Guitar Hero Live’s challenging new formula isn’t for the easily frustrated

Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4both let you stone out in your living room with plastic guitars. But that’s where their similarities end.

Where Rock Band 4 is a party game at heart , Guitar Hero Live is chiefly about skill challenge. The difference is perfectly expressed by the new controller design that shipped with Guitar Hero Live . Gone is the standard 5-button control strategy, replaced by a new 6-button setup that requires greater precision at the baseline difficulty level.

Guitar Hero Live also delivers its content in a unique manner compared to other music rhythm games, incorporating live video in one mode and a video music channel system in the other.

Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live feel more like complementary experiences rather than vying ones, but if you have to choose between one or the other, your decision will likely come down to whether you want to learn an entirely different instrument or not.


The traditional design for guitar controllers employs five buttons on the neck of the guitar that are colouring coded from left to right to match the notes on the music track. The Guitar Hero Live controller employs three columns( or frets) of two buttons each.

Most of the time you are only using buttons on the same row. Sometimes you have to lay a finger over both buttons on a fret simultaneously to play a chord. When things get really difficult you may have to hold bottom buttons on one fret and top buttons on another fret simultaneously, which is a fundamentally different sort of challenge than anything a five-button setup has to offer.

This button-over-button configuration is more realistic than the traditional design. The Guitar Hero Live controller replicates the basic motions of forming a chord on a real guitar, where the traditional design only requires side-to-side motion across the frets exclusively.


In Live mode you can play music situates that are 20 minutes long on average, while participating in one of two different music celebrations. Each celebration has multiple venues, and in each set you play as the states members of a different fictional band playing in one of those venues.

The entire experience is shot on video from the first-person perspective of the guitarist, beginning with standing backstage, being cheered on and equipped by roadies, taking the stage with the other members of your band, and greeting the cheering mob before kicking into the first ballad of the set.

You can also play in Quickplay mode, which cuts right to video footage for that song.

Each time I stepped onto a new stage for the first time and my point of view changed from looking at the drummer to turning and facing the crowd I was shocked at how many people were out there. There must have been at least a thousand people at every venue.

I couldn’t say whether they were all real versus computer-generated images, but the crowds certainly looked real enough that I wouldn’t have been able to tell if the latter were true.

The other members of your band are playing and singing each ballad in the set as if they were a cover band, but Guitar Hero Live lays the original tracks over the performance. The Guitar Hero Live user interface, i.e. the notes and the other screen elements that make up the music “highway, “are then laid over the video.

Youll hear the audience singing along with you, and if you steal a look down at the crowd youll assure people actually mouthing the correct lyrics. Its a wild experience. If each of the situates were not shot as one contiguous take I certainly couldnt tell.

If youre playing really well and then start to screw up, the mood of the crowd will change. The video will blur slightly and when it comes back into focus, the crowd will be scowling at you instead of cheering you on. Rather than looking like theyre having a good time, the other members of your band will also be scowling and giving you dirty looks.

If you then pick up the performance and begin playing the ballad correctly the video blurs slightly again, and when it comes back into focus the crowd will be cheer, the other members of your band will happy, and all will be well.

You generate Hero Power badges by playing specific sequences of notes perfectly and you can stack the badges up to use whenever you need them. Spending a Hero Power is a quick route to get the crowd back on your side if theyre turning on you after youve attained multiple mistakes.


Live mode is goofy in a fun route. Were the bands actually playing the sungs during the shoots or merely pantomiming music played over a PA system on set? I also maintained imagining all those actors in the front rows of the audience being told to cheer and look happy during each of the shoots.

Guitar Hero Live became a decidedly less-fun experience when I was failing compared to when I messed up in other music rhythm games. Was I really volunteering to have real people in a mob holler at me and to be surrounded by disgusted band mates while trying to learn a difficult, new tool?

I also sometimes felt like the video was more of a distraction than anything, fun for someone watching the game but not playing. I had to spend most of my day paying attention to the music.

One unadulterated positive of Live mode is that several of the bands are composed entirely of female performers. It was nice to see females not being underrepresented in the various bands I pretended to be a part of.


TV mode, or Guitar Hero TV, is more or less old-school MTV without host segments or commercials and with the Guitar Hero user interface superimposed over the videos. You either play through prearranged situates of sungs or purchase sungs one at a time via credits called Plays.

Every time you play a ballad you earn Status and Coins. The better you play, the larger your rewards. Status goes toward raising your level, and every time you hit a new level you are awarded some Plays. Coins can be used to purchase blocks of Plays. Finally, you can expend a third currency called Hero Cash, that requires a real money microtransaction to purchase additional Plays.

It doesnt cost you anything to play one of the GHTV channels that broadcast blocks of sungs. One night during my play through, Channel 1 from 6:00 pm to 6:30 pm was Top Picks, from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm was Rock Top Hits, and from 7:00 pm to 7:30 pm was Metal Odyssey, for example.

Meanwhile, Channel 2 from 6:00 pm-6: 30 pm it was Pure Blockbusters, from 6:30 pm-7: 00 pm it was GHTV: Pop, and from 7:00 pm-7: 30 pm was Rock Picks. And the schedule holds running nonstop, all day.

Once you hook into a channel you play an endless creek of videos with only a transgres at the end of each video to tally your Status and Coins. You can drop out when you are want, and the video will keep playing until you decide to jump back in.

When you peruse a channel before jumping in you can see what video is playing, and when you jump into the channels you pick up wherever the video was, rather than starting from the beginning. If you jump into a video toward the end, you score a commensurately smaller reward than if youd played the entire video from the beginning.

If youd instead play individual videos instead of tuning in to a GHTV channel you have a starting catalog of 200 videos to choose from. You can play them one at a time, or put up playlists. Starting each video expenses you one Play. You can pause a video but if you quit before the ballad is over you are still charged for the Play.

Casual players can probably earn enough Status and Coins to always be able to play a few sungs every day. I played considerably more than that and was still never in danger of running out of Plays during my review play through.

Hardcore Guitar Hero Live players on the other hand will have to pay more attention to how many Coins they earn and how quickly they create their Status level, or they may have to consider buying some Hero Cash.


Hangar 18 by Megadeth is one of my favorite Guitar Hero/ Rock Band tracks ever. I can usually handle it on hard difficulty, using a traditional five-button controller.

I tried for about 30 seconds to play Hangar 18 on Regular difficulty in Guitar Hero Live before I gave up and changed the difficulty back to Casual, which was too easy. Even then having to play only three small buttons without letting my thumbs slip was still a challenge because I guess I pulled something during one of my hours-long play through sessions.

Guitar Hero Live moves aside a controller design that served the genre for a decade, which entails it also invalidates all the muscle memory youve built up over those 10 years if youre a fan of the genre.

I understand FreeStyleGames and Activision wanting to differentiate Guitar Hero Live from Rock Band 4. I guess the incorporation of live video and Guitar Hero TV would have been enough to provide something new without messing with the controller.

The question is whether you want a music rhythm game that lets you pretend to be a stone starring and is more concerned with illusion than finger-skill, or a game that is more penalizing and less about pure fantasy. Guitar Hero Live is not a game I would introduce my casual gaming friends to if we wanted to hang out and pretend to be rock musicians.

You also have to be okay with not actually owning any music. Guitar Hero Live feels like DRM principles applied to the music rhythm genre. The music isnt yours, youre merely renting it as you have the resources available to do so, if you want to play what you want instead of dealing with prearranged situates of sungs running on GHTV.

Considering that the differences between Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have usually come down to music selections its nice to see that music rhythm game fans have some more diversity within the genre.

If skill challenge is your motivating, Guitar Hero Live will demand much more of you by default. If youre looking for a party game consider the regulars on your guest list and their level of frustration tolerance.


Disclosure : Our Xbox One review copy of Guitar Hero Live was provided politenes of Activision .

Illustration via Activision

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