crew behind Guitar Hero Live took the game franchise’s hiatus to make two considerable improvements, both to the in-game experience and the controller itself.
The guitar controller replaces the colorful buttons of yesteryear with six buttons on the neck of the guitar, three white and three black, placed in a three-by-three button layout. While veteran Guitar Hero players will initially find this to be a challenging change, the adjustment period is short. For inexperienced Guitar Hero players, this change in the button layout actually allows the game to be picked up more quickly, considerably reducing the learning curve for new players. For those who wanted a more authentic guitar experience, Guitar Hero Live‘s new controller provides an improved feel in this regard. While it clearly doesn’t have the weight or full experience of a real guitar, the new button layout at least feels closer in the gamers hands.
The other major improvement exists within the game itself. Gone are the cartoonish weirdos that would play alongside you in the previous Guitar Hero games. In Guitar Hero Live, you play songs and sets with footage of real human beings on stage in front of real human crowds. The game starts with sound checks and a behind-the-curtain experience, eventually placing the player on stage. The audience will still cheer and boo, depending on the success of your gameplay, while your fellow band members provide encouragement through the challenging parts of the songs and set you play. This change makes the entire game a different experience than the one that existed on previous console generations, as the player can now truly pretend they are a rock star on stage in front of a real audience rather than a participant in a macabre cartoon. All due respect to iconic Guitar Hero character Judy Nails, but the addition of real footage adds greatly to the experience.
Another great new feature is GHTV, a game mode that allows you to play along with the official music videos in a number of songs. These music videos come at you as part of real-time broadcasts, similar to the good old days of MTV. This mode provides the fun challenge of being dropped into an unexpected song, sometimes in the middle of it, providing you with a real-time online leaderboard to show you how well you are doing compared to others playing along at the same time. The more you play the GHTV modes, the more you can level up and earn additional features, although those features aren’t exactly items of great importance to continual gameplay.
On the downside, Guitar Hero Live could do a better job in creating a multi-player experience. While it is possible for two players to jam on two guitars at once, there is little in the game to encourage two player battles or team ups. The majority of the experience is clearly designed with single-player online mode in mind, a nasty habit that too many major studio games are doing these days. One could argue that the heart of the original Guitar Hero games was local multi-player rather than an online experience, and if anything is lacking in Guitar Hero Live, it is in this department. Also, use of two guitars required the addition of a multi-hub USB adapter that did not recognize both guitars without a little effort.
Activision has released Guitar Hero Live on the all the currently available video game consoles. For purposes of this review, Activision provided a review copy for the Xbox One version of the game. Guitar Hero Live was released in both single and double guitar sets, and given the slow sales of the game, both versions should be available throughout the season for discounted prices that would make it a solid present under the Christmas tree for a casual gamer.