Guitar Hero Live, unlike Rockband 4 its main rival, underwent a dramatic change in almost every single aspect when the series returned to our consoles in 2015. From the controller itself down to the gameplay modes and it’s interesting take on online gameplay – it was a decisive and sometimes divisive step but now having spent many hours on the game, I’m glad they changed things up to make it markedly different from the Rockband powerhouse and ensure there is room for both on my gaming list.
The first thing you’ll notice when unpacking the game is the controller set up:
The idea that you have two rows of three buttons, or frets, instantly changes the feel of the guitar into something more akin to the real thing. The game instantly pushes you into learning the ropes on the tutorial where single buttons, side by sides and then chords (the ones above and below each other) are played. At the higher end of normal mode and then the more advanced difficulties you’ll be playing three buttons and then different notes on different rows before scaling up and down all six buttons like you are playing a real guitar solo. It certainly takes time adjusting to it but it’s well worth persevering because the end result is something more natural than Rock Band’s guitar, if a little more difficult to get to grips with. It only has one set however so there’s no sliding up the guitar for solos, and whilst the whammy bar is there, power-ups are triggered with a button next to your strummer and not by lifting up the controller. However, I must state I’ve been either unlucky with the quality of my controllers, or they really are quite poorly produced. Each controller I’ve played with has notes that stick or notes that don’t push all the way down. The fact there’s so many videos explaining how to fix your new controller online I think is a poor showing in what is otherwise a really pleasing change.
The second thing you’ll notice is the two new modes. GHTV and GH Live.
GH Live offers 13 setlists of songs to play in a live setting on stage at festivals. It’s played from a headcam view so you’ll see the crowd and the band going about their performance. At times you’ll jam with the bassist or have the drummer point at you and scream as you play, whilst the crowd sing along or turn on you if you miss a few notes. Whilst the idea has a cringe factor to it, it works brilliantly. I felt like I was on stage and the interplay with the bands was great. What I found unintentionally funny was how immediate the transition between loving you and hating you was as the screen blurs momentarily to switch mood tracks. The crowd goes from cheering to booing you in an instant for missing say three notes in a row and then if you get six or seven notes right again in a row they flip back into a craze again. I did enjoy that the songs have a festival vibe to them though with a crowd chanting along to the track.
As the tracks are usually easier in this mode, it’s worthwhile getting used to the track layouts. Everything is in black and white for the row indicators and the difficulty is raised by adding row and chord changes. You can also have mute strums with nothing pressed too, usually for the heavy metal tracks. Although the star rating for scoring is actually more lenient than previous games the way it avoids giving a difficulty rating for songs is strange – instead, it goes for an intensity rating. Something may be fast with lots of the same chord and get rated higher than something that’s slower but with some awkward chord patterns.
GHTV initially had me worried too. By locking all the music video tracks online into several playlists that rotate each half-hour, you never truly own these tracks. Instead you play what’s currently running at the moment and compete in lobbies of up to 10 players for the top scores. The streaming works very well and is quite efficient until you are placed in a duel with someone and it doesn’t seem to update your opponents score during the track. However, as an online experience, if you want to tailor it and choose the songs you want to play you are either going to have to pay for plays or earn them by playing the public playlists. To be honest, I enjoy a wide variety of music and have not found playing the public playlists an issue. As you play more, you gain EXP which levels you up and in doing so you are gifted plays to spend as you wish. However, if you wanted to invite some mates round for a party with the game, you’ll either want to save your plays up for that or buy some in for a couple of quid. I still prefer to own the tracks as DLC but this compromise has been interesting as I’ve discovered a few new bands through playing the public playlists and it seems that new songs are being added or rotated at least. Maybe allowing a keep safe of say 20 tracks to your hard drive forever and the streaming would be a better solution.
The main win for Guitar Hero Live though is it’s an absolute blast. Even when the controller is playing up, I still find myself enjoying playing through the sets, looking for higher scores and enjoying new tracks – and that’s the main point of enjoying a game isn’t it?