Guitar Hero Live Giveth and Guitar Hero Live Taketh Away

Guitar Hero is Back And I Really Like What I've Seen

I can’t deny it. It feels good to be playing Guitar Hero again.

The old fingers are rusty, my timing is a bit off, but it doesn’t take long for these digits to start prancing across the fretboard. The instrument has changed, the game has changed – dramatically some might argue – but the feeling is the same.

It happens in the moment when you hit that 'flow'. When the buttons being pushed in real time feel like they truly represent the music being played on-screen and for a second you believe that you are the sole creator of the music blasting out of your speakers.

When it’s firing on all cylinders like this, Guitar Hero is truly irresistible.


Guitar Hero is Back And I Really Like What I've Seen

Let’s talk about Guitar Hero Live. Firstly, let’s talk about the ways in which it’s different. The game’s trailer would have you believe that the largest change is in the window dressing: Guitar Hero is no longer about watching cartoon caricatures play instruments, it’s about real people, real crowds who respond in real-time to your ability to shred on a virtual instrument. That’s an interesting change – and one that’s long overdue – but its biggest transformation is in the instruments themselves.

Be prepared: you’re going to have to relearn how to play Guitar Hero.

Traditional Guitar Hero: five buttons, five different colours across five different frets.

New Guitar Hero: six different buttons, no colours, doubled up on three different frets.

It’s an interesting switch — overseen by FreeStyle Games, the folks that created the criminally overlooked DJ Hero. I have feelings about it.

My first thought: why reinvent the wheel? Guitar Hero, in my mind, is like Karaoke. No-one needs to rethink how it works, they just need to ride the wave as it circles in and out of fashion.

My second thought: this sort of makes sense. It removes obstacles. Many players struggle with the fourth and fifth buttons in Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Moving up and down the fretboard is difficult. Using your pinky is difficult.

So what, you might say. Guitar Hero is supposed to be difficult, but Guitar Hero Live does not sacrifice difficulty, it simply creates a new, different layer of difficulty. It’s the brain-melding type. At the rookie level, you’ll only be expected to use three buttons, no need to alternate between the two sets of ‘strings’ (for want of a better term), but when you move up the difficulty levels you’ll be messing around with weird chord combinations that use the top and bottom set of buttons simultaneously.

It sort of feels like learning to play Guitar Hero all over again.

But sacrifices are no doubt being made here. To begin with, plenty of expert level players are going to feel alienated by this switch. Sure, the skill set is transferable but I did find it weird and awkward at first — to the point where I started screaming at myself (WHITE BUTTONS AT THE TOP, BLACK BUTTONS AT THE BOTTOM!)

But my main issue is this: players don’t get that pleasure of moving up and down the fretboard, which was one of the major sources of mastery in Guitar Hero previously. That’s gone.

Guitar Hero giveth and Guitar Hero taketh away, but the net gain may be positive, depending on your tastes.


Guitar Hero is Back And I Really Like What I've Seen

But Guitar Hero also taketh away drums and vocals, and I’m finding that tougher to swallow. It feels like a massive step backwards.

What Rock Band and — later — Guitar Hero did by bringing additional instruments into the mix was create a seamless party game that allowed everyone to get involved. While I appreciate that Guitar Hero Live is trying to reboot the experience and take it back to its roots, I think something magical is being lost in the process. My wife was the drummer in our little virtual band, with my brother-in-law on the bass and his wife on vocals. It stings that I’m going to have to break up the band and go solo. I don’t think I’ll be alone in that sentiment. To be perfectly honest, I think Activision and FreeStyle Games are taking a huge risk here.

Again there are swings and roundabouts. FreeStyle Games’ solution here is to create an video game that works better as a spectator experience. That’s where the ‘Live’ part of Guitar Hero Live comes in: with real audiences being recorded and their reactions being tied into how you perform. It looks amazing in practice but I’ll admit: I barely noticed while playing. I was too focused on making sure I hit the correct notes.

That wasn’t the case, of course, when I was watching someone else play the game and that’s sort of the point here. The playing experience and the spectator experience are two completely different things. It was fun to watch my friend being booed when he sucked. The reactions of your virtual band-mates are perfect. There’s a ‘resting-bitch-face’ bassist in this video game, she. is. the. best.

But no matter how grand the spectator experience, I don’t see how it could possibly replace the experience of playing in a well-honed band with three of your mates. How could it? Drunken after-pub get-togethers won’t be the same. You won’t be able to gather up a team of like-minded buddies at a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon and bust out some Queen while the lamb is roasting. I’m going to miss that experience and I’m sure I’m not alone.


Ultimately, it’s all about the music. The tracklist is all important here and there is so much about Guitar Hero Live we don’t know about yet. We know that Guitar Hero Live will feature a Guitar Hero TV option, which is a model featuring curated playlists that will expand the game’s library. We also know that the game will feature tracks from The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Gary Clark, Jr., Green Day, Ed Sheeran, The War on Drugs, The Killers, Skrillex, The Rolling Stones, The Lumineers, Pierce the Veil and Blitz Kids.

Some of those sound good. But some of them sound, frankly speaking, terrible. I actually like dubstep, but in no shape or form does it belong in a Guitar Hero game. Also: Fall Out Boy is terrible. Just terrible.

Obviously taste factors into this, and Guitar Hero has to facilitate for players across the musical spectrum, but there is little doubt in my mind that Guitar Hero is making a play for the mainstream. That’s smart, but I’m just not 100% sure where I fit, or where fans of previous Guitar Hero games fit. Guitar Hero — in my mind — is about celebrating guitar music, and we know what that means: it means Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin. Really, Guitar Hero should sound a bit like a Classic Rock radio station with some modern hits thrown in there for good measure. It probably shouldn’t sound like KIIS.

Or maybe it should? Maybe I’m just an old fashioned Guitar Hero fan that should move out of the way. Once thing is for certain: Guitar Hero Live giveth and Guitar Hero Live taketh away. There are some great innovations in here, and I remain excited for the game, but I wonder what’s being lost.


Comments

    I think leaving out the vocals and drums is a good move for reintroducing this game into the market. We burned out a few years ago because of saturation and I think we're more likely to dip our toes in if there's just the guitar. They don't over-invest in development, and can test the market. It'll sell well enough this way that they can recoup the investment, and they can add more peripherals later if it proves popular enough.

    I think the only reason they redesigned the guitar is so they can make us all buy new plastic instruments and pay again for all those songs.

    I'll probably still buy it, but Rock Band is still king.

      But history shows that people will buy the new guitar regardless of backwards compatibility. Before the bubble burst they had no trouble selling the instruments with each new game.

      Personally I think they realised that they need to actually do something different this time. They put in the rather lackluster FMV sequences and they introduced the first significant upgrade to the guitar controller since the original Guitar Hero, which addressed one of the key problems with the games learning curve. Odds are Guitar Hero Live is going to screw up Rock Band's attempt at a genre revival but the new guitar seems like a genuine attempt to make the game more user friendly (even if the motivation is 'easier to get used to = more long term $$$').

        People kept buying the instruments because the old ones kept breaking.

        My GH3 controllers are all dead and the GH4 Drums broke pretty easily.

          Yeah. I went to use my World Tour guitar a while back and even though I haven't touched it in years one of the switches is broken so only up strums count. I don't know anyone who got a drum kit that worked out of the box. Even after I re-calibrated it mine was still pretty crappy.
          Still, I don't think they were hugely concerned with people using their old equipment over the new stuff. I've got to imagine 90% of Rock Band/Guitar Hero gear ever made is sitting in some landfill.

    It looks amazing in practice but I’ll admit: I barely noticed while playing. I was too focused on making sure I hit the correct notes.

    That was my biggest impression from the reveal also... Seems like they are essentially marketing the biggest aspect of the game is something in the background that you shouldn't really be paying too much attention too.

    I think I disagree with the opinion on the tracklist. To my mind, a good Guitar Hero should be songs everyone knows - it's like karaoke. It's great to have stuff people can discover and learn to love, but the best fun is when everyone's bashing out a song and the rest of the room can sing along. Especially when it's clearly aiming at the party game angle, like this clearly is.

    Also Fall Out Boy are fine and occasionally even quite good.

      Speaking as someone who enjoyed playing the game solo more than in a party scenario, I disagree entirely. If it's songs everyone knows, then it's just songs that are boring to play. This is still a game, and the songs are its levels, you need levels that fit the gameplay not just ones that look nice.

      Actually just last night I was playing Captain Toad on Wii U (bit of a tangent here, but stick with me), and had just moved on to the bonus levels. Now I don't know if you're familiar with the game at all, but it plays very differently from a standard Mario game. Toad can barely run, he can't jump, or combat enemies unless he happens to fall on them from a ledge above. Pretty much every level is set in a small cubic area as a little puzzle box that you need to figure out how to traverse.

      So in the bonus section of the game, it starts out by just dropping in levels directly from Mario 3D World. And they are BORING. AS. SIN. Because these places, while they look nice and everything, they're designed for a different kind of gameplay altogether. One where you're running and jumping around the place and have access to all different kinds of items and abilities to overcome the obstacles set throughout it. But Toad? Literally all he can do is walk around the level collecting coins, something that takes about three times as long as the original games. There's no puzzles to solve, nothing that in any way resembles the game you've just been playing. It's a worthless inclusion, all for the sake of throwing back to that other thing people loved so much (which, don't get me wrong - 3D World is a fantastic game).

      So it's the same thing here. Songs shouldn't be thrown in just because the dev's girlfriend really likes such and such a song, they should be included based on how they are to play, how they fit in gameplay-wise. Because that's what's being put together here, a GAME, not a backing track to a party. If it's no fun to play then there's no point in playing it.

      [/rant] >_>

        This is why the early GH and RB games had better songs, they were the songs that were fun to play on Guitar or Drums, not necessarily popular songs. The most recent GH went mostly Metal and Hard rock and I think it was a pretty good fit for the game.

        I definitely agree with you on that. I like the idea of Guitar Hero TV, and that can include all the party backing track songs it likes. But part of why the bubble burst was that they started including songs for a variety of reasons, none of which were how it played. We weren't just oversaturated with plastic guitar games, we were oversaturated with songs that (we may or may not have enjoyed listening to, but) weren't fun to play.

    Guitar Hero — in my mind — is about celebrating guitar music, and we know what that means: it means Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin. Really, Guitar Hero should sound a bit like a Classic Rock radio station with some modern hits thrown in there for good measure. It probably shouldn’t sound like KIIS.

    By taking away multiplayer and turning it into a single-player-party-game... People at a party don't want to sit around and watch 1 person play a 7-minute guitar heavy song from 30 years ago... Dropping back to single player game and having mainly spectators means the setlist is going to have to be heavily based around dare I say "pop-rock" songs that people watching will know and be more at ease listening too while not playing. I imagine they'll be making something similar to a party-mix that you could hear playing in the background of a frat party.

    Yeah, removing the drummer is the killer for me.
    We used to play this as a family, me on guitar, daughter on drums, wife and other kids too small to play on vocals, and we still have a blast.
    No drums or vocals = no buy for us.

      I'm ok with them removing drums and vocals, makes it more like old school Guitar Hero, but you've gotta have an appropriate setlist consisting of copious amounts of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.

        It was always about playing with multiple people at once for me, just couldn't get into playing it on my own.

      But you can still do that with co-op. It just works a little differently because you have to trade off every few minutes.

      Personally I found when the instruments blew out into a full band it meant the game consumed the entire night. With two player Guitar Hero we'd just take turns and continue with whatever we were doing when we weren't playing, but with World Tour we had to drag out the drum kit and the microphone and everyone had to always be playing. Originally we'd go to a party and it'd be there to play as a drop-in/drop-out thing but with World Tour it insisted on being a more serious event.

    Never played guitar hero or rockband :( By the time I wanted to grab them, they already stopped support for the game and I don't wanna pick up a dead game and was not sure if the peripherals could still be used.

    Drunken after-pub get-togethers won’t be the same. You won’t be able to gather up a team of like-minded buddies at a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon and bust out some Queen while the lamb is roasting. I’m going to miss that experience and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    Answer: Get Rock Band 4.

    Guitar Hero — in my mind — is about celebrating guitar music, and we know what that means: it means Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin. Really, Guitar Hero should sound a bit like a Classic Rock radio station with some modern hits thrown in there for good measure. It probably shouldn’t sound like KIIS.

    Again, Rock Band 4.

    Also: Fall Out Boy is terrible. Just terrible.

    Guilty pleasure intensifies.

    Tracklist looks horrible so far.

    I thought this was Guitar hero not emo hero.

    Guitar hero made me want to learn guitar. It had you shredding up and down the neck across the 5 buttons, you had to know where you were.

    The double fret system is nice for imitating chords, but it will make the shred feel lame.

    Have been playing guitar for 7 years now (started after GH3 inspired me) and I reckon that shredding will feel way less fun.

    Well, this will be it's last comeback and it will be short lived. No vocals is pretty bad business, as you can easily get sales from people who just want to sing and already have a microphone.
    And this guitar seems to be change for the sake of change. It's definitely no better than what came before, and sounds like s step backwards or at least a gigantic step sideways.
    And DJ Hero is pretty weak, I picked 1 & 2 up for about $8 for both and the turntable, and it's so boring. My 3 year old loves record players so he just uses it as a toy. Guitar Hero Live will be up there with Kinect as far as dust gathering goes.

    Drunken after-pub get-togethers won’t be the same. You won’t be able to gather up a team of like-minded buddies at a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon and bust out some Queen while the lamb is roasting. I’m going to miss that experience and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    But we used to do that all the time back when Guitar Hero was two player co-op. We still play Tekken with half a dozen people and only two controllers. The original LEGO Star Wars games were the same. Everyone doesn't need to be actively playing the game at the same time to be playing together. That's what makes couch co-op so awesome.

    I'm just not sure if there's room for two guitar games that offer such a similar experience, especially now that one will have so much less of a library (I assume).

    Guitar hero was king until Rockband came along, which ironically gave a more 'Guitar Hero' experience than the later GH games IMO.

    From there I suppose GH had to decide what to do to be fresh. They couldn't really go more realistic, because there's Rocksmith. So I guess the answer was to make it simpler?

      That's because Harmonix made GH 1 and 2, then they started making RB when GH was taken over by the other studios (Neversoft and Vicarious Visions).
      So really, RB is just the spiritual successor to GH.

    No band option? No sale for me then, Rock Band 4 all the way

    Wait, what? Skrillex? How the hell is anyone supposed to play dubstep on a GUITAR. This I have to see

    Well I am not sold.
    I mentioned on another article about the new GH that I wouldn't be that interested just because I play real guitar now, but seeing that setlist just puts me off completely even if I was going to consider it. Such a sellout; if I impulsively decide to get a guitar game for parties and stuff, it will probably be RB4.

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