Guitar Hero Live (Xbox One Review)
Guitar Hero is the modern day answer to playing an air guitar in the mirror to your favourite records. Although more sophisticated and perhaps more costly than having your favourite vinyl and a record player the costing was never a question when it came down to being a rock god. Then one day Guitar Hero up and left, leaving a hole in hearts. Maybe it had peaked, maybe there wasn’t anything left to say in the genre. Maybe. Just maybe somebody had walked in on Guitar Hero and gave them that dirty look we all know far too well and he put down his flowing blonde wig, the hairbrush he used for a microphone, and his shattered dreams of rock stardom.
A long time staple of Activision and Neversoft Guitar Hero has broken free of the stagnant shackles that saturated the market all those years ago but with a new developer, FreeStyle Games. Like every good band returning from a long hiatus it is important to shake it up, with a new look or a new member, and FreeStyle Games are definitely the young and hip additional member we were looking for. Although new to the Guitar Hero series, FreeStyle Games are not unfamiliar with the genre. Much like how Blink-182 found Travis Barker while he was playing with another band, The Aquabats, Guitar Hero found FreeStyle Games flexing their creative muscles on DJ Hero. So their enthusiasm and previous experience for rhythm games will help them ease in to the age old band and hopefully freshen things up.
The most important part of Guitar has always been the guitar, the axe in which you shred until your fingers bleed. A long time ago before the realism of Rock Band and the pseudo guitar tutor of Rocksmith there was an ancient device, bold in colour and small in stature with a tiny little whammy bar for mashing out those extra points. Guitar Hero Live hasn’t quite reinvented the wheel, but long gone are the beloved days of my replica GH2 Gibson Explorer or the later additions with their fancy touch pads for gnarly solos. Guitar Hero Live has went back to basics by ridding itself of the horrible touch solo bar while it also reinvigorates the style of play by changing the buttons. With the new guitar you have 6 buttons with 3 buttons on top and 3 on the bottom of the guitar. These changes bring Guitar Hero Live dangerously close to the real thing by mixing and matching between bar chords, mixed notes, and a different way of navigating the neck of the guitar. For an old diehard like myself it was odd to rid myself of the crippling pinky pain of yesterday and replace with my fingers performing their best rendition of Bambi on ice. I wasn’t a fan at first but as I graduated on to higher difficulties I have begun to appreciate the beauty of what FreeStyle Games have created and it is a wonderful piece of equipment, even if it has hastened my journey to some sort of RSI injury.
Once you’ve got to grips with the new guitar in Guitar Hero Live the second most important things is the music available. Through Guitar Hero Live’s you unlock songs by playing one of the various sets available at two festivals with numerous shows to choose from. Having to unlock songs is a massive sticking point for me, having to trudge through some truly woeful modern sets to get a glimpse of bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who in the very last set is torture. Especially when a large portion of the game is made up with songs that don’t quite match up with my taste. For a fan of more modern pop music there is the likes of Eminem, Katy Perry, The Lumineers, Arctic Monkeys. And the for fans of rock music you can find The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bring Me The Horizon, and even Korn. Unfortunately many of the better songs can be found on previous titles or have been available on Guitar Hero’s nemesis Rock Band’s set list, so more often or not the set lists fell flat for me. Even the option to create your own set has left, after all playing Girls & Boys by Good Charlotte to a crowd of peace loving flower haired hipsters might not fit the image that FreeStyle Games have tried to capture with their new visual stylings.
The once comic visuals of Guitar Hero are remnants of a past life, leaving behind the wonky looking caricatures of its time in the past and ditching the old cameo appearances from the likes of Tom Morello in favour of a new realistic crowd that responds to your performance and a whole bunch of completely clichéd and unrecognisable bands. The crowds were originally put forward as being completely reactive to how you play and to reflect your performance, but the reality of the situation is that there is normally a sharp decline in their reception that can be quite jarring as opposed to the previously marketed ebb and flow of a musician on stage. The only thing worse than the jarring visuals of failing a song, think becoming abruptly drunk with blurred visuals and camera shaking, is the overacted faces that surround you at every corner. Having a roadie approach you to say “You rock brah” is bad enough the first time, but when you are forced to look dead in your hair metal drummers cold dead eyes as he shakes his head at you for missing one note you long for the old days, the days where the only thing that mattered was the wee steam punk crowd meter and if you were able to push on to the last few notes of the song. Although the crowds and visuals might not hit the spot the HUD is crisp and impressive, with no cost to the detail beyond the omission of being able to see your score while playing the gigs to unlock songs.
Obviously touring the world will eventually wear down on you, it might be the crowds or it might be the rigid unflinching structure of the sets, but you will inevitably find yourself sitting in front of GHTV for a bit of R’n’R. That’s right some good old rock and roll. Guitar Hero TV is Guitar Hero Live’s equivalent of the MTV music channels, here you can drop in and out of live play to all the songs available in Guitar Hero Live’s extensive catalogue. It’s great fun and the two channels currently available have a vast, if not eclectic collection, that spans further than those available offline. Through playing this mode you will also earn tokens and coins to customise your HUD, GHTV profile, and earn exclusive access to a great number of exclusive events and songs not available through any other means. Although this all sounds great, it does come across as another way for Activision to part you with your money, the tokens required to play these songs at your own leisure last only one time and there are no do-overs. This results in a microtransaction heavy play style in which you part with your hard earned cash to get a single shot of a song, you don’t even own them like the old school approach to the back catalogue of Guitar Hero games of previous gens. I am completely torn on the idea as it truly feels like the offline segment has suffered to benefit the far more interesting online features that boast the songs and their original music videos, but at the same time love the idea of earning a one off token to pay whatever flavour of the week has recently been added that I would never dream of dropping £3 for on previous titles. I just wish the system would remember my progress as I unfortunately happen to have stumbled on a bug that literally forgets everything I have done and makes me start over every time I boot up the GHTV segment of Guitar Hero Live. A costly, in terms of time wasted, and game ruining bug.
If you are a returning rock god looking to scratch a half decade long itch then Guitar Hero Live hits all the right notes in all the right places, but falls flat on what it has to offer in terms of a strong of a set list. What it does get right is a more satisfying difficulty curve that more accurately reflects a real guitar, but critically misses the most important part of playing the games; if we wanted to play real guitars we most likely would. For new players that have a more pop orientated outlook on music then Guitar Hero Live is a great jumping on point that greatly satisfies and delights with its ability to sink its hooks in and hit out with tune after tune in GHTV with no real penalty for being awful. Personally I will still grind out the songs I love, as the perfectionist in me wants to reach that expert level peak of my younger years, there just happens to be the odd few frame drops and a set of tired old hands in the way. None the less I will keep rocking until I’ve got blisters on me fingers.