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June 2019

Guitar Hero Live

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Activision
Developer: FreeStyleGames
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2015

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


WiiU/PS4/XOne Preview - 'Guitar Hero Live'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on June 18, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Guitar Hero Live introduces two powerful ways to play, including GH Live, a first-person point of view where you are up on stage as the star of the show.

For a while there, the Guitar Hero franchise took a lot of flak for not being innovative, especially when compared to Rock Band's forays into new territory for the genre.  Many people lamented how often new Guitar Hero games were really just new songs and window dressing on the same gameplay.  After checking out Guitar Hero Live at E3 2015, it was easy to see that someone took those criticisms to heart and decided the new game was going to be boldly different.

It is perhaps most important to start with the new controller design.  Though there are other tweaks here and there, the biggest change is on the fretboard.  Rather than five buttons in a line, there are six buttons arranged in two rows of three.  Each row has a different finish, with one feeling smooth and the other crosshatched, and the middle pair has raised markings to let you know that you are on the right "frets." For those who are most used to gaming guitars, this will require a rewiring of your brain.  However, the resulting finger movements feel more akin to the ones used on a real guitar, thereby opening up new gameplay possibilities.

As you play, you only see three columns of notes on the highway, but light notes must be played on the upper row, and black notes must be played on the lower.  If a square note with both colors appears, it means that you have to press both buttons in that column, which in a real guitar could represent a chord.  Similarly, there can be times when you press a lower button and an upper button that are diagonal from one another, which also feels like a natural thing on a real guitar.  Don't get me wrong; nobody is going to learn how to play a real guitar from the new controller, but the new design seems like a much better analog and offers more possibilities than the old layout.

Guitar Hero Live is split into two modes, Live and TV.  The Live mode was something that I didn't get the firmest of grasps on in my admittedly brief demo, but it seems much more like the standard mode from the other titles.  However, one neat part was that the background video is one shot from the visual perspective of the guitar player on stage with the band.  As you play, your viewpoint shifts from scanning the crowd to interacting with your bandmates.  It's easy to dismiss it as clever use of FMV, but it's a neat effect to see the crowd visibly getting into it and then becoming unruly if you start playing terribly.

The much more interesting part came in the demo of the TV mode, which seems like a vastly different way to interact with the music in the game.  In TV mode, there are channels that you can tune in to, and a TV guide shows what is on each one for the near future.  A half-hour time slot might be "Pop Hits," followed by an hour of "Rock v. Metal." These playlists are only available at their times and are curated by the developers.  However, there is no cost for any of these songs, which may include some on-disc tunes as well as suitable DLC songs.

By playing songs in TV mode, you receive Play tokens, which can be used to play any song in the entire library once for free.  In this way, you can play in the TV mode and then any songs you like from the catalog without spending money on new songs.  You can still spend money to permanently unlock the song, just as you could in previous games, but this time, there are ways to try out the song first. 

Additionally, it was said that the idea of a Play Pass is being considered, effectively giving you unlimited Play tokens for a set amount of time.  The idea is that you can use one of them before company arrives, and then you'll have access to the entire current catalog of songs.

As you play in the TV mode, you enter a sort of matchmaking where you can compete with the scores of other players who are playing at the same time.  This gives you a competitive outlet if you wish, but it isn't forced upon you as something that needs to be heeded, either.  Still, it might give you a push to perform better, and the better you perform, the faster you build up experience.

As you gain experience, you level up, which provides perks that weren't detailed in my demo.  The new hero power abilities are now more than just multiplier bonuses.  Though that still exists, others may do things like change the difficulty up or down.  You might want to set your power difficulty down, so you can make hard parts of songs easier, or you might want to ramp up the difficulty on easier parts to get more points.

You can also upgrade your guitar.  You can make hero powers last longer, increase your base score, increase your maximum multiplier, or gain multiplier bonuses faster.  It's a great way for people who chase high scores to have more than one way to the top.  There may be some challenges that are easier to complete if you've set yourself up properly.

Once a set of challenges is completed, you gain access to a premium event, which can showcase new songs that are just being added to the game.  These events are the only way to access that song initially, though they will be added to the normal catalog later.  Still, it gives people something to strive for, and the reward is to check out some newly added music without actually spending money.

I didn't know what to expect from Guitar Hero Live, but I can say that I certainly didn't expect quite such an assortment of smart new design choices.  The new controller can take some getting used to, but in my opinion, it ultimately provides a better experience.  Meanwhile, the TV mode lets all players experience the entire music catalog without paying a dime, thought it remains to be seen how that will work in the final game.  Regardless, the Guitar Hero Live comes out Oct. 20 this year, and I'm excited to get my hands on it as soon as it hits store shelves.

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