Guitar Hero Live Review (Xbox One)
There’s a new Rock Band and a Guitar Hero in the sales charts together, for the first time in half a decade. What a time to be a fan of plastic, undersized guitar controllers with the dream of being a rock god…
Guitar Hero Live, unlike Rock Band 4, takes the established formula for these games and massively reinvents it. Which is fitting, as Guitar Hero first brought the genre to our consoles in a big way ten years ago. The guitar has been reinvented; no longer are there five coloured buttons running down the neck, there’s now six buttons laid out in a 3×2 grid. The change leads to more ‘realistic’ chord construction, since you’re not just moving your fingers back and forwards, but also up and down.
One change that Guitar Hero/RockBand fans will have to get used to is that you don’t need your pinky anymore. Those hours of training that little appendage to hit blue and orange notes are laid to rest as your pinky has to just sit idle and watch the other three fingers play. And what it will see is a hand that’s having an absolute blast.
The change in layout leads to a completely new challenge, one that’s a step towards playing a real guitar (relax, guys, I’m not saying it’s the same thing). Series veterans like myself had to take a step back, drop a difficulty or two and relearn the game, an experience we haven’t felt since the very first Guitar Hero game.
There’s been a design change, too. Instead of CGI crowds, flashy pyrotechnics and character customisation, Guitar Hero Live puts you into the shoes of a variety of real world guitarists, playing real gigs in front of real crowds. Granted, only the first five or six rows of the crowd are real people, but when you’re concentrating on the notes flying down the highway, it’s difficult to pay attention to that.
I like the way Guitar Hero Live plays. Interacting with your band members and roadies as you walk around the stage, beginning from back stage when you pick up your guitar and head onto that fabled podium, lends a sense of immersion into the shoes of a rock star that these games have never offered before. However, the crowd doesn’t mindlessly worship you. If you’re playing badly, the interface changes; the crowd turn on you, and you start getting quizzical, disapproving looks from your band mates. You’ll need to step it up if that happens!
There’s also an entirely different way to play Guitar Hero Live, if jamming on the stage isn’t your thing, and it’s called GHTV (Guitar Hero TV). And it’s probably where you’ll spend most of your time once you’ve finished with the Guitar Hero Live ‘career’. GHTV is ‘the worlds first playable music channel’, where you pick a channel and play along to an endless series of music videos. It’s a formula that works amazingly well, too. There’s an edge of competition to it, as you always play in a lobby with 9 other players, and you can slide up and down this scoreboard based on your (and their) performances. You can also level up in GHTV, unlocking new guitar highways and power ups to help you as you go.
It’s sadly not all brilliant news, though. There were quite a few times, especially during the Guitar Hero Live career, where the game dropped a load of frames and the track didn’t respond properly, causing me to drop a combo and disrupting the flow of the game. It was never game-breaking or consequential, just really annoying. There were also a few incidents of losing connection to the GHTV servers, which would kick me straight out of the song I was playing and back to the menu.
And what modern game would be complete without Microtransactions? You can use real money to buy a currency in GHTV that gives you quicker access to ‘premium shows’, as well as more ‘Plays’. You get plays by levelling up too, but without them you can’t pick and choose songs out of the (admittedly huge) GHTV catalogue and have to play on one of the channels. Frustratingly, each play lets you jam to a song just once, then you need to buy it again. So if you want to improve a score and climb the leaderboards, you’ll have to pay for it.
But the negatives just don’t do enough to tear away from the positives of Guitar Hero Live. It’s a breath of fresh air, of new life, into an otherwise stagnant, dead franchise. Massive kudos to the team behind it for the innovation, rejuvenating a beloved franchise in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible
8 power chords out of 10
For the Spotify playlist of Guitar Hero Live’s soundtrack, see this post