The original Guitar Hero, released back in 2005, reinvented the rhythm game genres in many ways by adding the guitar shaped controller. Now, a decade later, can Guitar Hero Live with new developers FreeStyleGames innovate on its predecessors?
The biggest change in Guitar Hero Live is the controller itself. The gameplay still has you strum as notes reach the bottom of the screen. But while previous Guitar Hero controllers had five buttons in a straight line, this controller has six buttons. Three directly above and below each other. On screen, these buttons are distinguished from each other by the top row being white and the bottom being black. I found this to be one of the best things about the game. With the older guitars I would never play above the easy difficulty since you then had to use all the buttons rather than just three. For me I just struggled to move my hand about from note to note. That’s no problem with Guitar Hero Live, your hand sits comfortably in one place and your fingers move from button to button with ease. This is not to say that the game is too easy, some tracks have you playing notes in quick secession at quite a fast tempo.
Another massive difference in this edition of Guitar Hero is that you no longer play for a crowd of polygons you play for a crowd of real people.
The game uses Full Motion Video (FMV), in other words it’s been filmed with a camera and everyone you see are actors. FMV games have not had a great history but this is certainly one of the better ones. At first it’s rather cringeworthy seeing other members of the band give winks and nods but it soon grew on me. The actors also react to how you play, if you’re doing well they’ll cheer and shout for you, however if you play badly they’ll boo and your bandmates will ask what they hell is going on. Because of this I really wanted to play well and the game pushed me to try my best. This was a really great motivator to try and get the top score.
There is not much in the way of story in Guitar Hero Live. All the bands have a back story that act as collectables, complete with a few pictures and a paragraph on who the bands are. The game is also set in two fictional music festivals but other than this there’s no story there.
Of course a rhythm game is no good without good music. This obviously comes down to personal taste but I quite like the selection they have. Although some songs don’t make much sense to be played on a guitar like Skrillex’s Bangarang, they have music from a wide variety of genres and artists. And even if none of the songs on the disc take your fancy, Guitar Hero TV is a new feature in the franchise that provides a massive catalogue of music to play, this also acts as the game’s multiplayer. Strangely it’s similar to a music channel, expect you play along and compete with other players. The real music video plays in the background as you play the song and after that it goes straight into the next song. Unfortunately, you don’t really know the tracks in advance so I often found that I had to play a few songs I didn’t know or like until I reached a song that I did enjoy. However, there is a way around this by renting any song in the catalogue. You can spend a Play on a song and get to play it once. You get Plays by levelling up, spending in-game coins, or using real world money. Guitar Hero TV is really unique and a cool idea but I feel like not being able to keep the songs and using Plays to rent songs instead is a bit of a cash grab.
Guitar Hero Live impressed me on the risks it took diverting so much from the previous games and similar games in the genre. There are certainly things lacking, like a competitive mode for those who bought two guitars. However, FreeStyleGames got so much right with the guitar controller itself, the games presentation and Guitar Hero TV. I’m glad the developers took these risks since it resulted in the most fresh and modern rhythm game I’ve played in years.