Guitar Hero Live – a welcome return?

With the recent release of Guitar Hero Live, Activision has revisited (another) franchise that had suffered some major overkill in the past decade, with new features and a redesigned guitar controller that I’m still having trouble getting to grips with.

I owned the first three instalments of the Guitar Hero series, and enjoyed rocking out in my living room to a diverse playlist of musical acts. But with the constant releases of updates, sequels and expansion packs it wasn’t too long before my fellow empty-walleted fans of the series would stop showing up, both for this and the rival title from initial GH developers Harmonix, Rock Band.

So after a five-year break, and a new generation of shiny consoles on which to try their luck, has Guitar Hero Live got it right this time? The different play modes each have something new and interesting to offer.

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Guitar Hero Live – an innovative idea

Strictly speaking, I love the idea – Guitar Hero Live puts you in the role you were born (or bought the game) to play, seconds before stepping onstage with your band. Choose a band and showtime, and take to the stage for an as-live performance. Using video footage of the band and the baying crowd, you play along in the usual manner.

The cool part here is how well-made the videos are, showing a first-person view as you walk around onstage, interacting with band members and the audience alike while you’re busting out some rock music.

But while in the old games, a song would end abruptly if you played badly enough, Guitar Hero Live instead has you endure the full brunt of the reaction from audience and band members alike; in my very first playthrough of a metal song I hate, I was getting daggers from my bass player all the way through, while the other guitarist made pointed shakes of his head between verses.

Of course, if you’re playing well, all is forgiven as your band shout out the words and have a good time, while the audience chants and unfurls signs like ‘you’re my hero’ and ‘hit me with your rhythm stick’ (okay, maybe not that one). It’s a very cool touch and avoids any potential embarrassment of being booed off halfway through your solos.

But as pioneering as this new live approach is, there are a fair few problems with the execution. Namely, the acting. For the most part, it’s cheesy as hell and looks like an advert; one of those aspirational, middle class ones for mobile phones or posh cider that I’m forced to endure during trips to the cinema, where everything is ok because there’s some twee acoustic music on in the background and people are able to manipulate their entire physical environment because they have a new app.

Not only that, but due to the intricate nature of this video production, there are only so many ‘sets’ of songs which they could make. Again, for the most part – and this is purely subjective – a lot of the songs they’ve chosen to include are awful. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have Mumford And Sons in a Guitar Hero game anyway? Not a sniff of actual stadium rock here, just poppy singalongs and some dire ‘screamo’ for all the angsty kids. I just about survived a triple onslaught of Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Rihanna yesterday – this was most definitely not the live experience I had in mind. Fortunately, there’s a whole other side of the new game which I enjoy a whole lot more.

GHTV

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One of the reasons for the constant sequels and updates to the Guitar Hero franchise was so that players wouldn’t get too bored of the playlist – not that you could ever get bored of GH3. And where games have tried and failed before with downloadable songs as micro-transactions, here we get a streaming service called GHTV.

At the moment GHTV is two different channels playing songs online 24 hours a day, for everyone to have a go at around the clock. With scheduled programming dedicated to different genres, plus mini-ads showcasing the best of the freeplay catalogue (just so you can get a quick break to stretch the muscles), I found GHTV to be a brilliant platform on which to experience the game. I’ve also discovered a lot of good music on here – despite having only been playing the game over the past two days. Best of all, rather than the graphical tour de force that was blocky polygons playing a gig as it was in old versions, GHTV has the real music videos for every song it features. It can be pretty distracting sometimes when you’re trying to nail a complicated riff.

As I mentioned before, the trouble with micro-transactions is always finding the neat balance between those fans who will gladly pay more to get further enjoyment of a product which is already providing enough, and not pissing off anyone who would resent having already paid top dollar for the game, only to find that there’s a secret chord which you need to complete any play-throughs properly, and have to pay extra for. Here on GHTV there’s an option to buy the Party Pass, which offers all on-demand music, which can also be paid for via ‘Plays’ bought with in-game cash, for a 24-hour period. I think it’s £3.99 here in the UK. That’s actually okay if you’re having some mates round – only slightly more than one beer would cost you in some of the more upmarket bars; y’know, the ones whose patrons would really enjoy the cheesy Live feature.

The music selection on GHTV is actually pretty great, and with regular updates, you’re always likely to find something to have a crack at.

So, Guitar Hero Live is very much a game of two halves. And while I’m not especially keen on the GHTV portion making out as if I’m competing with other online players, the experience itself is as fun and imaginative as it’s always been, with some great songs to boot. For this alone I’d recommend picking up a copy of the new game, especially if you’re a fan of the old ones – for everyone else who might actually enjoy the Live feature, you should get involved too. My own personal highlight was getting some sultry looks from the hot bass player; you should let me know if that’s just me reading too much into band chemistry.

 

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