Activision’s Guitar Hero is back, but, unlike the recently released Rock Band 4, it’s all change for Guitar Hero Live.
Whilst the basic mechanics of Harmonix’s original Guitar Hero game have been preserved, FreeStyleGames’ Guitar Hero Live has a new presentation, a new way of getting more music and a new guitar peripheral.
They’ve also dumped the drum kit, leaving players with only the lead and bass guitar, as well as vocals, for those so inclined.
Instead of a series of five coloured fret buttons, the new Guitar Hero axe has two rows of three fret buttons, allowing for an insane combination of notes and chords. Also missing are the touch-sensitive lower frets that, to be honest, I never got to work that well, anyway.
For those unfamiliar with the Guitar Hero franchise, the idea is to follow the note prompts as they proceed towards you on a “highway” by pressing the corresponding button(s) on the little plastic guitar peripheral whilst strumming the long button on the face. Special notes, correctly hit, unlocks hero power, enabling a x2 multiplier, which means more points, that is activated when the guitar is tilted up,
On the PS4, this all works due to a tiny little dongle that you plug into one of the console’s USB ports. Once synched, the guitar works as if it is a controller, with the frets, strummer and a little joystick on the guitar body mimicking the Dual Shock 4.
Rock Band 4 uses a virtually identical music catalogue to its predecessors, gut this isn’t the case with Guitar Hero Live. None of your music purchased for previous Guitar Hero iterations will work with Guitar Hero Live. For this outing Activision have made a rather controversial decision when it comes to music delivery.
There are two ways to play songs on Guitar Hero Live, either using the on-disc Live mode or the streamed online TV mode.
On the disc there are 43 songs which are unlocked as the player progress though the single-player campaign. It’s a good mix featuring tracks from Katy Perry to The Rolling Stones- something for everyone, to use the cliché.
The Live campaign places the player into a band performing at either of two iconic rock festivals: Rock the Block in Boulder City, USA or the SoundDial festival at Stoneford Castle, UK. The game is played from the player’s point-of-view, as the lead guitar in a band.
This time, instead of using computer graphics, the other band members and the audience are all portrayed using live action footage. What’s more, they react to your performance. Play without dropping a note and your band will nod in appreciation of your awesomeness and the crowd will go wild. Screw up and the band will start abusing you and the audience shake their heads and boo. This all happens virtually seamlessly and is actually very cool.
During the festivals players will perform twenty-minute sets with a series of different bands. Successful completion of a set will unlock each song in quickplay mode and well as some bonus band info in the festival gallery.
The other way to play, Guitar Hero TV, turns your console into a streaming mixture of Karaoke and MTV. Selecting one of the many streaming channels allows players to jump into the scheduled playlist and start strumming. You can compare your performance with anyone else playing on the channel. You can’t choose your song, but the songs keep coming, with the official music video streaming in the background. For most players, the lack of immediate choice is more than made up for by the huge music catalogue.
The set playlists of the music channels are great for casual players who will likely enjoy playing the streamed songs as they come. Dedicated Guitar Hero aficionados wishing repeat the same song in order to nail it are not going to be so happy. There is a way to choose your own streamed playlist on Guitar Hero TV, but I can still see this still causing some upset for hardcore fans.
As you play Guitar Hero TV you earn tokens that can be used to buy Plays. Plays are exactly that, free plays of song of your choice. Three Plays will cost you 1,800 tokens and ten Plays 6,000 tokens. You get about 160 tokens per successful song.
Now for the controversial bit. Running right through the middle of the Guitar Hero TV experience is a rather sneaky micro-transaction system. You can, rather than earn tokens to unlock songs, use Hero Cash. Those ten Plays can be unlocked for 450 in Hero Cash. You can buy Hero Cash in the PlayStation Store. 300 Hero Cash will cost you $1.95 AUD all the way up to 6900 Hero Cash for $25.95 AUD. Not that expensive, but I can see a few people getting more than a little carried away, especially the aforementioned hardcore players wanting to master a song on the harder difficulty levels.
As well as a shortcut to freeplays, Hero Cash is also required to access Guitar Hero TV premium content. Premium show grant players early access to new songs before they hit the free streaming channels. They only cost 210 Hero Cash but, again, restraint is required.
Overall, I was rather impressed with Guitar Hero Live and I take my hat off to Activision for reinvigorating the ailing Guitar Hero franchise with something new. The revised guitar design is welcome and adds a new challenge to the game. The live action footage in the Live mode is very well done. Micro-transactions aside, Guitar Hero TV works very well, with constantly updated music keeping the content fresh.
Guitar Hero Live is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4.