It’s been ten years since the first Guitar Hero brought rhythm games to the masses, but with a lull in popularity, the genre that once got whole families soloing to rock classics seems to have almost died completely in the last few years. This year however, we’ve got returns from both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but does Guitar Hero Live warrant you to pick up the plastic axe or has it turned out to be a genre best left in the past?
So how do you successfully resurrect a genre without flogging a dead horse? Guitar Hero Live has started with a clean slate, boasting a new guitar and one of the most exciting and addictive modes I’ve ever played in a party game. Despite this, the core values remain the same, with you timing your button presses in line with the on-screen fret board. The more you hit perfectly the higher your streak gets and the bigger your score becomes, which makes this the perfect game for perfectionists who want to get that 100% on their favourite tunes. The game makes use of series regulars like open strumming and chords which are even more satisfying to pull off thanks to the new guitar layout which is completely different to those seen in previous titles.
It might not be for everyone, but the guitar now utilises three frets with two buttons per fret. It’s a much neater experience, but it takes a while to get used to when you’ve spent years stretching your hands across five frets on the previous Guitar Hero peripherals, but once you’re accustomed to this new layout it’s a much more satisfying way to play. The whammy bar also makes a return and while it doesn’t serve much of a purpose it’s still a cool feature and makes the whole thing more authentic.
The game is spread across two modes, with Live being the offline ‘campaign’ mode if you will, while Guitar Hero TV takes the online spot. Live is unfortunately the worst single player experience I’ve had in a Guitar Hero game. Each set sees you playing guitar for various bands, with live actors making up both your on stage band mates and also the crowd. It’s all incredibly cheesy and the overall spectacle is as cliché as it could possibly get. It’s all the more jarring when the crowd begin to boo you if you start doing bad which is just weird and off-putting. Doing badly also makes the screen go blurry (which signifies when the audience’s reaction to you changes) which is incredibly distracting, especially when you’re trying to concentrate on those more difficult solos. Luckily you can always recover by hitting the hero button on the guitar if you’ve managed to hit the corresponding notes in succession which helps when you feel a little overwhelmed on songs you might not be too sure with.
Aside from Lives strange obsession with replicating gig authenticity, the 40 on disc songs are sure to be another area that divides players. The core songs span both genres and the ages, anywhere from Soundgarden to Skrillex, making it the most diverse Guitar Hero yet, but while there’s something for everyone, some songs don’t quite work as well as others. There’s still plenty of riff rock to be had, but for every great rock song there’s three pop songs that seem almost shoehorned in for the sake of selling copies to a younger audience, regardless of the experience it provides to the player. Some of these songs utilise very little guitar and some see you recreating synth lines due to the lack of stings, which is more of an issue when it comes to setting difficulty as the inconsistency can make it difficult to pick what you actually feel most comfortable playing on.
While the offline mode is somewhat of a let-down, the online Guitar Hero TV is polar opposite. Two channels stream music videos 24/7, providing a constant barrage of songs to keep you going day and night. Each channel aims to appeal to different music fans; while channel one might be hosting an hour of pop classics, channel two will be home to the riffiest metal going. The ability to drop in and out at any time means you’re always moments away from play, and as soon as one song ends the game wastes no time in throwing you straight into another. Not only does it make Guitar Hero hard to stop playing but it’s also a brilliant way to discover new music.
The best thing about TV is that it expands the catalogue by hundreds of songs, with more being added before the end of the year. While the element of pot luck regarding what you play comes with playing on Live, you can quick play any song, despite never technically being able to own any of them. Scoring big and levelling up earns you points which you can use to buy play tokens, which allows you one play on any chosen song. It’s a cheeky way to try to get you to spend real life money through microtransactions, but the mode is so addictive you’ll rarely dip into your token stash. Points aren’t solely for spending on play tokens however, and you can upgrade your on-screen fret and other bits and bobs if you so choose, but they’re costly and your points are best spent on play tokens for when you do fancy trying to 100% your favourite tunes.
I love the new Guitar Hero experience, but more specifically I love Guitar Hero TV mode, which more than makes up for the forgettable Live mode. The microtransactions are unforgivable but the fact you’ll rarely make use of play tokens has yet to hold me back. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but with nigh on endless songs to blitz through Guitar Hero Live is set to keep me busy for some time to come.
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