‘Rock Band 4’ or ‘Guitar Hero Live’: A Guide for Would-Be Shredders

Once again, fans of rhythm/music games have to choose between two competing products in Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live. This seems like a familiar choice, but this time around the two games are markedly dissimilar. Both games offer an enjoyable experience, and both have their share of issues that will need to be addressed. If you’re into music games, and just can’t decide which to buy, here are a few things to consider.


Rock Band 4 is Harmonix’s “next gen” game and is only found on PS4 and Xbox One. While there are new, improved instruments to go along with the release, older Rock Band instruments should be compatible, although XBox One owners will need a separately sold adapter. Already purchased songs from previous versions are free to download, but disc versions are currently not importable. Sorry, fans of Beatles Rock Band.


In contrast, Guitar Hero Live is being sold for all current and last gen consoles. The twist is that, due to Live‘s new, six button control scheme, older instruments are incompatible. Other than the 42 songs that come on the disc, Live players will never permanently own their music nor be able to buy songs the way Rock Band players can. Older Guitar Hero tracks do not carry over into the new game.


Guitar Hero Live comes bundled with the requisite guitar controller for $99 (all systems), with a two-guitar pack and game retailing for $149. Pricing for Rock Band 4 is more complex. The PS4 version of the game alone, without controller, is $59.99. The Xbox One version sells for $79 but includes an adapter that allows the use of earlier instruments in the series. PS4 users do not need an adapter.


Rock Band 4  bundles are $129 (guitar and game), and $249 (includes drums, guitar, and microphone). There is no keyboard controller this time around.


As far as toy instruments go, Rock Band 4′s controllers are as solid as ever and feature the exact same, 5-button control scheme as previous versions. Drums are quieter and less annoying, and there seems to be a little more resistance to the guitar’s thumb/strum control.

Guitar Hero Live has ditched the traditional, 5-button control scheme for a new system that features two parallel rows of three buttons up at the nut end of the neck. This allows for many multi-button combos, “barre chords” and finger patterns which give the act of playing the instrument a slightly more realistic vibe, though as always, no one will actually learn to play guitar from Guitar Hero. The new scheme means new muscle memory to develop, but it also places the left hand in a “home” position that doesn’t need to move and avoids awkward finger stretches. On the whole, it works well, my only complaint being that not every pattern seemed to match what was actually happening in the music.

Guitar Hero World Tour drums are not supported by Live.


Game play is where the two approaches radically part company, which means those players a little tired of the “classic” music game might find some relief.

Rock Band 4 is essentially the same product as its ancestors, minus a few features. Gone missing are online multiplayer, the practice mode, and the keyboard controller. New are Freestyle solos, in which specific notes are replaced by sections of the music that demand quasi-improvisation. It works pretty well, and brings a welcome bit of creativity into the formula. If you ditched or disconnected your last gen box but still want to throw together a Rock Band party, dust off the drums and you’re ready to rock.


On the other hand, if you conquered the old 5-button plastic guitar, Guitar Hero Live might just rock your world again, as you have to relearn to get your Van Halen on with an all new control scheme. Even more of a radical departure is Live’s approach to its music library and career progression.

For starters, Live has two main components: GH Live and GHTV. Live is the career mode and puts in the player in a series of fictional cover bands, playing two or three song sets in a progression of bigger venues and music festivals. Unlike the cartoon avatars of Rock Band, Guitar Hero Live’s concert sequences are filmed with actors in FMV (Full Motion Video). Cheesy it may be, with the bands all winking and nodding and high-fiving each other with sanitized rock-and-roll glee, but it’s also well done and looking out at a sea of humans singing along is undeniably fun. The crowd reactions are a bit binary–they love you or they hate you–and the fact that you never stick with one band (or have an identity) means that you never really feel much immersion in the story. It’s a cool idea, not quite taken far enough.

GHTV is Live’s perpetual music service, with 24/7 music videos and guitar tracks to play along with. Doing so earns tokens, which you need to unlock plays from the 200+ songs available. Other than the 42 tracks on the game disc, you don’t own any of the music on Live. You can pay real money to buy tokens or unlock all-day, unlimited passes, but unless you’re content to just play whatever comes up on the rotation, you need to pay tokens or cash. There are leaderboards for every song, too, and you can’t opt out of them.

Rock Band 4 comes with 60 songs, a decent mixture of contemporary styles and classic hits, all pretty well suited for guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. Guitar Hero Live ships with 42 songs, with a strong emphasis on very recent music, not all of it suitable for the medium. Some of the songs are simply too repetitive or riff-bound to be interesting. The tracks on GHTV are much more varied and will include something for everyone.


Messing with a popular, proven formula is risky, but on the whole, Guitar Hero Live‘s new controller and FMV do a great job of shaking things up in a good way. Less appealing is the marketplace that supports the game and the need for tokens, microtransactions, and grinding. Rock Band 4 plays it much safer, but on the other hand, supports a legacy of great music, classic game play, and respects the investment that many fans have made in songs and instruments.

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Tags : Guitar Hero LiveMusic GameRock Band 4
Mark Steighner

The author Mark Steighner

Mark Steighner is a composer, playwright, teacher, musician, and videogamer from the Pacific Northwest. He’s also a grandfather and older than the rest of the EB staff combined. Just goes to show that one can put off actual maturity for a really long time.