Guitar Hero Live rejuvenates a tired franchise from top to bottom, making broad changes to its gameplay and presentation that largely work for the better.
This year has seen plastic instruments come back in full force, with the two biggest series in the genre returning over the course of this month. However, while Rock Band 4 sought to continue where the franchise left off in 2010, Guitar Hero Live is all about forging something unfamiliar.
The biggest selling point of Guitar Hero Live when it was announced earlier in the year was its new first-person presentation. The stylized rockers of previous installments have been cast out in favor of live action video sequences, populated by real-life actors posing as bandmates and crowd.
It’s silly, but it’s fun. There’s something about looking out over a sea of fans that’s undeniably engaging, and there’s enough detail in each performance to keep providing new things to look at as gamers replay songs. There’s certainly an aspect of cheesiness as well, but somehow the whole thing works.
However, players won’t be in first-person for as much of their time with Guitar Hero Live as they might expect. The Live portion of the game loosely resembles previous entries in its linear progression from one venue to another, with several songs offered by each section — but the tracks on offer aren’t the best in the game as a whole.
Sets are typically comprised of radio-friendly hits, rather than the rock that one might expect to find in a Guitar Hero game. Given that the game comes from the developers of DJ Hero, the charts do them justice, but they’re largely quite simplistic in terms of difficulty.
The Live portion of the game is simply a small segment of what’s on offer, though. GHTV is a streaming service with a far broader library, and it’s likely what most players will be keen to spend most of their time with. It’s worth noting that an Internet connection is required to access this content, and it’s very much the bulk of the game.
This is where Guitar Hero Live shines, and it’s largely thanks to another new innovation. Freestyle Games has cast aside the familiar five-button controllers for a new peripheral that offers two rows of three frets. This seemingly minor change has a huge effect on gameplay, and that’s the reason any rhythm game fan has to try out Guitar Hero Live.
The new guitar is enough to return a veteran player to novice status, and it will certainly take a while for most to comprehend the shifts from white notes to black and vice versa. But once it sinks in, there’s far more capacity for challenging charts that replicate their source material better than ever before.
Of course, this is to say nothing of the other ways that GHTV turns the franchise on its head. Music videos run constantly on two channels, and players are free to dip and out of songs as they see fit. The game’s 200+ song catalog comes ala carte as well, but play coins are required to select songs in this manner.
That will be a hard pill to swallow for fans of previous games, but it seems vital to the way new music is set to be added to the service. Rather than collecting DLC, new songs will be added on a regular basis and can be enjoyed for free — but players might need to pay real money to experience everything they want, when they want.
Free plays are handed out whenever the player levels up and can be bought with in-game currency, but they’ll take a little while to earn that way. If gamers enjoy playing any song as it rolls around on a channel, you’ll be fine, but if your tastes are specific you might not fare so well.
That’s the genius of Guitar Hero Live. Rather than compete with Rock Band 4, it offers something completely different, and as such the two titles have quite different audiences. Live uses a more modern platform to deliver its content, and whether or not that’s a good thing will come down to personal preference.
However, there’s still plenty to the game that make it worth recommending to anyone who’s ever enjoyed holding a plastic instrument in their hands. Make no mistake, Guitar Hero is back — and, thanks to the smart changes made to gameplay and presentation, it’s more satisfying than ever before.
Guitar Hero Live is available now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U and iOS. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for this review.