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Guitar Hero Live
Guitar Hero Live

Genre: Party
Developer: FreeStyle Games
Publisher: Activision Classification: PG
Release Date:
October 2015
Guitar Hero Live Review
Review By @ 01:21pm 26/10/15
If a new skate park is built and you want to go to it, as an established skater, you don’t usually need to buy a new deck. Your old one should suit the new park just fine. I mean, maybe if the park was designed for hoverboards and only hoverboards, I could understand the purchase requirement, but still…

The problem with Guitar Hero -- from the outset -- is that since series inception it’s been about deception; about making punters pony up over and over again with peripheral requirements. Guitar tweaks here and there have allowed Activision to package in the little plastic clutter devices so often, that I’d argue it’s what eventually killed the dinosaurs, or more specifically lead to the franchise fatigue Guitar Hero suffered a few years back.

Bringing the franchise back is not a bad move though. It feels like the timing is right, and with Harmonix doing the same thing with Rock Band you could argue that the universe was whispering sweet nothings into both companies’ ears, or that they were just egging each other on. Whatever the case, Guitar Hero Live is another attempt from Activision to shake the series up and reinvent its own wheel, meaning you’ll need to dig deep and pay for another wheel. It’s not that bad though, there’s a functionality and design emphasis in the new axe, mainly in the removal of that fifth button -- my worst enemy because my weak, un-real-world guitar-trained pinky finger could barely hit it -- leaving Expert Mode a pipe dream and me being perpetually stuck on Medium. So, I sort of welcome the change.

It adds an extra button as well which, in theory, should help build on the complexity of playing the music but the overall shrinking of the guitar feels a bit off and I didn’t really get beyond the mid-level difficulty setting except for a handful of songs that were even too easy on the midrange difficulty, though they say practise makes perfect only there’s an esteem problem here that makes me want to avoid playing the game, at least in its campaign mode.

Guitar Hero Live’s campaign is a bully. It makes you feel like shit if you screw up too much, to the point your entire band is giving you death stares and is sharing a “we’re really sorry, but don’t worry he’ll be fired after this song” moment with the audience. At its worst, shit literally gets thrown at you. Because you’re a failure, and Guitar Hero Live never lets you live this stuff down even though, in reality, based on the game’s refocused “live” presentation, you’re really just a cover band and not the super group it’s trying to make you feel like.

When you’re playing Guitar Hero TV mode though, it’s okay, because you’re no longer playing to a high-expectations expecting audience. It’s even fun. But there’s also a bit of a problem with this mode, and it’s where Activision has realised it can get even more out of you beyond new peripheral purchases because Guitar Hero Live also cheekily serves up in-game purchases for a few aspects (though you don't have to pony up, but the option is there), even though you’ve already purchased the game.

It’s not in your face, but it does eventually creep in. TV essentially gives you a Singstar-style game-mode that’s more akin to guitaraoke than the traditional games. The core gameplay is there, but now you just play over the filmclips of the songs available. You earn Coins by playing which are then used to play other tracks, and you’ll earn in-game currency to spend on various aspects of the game, and there’s a service called Premium Shows, which is where the aforementioned real-world money element comes in by way of Hero Cash (but again, you don't need to do it that way, it's just a quicker way to get the content). There are also two dedicated appointment channels too, like MTV where genres fill out a block of real-world time and you have to play the songs as they’re progressing in the timeslot. So, if you jump into a session at 11:15pm for example, you might be dropped into the middle, or even end, of a song currently playing. It’s weird, to say the least.

Navigating TV is also a bit convoluted despite the plethora of content, with no option to restart a song if you feel like you’re bombing (likely because playing songs requires another type of in-game currency earned through progressing in rank). The game’s overall presentation is also a bit clean. The fun of the original games has been replaced with an Apple design mentality. Even the notes on the highway are basically just black and white. All of this makes the game feel like it’s trying too hard to fit in with smart-device UI and presentation, but given the series’ pedigree, it really doesn’t fit here.

What we’re left with is a reimagining of a series that was always built around being larger-than-life and silly and fun. The previous games made the mistake of reinventing themselves all the time in order for punters to have to pay more, but at their core there was a creative and fun soul, which sadly feels lacking here. The guitar feels small, and navigating the game is a bit of a mess. It feels like several disparate design ideas were bundled into one to sate the design team, with an emphasis in there on making more money by capitalising on the market of in-game, or in-app purchases, despite there already being a premium price.

You’re also forced to play the tutorial, which is presented in the same fashion as the campaign, meaning your introduction to the game is likely going to be one of boos and hisses, again taking the fun out of the series.

It was ambitious to use a live-action stage for this side of the game, and praise should be given to the fluidity of the camera work and how they handled the first-person view, but it’s all for naught if you’re going to be treated like shit as soon as you get into the game, and then whenever you start to hiccup, which for many of us not pros at this game, will be often.

Guitar Hero Live has just taken itself too seriously, and that concept is at pure odds with what the franchise used to be about. Don’t get me wrong, there is fun here, there’s multiplayer, hero powers and a decent list of songs, but the idea that these might eventually have you forking over more cash should make you trepidatious at least. I dunno, in the end it feels like Guitar Hero Live is a job, and not the party the previous games were.

What we liked
  • Soundgarden's Black Rain and Tenacious D's Tribute, among a lot more are great song additions, personally (more than 240 playable out of the box)
  • Removal of the pinkie button, but addition of a sixth but in a row of three on top of each other makes sense
What we didn't like
  • Esteem breaking in the campaign if you start to fail
  • A convoluted mess of modes that are equally difficult to navigate
  • Soulless UI and presentation
  • Real-world money required after paying for the game outright
We gave it:
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