I’m the first to admit to skepticism when I learned of Activision’s plan to revive the Guitar Hero franchise. Full-motion video? Streaming songs? A new guitar-controller layout? None of that breeds confidence for me. This month I finally got my hands on the new axe to play several hours of songs, and came away with a much more positive perspective on Guitar Hero Live, even if there are still some features I’m not sure about.
The guitar-controller is a success, not because it offers a better experience than the Rock Band form, but rather a different approach to emulating real play. Instead of moving up and down the guitar neck, the two rows of three buttons keep your hand in a single position, but demand lateral movement across the neck, replicating the feel of playing chords on different strings. As an experienced musicgame player, I adjusted to the new paradigm faster than I expected, and enjoyed the new challenge. For beginners, lower difficulties keep the focus on a single row of buttons, so I don’t foresee slow adoption of the controls as a problem.
The game splits its content into two separate presentation styles. The “Live” mode contains all the fullmotion video content, where 10 fictitious bands play performances with you as the lead guitarist. Each song has two full video reenactments. The first represents a cheering crowd and affirming bandmates. Miss too many notes, and a spotlight flashes in your eyes as you’re treated to a pissedoff audience and incredulous fellow musicians. After playing a few songs, my initial skepticism gave way to wry amusement. The fervor (or disdain) is so melodramatic and overdone it is genuinely fun, whether you’re doing well or falling on your face.
The TV mode offers multiple streaming channels of music, all running on their own schedule with background music videos or actual song performances as the visual backdrop. I’m not a fan of having to hop in on the middle of a song I didn’t select in order to make progress. If you enjoy a song in TV mode, and you can spend in-game song tokens to play it once on-demand. Fall in love, and you can pay real money to add it to your permanent catalog. I’m withholding judgment on this system until I see how generous the final game is with song tokens, as well as how many included songs come in the Live play style.
The success of the previous musicgame craze was dependent on the addictive sense of immersion in quality music. I’m pleased that both Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4 offer distinct fantasies in their upcoming releases. As to which has the potential to hit the top of the charts, it’s too early to say