2015 saw the return of two previously beloved music game franchises that had lied dormant for quite some time.

Guitar Hero met an untimely end back in April 2011, when the final DLC pack for Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock released. Rock Band 3 saw its DLC shut down in the same month just 2 years later. It’s no easy feat to bring back a franchise that’s been asleep for so long, but with Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live, both developers are proving that time away from a series can be a great thing. Both franchises are attempting new content and gameplay not seen before in either franchise and, for the most part, this is making both games feel incredibly fresh. For once, both feel like two entirely different offerings, rather than the same game in a different skin. But which one deserves your attention?

The Guitar Hero you knew — and possibly loved — is dead

That lovable band of misfigured characters, the 5 button set-up, the celebrity endorsements. They’re all gone. The original Guitar Hero, developed by the now defunct Neversoft, has been laid to rest. And out of those ashes, Freestyle games have moved on from the DJ hero franchise and revived Guitar Hero. This time round, it’s not a reboot, it’s a complete rebirth.

Rest in peace, Lars Umlaut

That five string highway is gone. In its place, a three string highway, similar to that of Japanese rhythm game Guitar Freaks, only it has two different colored notes coming down the neck. The guitar now sports six buttons. While the shape and possible feel of the guitar hasn’t changed too much, the way you play it has. The development team cited difficulty with playing the five button setup and the use of only three fingers as one of the reasons for the scale up; not to mention such a dramatic shift up now makes the game feel so much fresher and revitalized. It’s a positive move, if not a little unoriginal. Granted, the second row improves on an already tried and tested method, but it isn’t much different to what we’ve seen in the east for a while. It’s a move that was needed, given the rhythm fatigue the series suffered back between 2009 and 2011.

The real big change in the format are the two mediums through which the game delivers its content. Guitar Hero Live reverts back to a single-player campaign, in which the game, quite literally, puts you on stage in front of a screaming crowd. Instead of watching your characters play through a set, the game puts you on the stage, with you playing to a huge crowd. That crowd reacts to how you play. Play well, and the crowd cheers you on. Play badly, and the crowd boos you. The footage that’s already been released looks fantastic. A lot of work has clearly gone into making this footage look as realistic as possible and the current results speak for themselves. The other gameplay mode is a 24 hour streaming service, updated with music on a daily basis. The player plays along to music videos instead. All of the competitive and multiplayer game modes lie here too.

To top off the change up, vocals have been bought back too. For GHTV, at the very least, players can play guitar and/or sing. While it brings a certain extra level of depth, it seems a little superfluous for a game that’s spent the last three months claiming it’s gone back to it’s origins and focused on the guitar aspect of the game entirely. Still, this is a nice addition, especially for those who enjoyed vocals or who indeed love to play guitar and sing at the same time.

The music

Undoubtedly the most important aspect of a music/rhythm game, Guitar Hero Live’s soundtrack is, so far, huge. As of July 14, the game’s soundtrack has already closed in on the one hundred song mark between both GHTV and GHLive modes. While the tracks are plentiful, the choices are unsavory to say the least. The team has obviously tried to focus on a new market, and the focus of the setlist has shifted from a standard showcase of everything — which would feature classics, modern hits and relatively unknown songs, to a much heavier affair. There’s also a lot here that prompts a head scratch too, for either there being too much unknown, or too much that’s already been used in a previous iteration of Guitar Hero. In short, there isn’t too much to get excited about, nor has there been much new and exciting ground covered here.

It’s a tough setlist to get your head around, and while there will be plenty of players that will appreciate and love the new direction, it’s tight focus at present is too much of a risk, and may be seen by some as a bad setlist. Not to mention, there isn’t much clear clarification as to which songs are in which modes.

GHTV – Downloadable content redefined

A 24 hour a day, 7 days a week streaming service that updates regularly is a great way to keep the game current, while really pushing the discovery element of music games. The team has the potential to maintain a great feature and, while losing access to paid content from the previous games is a bummer, having a potentially unlimited amount of songs to choose from, will soon be a non issue.

The potential footfalls with this service, however, are how intensive streaming will be. While internet connections are in good supply in some areas, data caps and bandwidth limits could have an adverse effect on the gameplay. The service runs on streaming music videos, which wouldn’t be an issue for those with unlimited data, but rural players may soon see their data caps hit far too soon.

One other potential issue is the premium pricing model that hasn’t been discussed at length. Premium channels, locked behind a pay-wall have been discussed, but not enough details have been released yet. If premium outnumbers the free channels, or the price is too high, the potentially beneficial uses of a consistently updated online service could be completely undermined by micro-transactions and monthly subscriptions.

Should you buy it?

What feels like a very fresh and new approach to the Guitar Hero franchise has some great potentials, which set it aside from other musical offerings in the current market. The new direction that the game has headed in was definitely needed to revive the franchise, but the new additions have potential downfalls, which could detract from the overall experience. Needless to say, it’s worth keeping an eye on, but with such a “focused” setlist, and the threat of micro-transactions on the horizon, it should be approached with cautious optimism. It’s great that the series is returning, but these small hurdles could have an overarching impact on the final product.


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Tags : activisionFreestyle GamesGuitar Hero Live
Craig Munn

The author Craig Munn