By the time 2010 rolled around, the Guitar Hero franchise had played itself out strenuously. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable anymore, but it had certainly felt like a rock star that was merely sticking around for the sake of the franchise, instead of innovating as it did years before. You can blame that on the countless releases and saturation that had set in – not to mention the fact that trying to introduce Warriors of Rock felt a little far-fetched.
Following that game’s release, Activision benched its franchise for a few years, looking for new ideas that would bring players back in spades. And they weren’t the only ones, as EA dumped Rock Band by the wayside (following the very costly The Beatles Rock Band) and forced Harmonix to work out some new plans of its own.
But 2015 was definitely a comeback tour for both groups. Harmonix launched Rock Band 4 earlier this month to an awaiting public, nailing the classic vibe that players had come to expect in the series, while introducing some fresh new ideas for another generation to enjoy. Not to be outdone, Guitar Hero has done the same thing, redesigning its iconic controller and introducing a concept that’s more about on-demand than building up a song library. But does it work?
You bet it does. While there’s some question as to whether Guitar Hero Live will hold up without its on-demand channels (depending when they’re shut down – nothing lasts forever, after all), for the time being, they’re an outstanding component to a series that’s been in need of change. That, and some other great inclusions make this an effective comeback tour.
The on-demand part of Live is Guitar Hero TV, where you can stream game channels without paying a cent and, in the process, earn coins that allow you to customize your in-game experience. At the same time, you can also purchase on-demand plays of some of your favorites, in case you feel like strumming along to Tesla’s “Modern Day Cowboy” for the umpteenth time. Or, hey, if you want to impress the ladies, Warrant’s “Sometimes She Cries.”
On-demand works wonderfully, though you never really keep any songs you “buy” in the game. Thankfully, it’s a fair enough system with on-demand play, as you earn plays with leveling up within the game, and can also buy an optional “party pass” if you want to access all the songs for a 24 hour period, for around $6. It’s different – and a bit jarring compared to a current DLC model – but it’s a nice change of pace, and won’t have you breaking the bank to jam out.
There’s also a great competitive part to GHTV where you can compete with others in real time. It’s not like a party chat experience, but it does push you to continue doing your best with the new guitar as you jam along. I wish there had been some sort of video involvement with you and fellow players, but as it stands, it’s still interactive enough to work.
The other part of Guitar Hero Live is, well, Live, where you play with over 40 different songs via ten band performances on concert tours. These are also quite effective, as your performance actually reflects what’s happening on the stage. If you screw up too often, you’ll get booed louder than any given Nickelback tribute band by the crowd and get dirty looks from your bandmates – we’re talking Van Halen level of hatred. However, if you jam like a pro, they’ll cheer you on like crazy, and your band will get right into it with you.
I wish this mode had more songs to choose from, or the possibility of adding more sets via DLC. As it stands, though, it’s a terrific mode to get you more involved with the music, and some of the song selections are great. You will feel a little odd being a dude in an all-female band, however. Just go with it.
As for the new guitar design, it’s excellent – though you’ll need to get used to it. Instead of the usual five-button format, you now have six buttons – three up and three down – with black and white coloring. I got used to the new set-up in a couple of songs and started jamming like a champ, and chances are you will, too. On top of that, you can finally give your pinky a break and focus on play with the other fingers – this will be a HUGE feature for fans that are sick of outstretching on their instrument.
The only thing is that the difficulty can ramp up on certain songs, so it’s best to be prepared and stick with regular difficulty for the time being. Then, only when you’re ready, you should mess around in advanced on Guitar Hero TV. The crowd won’t judge you this way, you won’t be penalized, and you can learn to get better in the process. It works better than expected.
There is a multiplayer portion of the game where you can jam along with a friend in two-player mode, and even involve someone singing into a USB-supported mike. (Even Rock Band’s manages to work here.) It’s not as heavy a party component as it is in, say, Rock Band 4, because you never really quite feel that hot party vibe. That said, it’s still recommended, if only because you’ve never lived until you’ve seen a friend try to belt out “Gold On the Ceiling” while trying to sound cool. (Note: that wasn’t me.)
The presentation is solid for Guitar Hero Live, particularly the band performances. Some of the members can be a little cheesy (yeah, calm down there, Christian look-alike), but FreeStyle Games had good intentions and nailed them for the most part. Plus, the whole “jam band” set is a lot of fun, even if you are playing along to Mumford and Sons without Mumford and Sons actually being around. The classic music videos are a trip as well, especially those 80’s bands. Oh, how we miss long stringy hair.
Music selection is quite good for Guitar Hero Live. Sure, some songs don’t quite feel like they fit, but a mixture of classic rock (like Rush’s “Limelight”) and new songs (Echosmith’s wondrous “Cool Kids”) will feel just about right to Guitar Hero fans. The jam performances are a treat as well, even if you do feel a little odd raising guitar power to a Rihanna song. Just relax – you’ll find a performance that justifies it in no time.
It’s been five years since we’ve had an effective Guitar Hero release to tell us that the series is relevant again – especially one that doesn’t have Gene Simmons delivering a hammy performance on why we should care about rock gods. With Guitar Hero Live, it’s all about the music and feeling like that rock god, and it delivers in nearly every bit of flow and ebb. Some things are slightly off – like not being able to actually own any new songs – but the combination of the innovative streaming networks and the new guitar design really pay off. This rock star has returned with a vengeance, and it’s definitely worth the attention.