Back in 2005, the very first Guitar Hero game debuted. It provided an entirely new experience – one that many gamers latched onto quickly, and subsequently fell in love with and became addicted to.
As a result of the positive reception from the general gaming public, the sequels came, thick and fast, and expanded the experience with new music and additional peripherals. A few years into that music craze though, something changed.
Somehow, the magic disappeared, and In 2010, the genre essentially died. Now, 5 years later, Activision are looking to bring their addictive monster back to life with a brand new entry into the franchise – Guitar Hero Live. Will it succeed in bringing the rhythm game back from the dead and into the spotlight?
Yes, I firmly believe so.
FreeStyleGames, the studio behind Guitar Hero Live, were given one job when tasked with working on a new Guitar Hero game: Take the franchise and reinvent it entirely. They’ve most certainly done just that, thanks to three very key changes to the overall formula.
Back in its prime, Guitar Hero made use of a controller that came equipped with 5 coloured plastic buttons that were positioned side by side. In terms of actual chord representation akin to that of a real guitar, those keys made absolutely no sense. It didn’t matter, because the gameplay that resulted was immensely fun, and undeniably addictive.
A few months ago, when I first laid eyes on the brand new peripheral that would be shipping with Guitar Hero Live, I had my doubts. Why did I need new hardware? Would my old guitars be compatible? It would be great if they were, because they weren’t exactly cheap, were they? After having extensive hands on time with the new controller though, any doubts I may have once carried have now vanished entirely.Heck, I’m not even upset that my old controllers serve zero purpose now.
You see, the new Guitar Hero Live axe dumps the traditional five colourful inputs in favour of six new buttons; three white, and three black, in a three by two layout. It makes far more sense, leading to a far more realistic simulation of playing an actual guitar, even though yes, it will never really match playing the real deal.
The very first time I tried this new control scheme out, yes, it was a bit overwhelming, but only because I had a large enough ego to think I was capable of playing on expert from the get-go. I wasn’t wrong in going about things that way mind you, because I was pretty capable of managing the hardest difficulty in previous Guitar Hero titles.
In order to really get a grasp on Guitar Hero Live however, I had to bump myself down a difficulty or two to really get the hang of things. Surprisingly, it didn’t take me too long to do so, and once I had the basics down, I was sold. Granted, I can’t quite play every song on expert just yet, but the point is, that as a veteran, this new guitar reinvented the whole experience for me.
Even better is the fact that newcomers won’t be overwhelmed. There is zero need for that pinky stretch that separated the elite from the amateurs in previous Guitar Hero’s. All that is required now is the use of three fingers, making progression from beginner to expert a little more natural and something that everybody should be able to get the hang of with enough practice.
Guitar Hero Live
Hey, it’s not called Guitar Hero Live for nothing. Gone are the digital characters and animated stages and performances. The gameplay perspective has changed entirely, trading in traditional camera views from off and on stage with a new and entirely first-person experience, and not only that… everything is now very real. That’s right, your band mates and the crowd cheering you on are actual humans.
Again, when I first saw this with my own eyes, I was not convinced at all. It seemed, well, for lack of a better word… silly. FreeStyleGames wanted players to feel like a proper rock star, and quite frankly, I just didn’t see this being the way to go about making that feeling real. And then I played a few sets, and suddenly, this new direction made perfect sense.
I love music, and I’ve been to a fair number of live shows in my day. I do not enjoy being one of those audience members that sit in a chair, watching the show from afar. I have to, have to be in the crowd, as close as possible, because that there is where the magic really happens, and awesome experiences are born.
I have very fond memories of Coldplay at the FNB Stadium in particular. I was fortunate enough to have a golden circle ticket, so I was essentially right on stage with the band (thanks to my height really). Their song, Viva La Vida specifically, has a special place in my heart, simply because as soon as the crowd realised it was about to be played, they began to chant along, loudly, and in harmony.
Anytime I hear the song now, whether it be on the radio or in passing, I get goosebumps. Guitar Hero Live, while not quite giving me a one for one representation of that feeling, did manage to give me at least part of it, which I absolutely loved. Being in my own room, alone, strumming along to a song with a fake guitar didn’t seem to matter. I was on stage performing with my band, and I could hear the crowd out there, chanting along (or booing if I really sucked).
I’m not sure that it’s a feeling that everybody can connect with, but I had it, and I loved it. Unfortunately, the whole Live experience is short-lived due to there only being 42 songs to play, but overall it really did make me smile. FreeStyleGames pieced the first-person perspective together perfectly, and I would really like to see more of it in future.
Guitar Hero TV
While the actual live (and offline) component of this new Guitar Hero is short, it is the TV segment that contains the real value of the product. Simply put, GHTV is completely free streaming service comprising two channels that spit out a selection of two hundred songs across both, 24/7. That catalogue of music will continue to grow in the coming months.
Players can hop in anytime they want, and play along to whatever is streaming, on whatever difficulty suits them. Doing so grants both experience and coins, the latter of which can be used to purchase new highways, player cards, or new powerups for example. Want to play a specific song though? That’s possible too, as the entire music catalogue is there to be enjoyed, but only if you have what is called a ‘play’.
A play is essentially the currency used to access a song on demand. They can be accumulated either by leveling up (which grants a handful of them), by spending in-game coins, or even real cash – if you don’t have the time to grind up some virtual currency, or want a bunch of plays at your fingertips instantly.
The system GHTV uses will be loved by some, and hated by others. I for example, am perfectly happy to pick a random channel, and enjoy whatever happens to be streaming at the time. I may now and then feel like playing a specific song too, at which point I will spend a play and do so.
Where the service seems a tad unfair, is for those who play Guitar Hero with the idea of mastering specific songs. Want to nail the guitar solo of a particularly difficult track? You can – as long as you’re willing to cough up a play each and every single time you play it. Once a play has been spent, and a song has been started, there is no restart functionality whatsoever.
This is highly unfair, as it forces players to have to grind endlessly (or spend real cash) if they want to accumulate a bunch of plays. Finishing any track on a GHTV channel grants anywhere from 100-180 coins. A single play costs 600, meaning that 3-6 random streamed songs have to be played before one can be chosen from the catalogue and played on demand.
For those who have friends over all the time, or those who play Guitar Hero often, yes, the coins will accumulate thick and fast. I do still think it’s a bit unfair that there is no existence of a practice mode for example, that would allow players to pick a song, and practice a specific section over and over again. Hopefully this is something FreeStyleGames will address in the near future. My advice – give players the opportunity to buy songs, allowing them to play it whenever the hell they want.
Another gripe I feel needs to be mentioned, particularly in our South African market, is the fact that GHTV uses a fair amount of data. A single hour of streaming, on my rough calculation, used around 1gb of data.
It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that some people are not on uncapped, and those who are get throttled for large data consumption anyways, you start to realise just how much data that is. One hour of play a day for a month is 30GB for example, and that’s the sort of data that not everybody in our market just happens to have lying around. It is something to keep in mind, particularly if you plan on plugging in all your time into GHTV.
The new guitar refreshes the whole experience, even for me, a franchise veteran. The Live component, though short, provided a fantastic experience – one that I really enjoyed. GHTV is a phenomenal feature, or at least, it could be with some fine tuning. The fact that is free is a nice incentive, but the extra-fact that it isn’t friendly to those who want to perfect certain songs really needs to be addressed in the future.
Overall though, if you’re a fan of the franchise, or not, Guitar Hero Live is pretty damn solid. If you’re a fan of music, or guitars, or just pure awesome, you really should consider picking up the bundle.