Guitar Hero Live (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 28.10.2015

Review for Guitar Hero Live on PlayStation 4

There can't be many self-respecting music fans out there who have never at some point or other wondered what it would be like to swagger out on stage in front of a packed house as [insert name of favourite guitarist here] and send forth a guitar solo so finger blisteringly awesome it melted the faces of the first four rows of the audience. No? Really? Well, the next best thing to actually buying a guitar, spending years mastering chromatic chord progression and music compositional theory, joining a band and facing years of being skint / life on the road / gigging in backwater pubs to an audience of seven / record label rejection / frequent false hope and unwavering self-belief… is back.

Actually scratch that. Why go through all that nonsense when Guitar Hero Live provides a shortcut straight to the good stuff without ever having to get up off the couch (although possessing a coffee table to adopt the classic 'foot on monitor' stance is highly recommended).

It's fair to say that Guitar Hero was starting to get a little bit stale towards the end of its tenure on the last generation of consoles, which was no doubt inversely related to the increased regularity it was getting released. In 2009 alone, no less than five different versions hit the market (if Band Hero is included), so it's of little wonder gamers eventually tired of the series. After a self-imposed hiatus, Freestyle Games, the developer behind the excellent DJ Hero releases, was charged with the seemingly impossible task of making the Guitar Hero franchise seem fresh and relevant again. With plastic instrument fatigue levels on the wane, it seems like the most sensible option to avoid repeat flare ups would be to completely flip the script and start over from scratch, which is exactly what Freestyle Games has done here. This is a reboot in the truest sense; the slate has well and truly been wiped clean. This is a re-invention of the rhythm genre.

Starting off with the hardware, it shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that the old guitar controllers aren't compatible with Guitar Hero Live, thanks in no small part to a completely re-worked control scheme. The new fret board layout gets rid of the long established five coloured button system and instead replaces it with two rows of three buttons that lie flush to the neck. While the familiar on-screen guitar lane, with its descending notes, makes a welcome return, it now has three channels in order to reflect the number of keys on the controller. Black notes are played on the top row, white notes refer to the bottom row, with split black and white notes requiring both buttons pressed simultaneously in the style of a bar chord.

Screenshot for Guitar Hero Live on PlayStation 4

This simple change allows the emulation of chord structure, adding a layer of depth not previously possible with the older model guitars, which is clearly reflected when playing at the higher skill levels. It's quite a big change, all told, and even the most skilled series veterans will have to re-train as it takes some getting used to. In terms of build quality, the guitar really feels like a premium item, especially when compared to the older, toy-like models. The strum bar feels like it can take some punishment and has a satisfying click when used, the faux volume knob actually doubles up as a joystick, which is handy for navigating the dashboard, and the well placed 'Hero Power' button makes it easy to deploy accumulated power-ups. Basically, it doesn't need to be hidden away after use to avoid embarrassment when non-gaming visitors pop round.

Guitar Hero Live sees the series transform from regular standalone releases to a constantly evolving platform with the core package halved into two distinct 'Live' and 'GHTV' sections. 'Live' is exactly what it sounds like, a campaign split between two fictional music festivals: 'Rock the Block,' which is similar in scale to one of the larger Stateside gatherings, and 'Sound Dial,' which is loosely based on the Glastonbury experience. While past iterations always had a cartoony element to the gameplay, this is all about the immersion, with the entire experience viewed from a first-person perspective. In order to do this, a camera was strapped to the head of the guitarist playing in a selection of real bands in front of real crowds that are close enough to smell. Here players get to see pre-performance rituals, banter with roadies, even getting fresh make up applied before heading on stage, all of which add further to the illusion. Perform well and the crowd will love every minute of it, sing along happily and all is good with the world. Perform badly and the crowd gets visibly hostile, while fellow band members start moaning and giving out the stink eye. With 42 tracks split between 13 bands, it's a clever way of including a variety of music genres that range from the more mainstream (Katy Perry, Rhianna) to Alternative (Green Day, Pearl Jam), all the way to the classics (Rolling Stones, The Who, Queen). It always seemed odd in past iterations when one band played such a wildly disparate range of material.

Screenshot for Guitar Hero Live on PlayStation 4

Local multiplayer is catered for by adding a second guitar controller, however, both parties will basically be playing the same song parts, which feels like a missed opportunity as splitting the rhythm and lead duties or even throwing in the bass track would have made it feel more like a collaborative effort. While it's primarily all about the guitar, plugging in a USB microphone automatically brings up a lyrics track on-screen for budding vocalists to front the experience. Funnily enough, the PS4 itself only has two USB ports (two guitars and a mic would require three USB ports), although Cubed3 being ever resourceful, and actually curious enough to bother to test it, can confirm that using a USB hub does solve this problem.

The second half of the package consists of the ever so slightly addictive Guitar Hero TV (or GHTV for short), which is a non-stop, 24 hours a day, back to back music selection that no self-respecting plastic instrument aficionado will want to miss out on. It combines the vitality that made MTV such a compelling experience during its peak, with the random joys of the shuffle play to produce an idea so simple yet so brilliantly executed that it's amazing that it hasn't been done before now. It provides the opportunity to play along (either solo or with friends) to a continuous stream of official music videos while simultaneously competing against other Guitar Heroes across the globe in real time. In some ways, it could be classed as a guitar-based MMO as the addition of a persistent levelling up system that awards and unlocks items such as player cards, power-ups, coins, and song plays (more on this later), creates just the incentive to return for repeat performances.

Screenshot for Guitar Hero Live on PlayStation 4

At the time of review, there are currently two fully fledged channels up and running, one specialising in Metal and Rock, with the other taking a more Mainstream / Country / Alternative slant, although these will soon be joined by a third channel. Presentation-wise it makes for a very slick and polished experience, complete with hourly themed shows highlighting sub-genres, animated channel idents, and adverts creating awareness for new tracks added to the roster. There is also a selection of 'Premium Shows' that can be accessed by meeting certain objectives (namely earning three stars in the three specified songs), and these can be anything from live gigs from a specified artist through to a preview of several new tracks due to be added to the mix. As it stands, there are already over 200 tracks in the pot, with a further 70+ that will be added by the end of the year. In terms of variety, it ranges from Bruno Mars to Pantera, so there should be something there for all the family.

There are two words that strike fear into the hearts of gamers everywhere when used together: 'Micro' and 'Transaction.' It's a business model found mostly in the 'Free to Play' arena and depending on how it's implemented can either be seen as an unnecessary but fun enhancement or, at its worst, offer an unfair advantage to those that purchase. There is a micro-transaction element at play here that will likely alienate a certain section of the fan base, although it can be avoided for the most part with continued play. While Guitar Hero TV pretty much opens up access to all its content at no extra charge, it's very much dependent on just jumping in and playing whatever crops up on the live stream.

To access any song 'On Demand' it will cost one play token, many of which will be accumulated by ranking up during normal play. This should be enough for the average Guitar Hero participant, however, the more hardcore will likely be dismayed that the only way they can get unfettered access to the entire GHTV catalogue is by using 'Hero Cash' to pick up a 24 hour Party Pass. Given the sheer volume of songs available, it makes more sense to just cherry pick the preferred tracks discovered during regular play, and maybe saving the Party Pass for a special occasion. It feels like it might be a bit of an experiment on Activision's part but it definitely benefits the customers that don't normally buy any DLC, and while micro-transactions can also be purchased to enable shortcuts to the Premium Shows, it's nothing that isn't easily achievable with normal play.

Screenshot for Guitar Hero Live on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

While it would have been very easy to churn out another instalment using the same tried and tested template, Freestyle Games went out on a limb with Guitar Hero Live and ended up giving the rhythm genre a much needed shot in the arm in the process. GHTV is a game-changer, pure and simple. With an already sizeable library that's set to grow further, it's a title that pretty much demands repeated play. All it needs now is 'Freebird' adding to the set list and it will be perfect… Rock on!

Note: A copy of Guitar Hero Live was provided by Activision for review purposes.

Developer

FreeStyle

Publisher

Activision

Genre

Rhythm

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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