It’s been a silent 5 years since the cultural phenomenon that was Guitar Hero last transformed lounge rooms around the world into virtual rock stages. In that time, a hell of a lot has changed. New gaming consoles have swept the market and the music industry itself has irreversibly changed. The days of CD collections and iTunes libraries are over as music streaming dominates the market. The concert experience itself has also felt the wrath of the modern age with smart phones now an intimate part of any concert. And just as the future of music, both good and bad, seemed set in stone, Guitar Hero has re-emerged to save the day with Guitar Hero Live.
Ahead of Live’s release on October 20, I got to chat with game designer James Norris, spouting an enviously healthy beard and old school mullet, he perfectly embodied the rock star vibe Guitar Hero is renowned for.
Getting a peek behind the mask of Guitar Hero Live, it’s clear that after a hiatus, the franchise is back with a vengeance. With its cape fluttering in the wind, the latest Guitar Hero looks set to breathe life into both the music industry and accessory based gaming.
From the outset it is clear things have changed for Guitar Hero with the guitar companion itself undergoing some key remodelling. Among a host of changes is the welcome omission of the dreaded pinkie finger button that expert difficulty of previous entries was famous for forcing upon players.
This time around two rows of three buttons make up the strings of the new guitar. This design works a treat, with no need to reposition your fingers or use your all too useless pinkie finger. To make things even easier, the middle two buttons have a circle on them while the top row has a rougher texture to it, making deciphering between rows and buttons a whole lot simpler. Finger positioning is now a matter of touch rather than hapless glances down at your guitar mid song.
The two rows of buttons are utilised perfectly to ramp up or in my case lower the difficulty. On casual and beginner mode you’ll just be using the bottom three buttons, go any higher though and you’ll have to handle both rows of three buttons, often combining the two. Not game enough to give it a go myself, James demonstrated the difficulty of expert while I stuck to the fun of casual mode. Two contrasting states that ring true to Activision’s promise of a game that’s easier to play but harder to master.
Players of previous games will remember with horror and satisfaction the dynamic crowd reactions that changed depending on how well or poorly you play a song. The good news is that it’s back with a real life crowd, the bad news is there’s nothing to save you from a particularly long and painful set. Unlike previous games where you could be kicked off stage, no matter how poorly you play, you’ll have to see a song to its end. Sure that means an increasingly irate crowd, but it also forces you to learn all of a song, not just the start.
Speaking of an irate crowd, one thing that adds new meaning to the title of Guitar Hero is a real life crowd seen from the point of view of the band’s guitarist. Utilising a swinging camera and positional audio, you’re experience in Guitar Hero Live is as live and real as it gets in turn making your transformation into a Guitar Hero or villain in my case, all the more authentic. During my play through, I nailed one song with the crowd consequently going crazy and chanting. Another I bombed, with the crowd quick to turn on me with one crowd member even climbing up on stage to show his disapproval. That said, when I was able to string a few notes together the crowd showed it’s appreciation with thumbs downs quickly turning into approving nods at different junctions of a song.
In terms of single player, Guitar Hero has upped its game with play throughs of songs earning players credits they can put towards plays of premium songs and the Live experience truly enabling a player’s transformation into a guitar hero. That said,
multiplayer is where this game thrives and with the addition of lyrics and the chance to sing along either via a USB supported mic or mobile, Guitar Hero Live is set to deliver some stunning duets
Guitar Hero TV accompanies Guitar Hero Live and gives players the opportunity to choose between two rolling channels of music videos while challenging up to nine other online players as you play pre-set songs. With hundreds of tunes set to be available across rock, pop and country genres, and more to come, Guitar Hero TV is the new Spotify in providing a unique opportunity to discover new songs at every turn.
That’s where Guitar Hero earns its cape and cowl in my opinion. Giving gamers a chance to truly engage in a song, with music experts hired to make sure the game provides accurate note integration, Guitar Hero sheds new light on an often under-appreciated music industry while at the same time creating a gaming experience that embraces the new and challenges the old.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Guitar Hero Live and it lands in stores October 20th.