While at E3 2015 I had the chance to meet with the team behind Guitar Hero Live to hear about its two distinct modes, and to try the new guitar controller, which is vastly different than the color coded axes from the previous titles. I’m not a Guitar Hero virtuoso, I was able to play a few songs on expert and most on hard, but after taking the Guitar Hero Live controller for a spin with Royal Blood’s “Little Monster,” I quickly realized that I’ll have to completely relearn how to be a digital shredder without getting booed off the stage by a “live” crowd of actual people.
Before diving into the new controller I’d like to share a few details about the game’s two distinct modes, Live and GH TV. The Live mode is comparable to the career modes featured in previous Guitar Hero entries, with the obvious visual shift from cartoon visuals to the real life crowds and band members that you play on stage with. There’s also a clear focus on the camera being in a first person perspective, so you do feel like you’re playing in front of a live audience.
Your level of play dictates how they respond to you, as well as how your own band mates look at you, because they will give you the stink eye if you start to flub the song your playing. There’s also a noticeable sound shift when your field of view moves into, say the drummers area, which will become noticeably louder the closer you get to the kit.
GH TV on the other hand is a completely new mode that seems to offer fans of music a way to play both new and old songs on the fly with a video of the actual song playing in the background. There are themed channels that will allow you to jam out to only 90’s music per se, and regardless of the channel you play on you can join into the song at any moment and drop out at any moment and the song will keep playing. If you grew up when MTV actually played music videos, GH TV is very similar to leaving the channel on in the background, but rather than just being a passive listener, you can jump in and jam out to a song that speaks to you.
By playing songs or the available channels you can earn play tokens (official name has yet to be settled upon), which in turn can be used to play songs you want to play on demand. In GH TV you can’t just pick songs to play, you are limited to the available channels that the Guitar Hero Live team will curate, so if you do want to play songs on demand, you can spend tokens on them, or if you want to unlock them for good, you can spend real deal cash on them. You can also use real money to buy a Play Pass, which unlocks the full GH TV song list for you to enjoy for a limited amount of time. While in-game purchases will be in Guitar Hero Live, we were assured that there will never be a subscription service, and that for $99 gamers will get the full experience and the new controller, but they can choose to use real money to unlock aspects of the game’s GH TV mode.
Now for my thoughts on the new controller, which feels jarring at first, especially if you rocked out for hours upon drunken hours on the tried and true color coded buttons of previous controllers from both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Rather than having five buttons in a single row, the new controller features relatively small buttons placed towards the top of the guitar’s neck. There are six in total, three white row buttons on the bottom, and another three black row buttons on the top.
The placement of the buttons is meant to recreate playing chords on a real guitar, but they’re definitely hard to get used to at first, so throw out any experience you’ve had with the franchise, because it won’t serve you in the least with this new controller. The notes are now only white and black, signaling which row you should be playing, but I found it very hard to get my brain wrapped around this change. I feel with more practice the whole fake guitar experience will become possibly even more natural feeling than the old controller, but I definitely found myself getting frustrated at not being able to string together a note streak like I used to be able to on the old controllers.
Guitar Hero Live is definitely a full on reboot of the franchise thanks to the new visual direction, unlockable skins, power upgrades, and the new GH TV mode, which is essentially like jamming to the old school MTV. The biggest change is the controller, which offers a whole new learning curve that even the most hardcore GH players will have to relearn to get back to being digital axe rock gods. On one hand this will allow the franchise to feel almost brand new again, but the drastic changes to the controller may also be off putting enough to keep both new and old players from taking the Guitar Hero Live plunge.
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