Review: Guitar Hero Live

The revolution will not be televised, unless it’s on Guitar Hero Live‘s GHTV.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 12/10/2015 08:00 2 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Modern style beyond any other Guitar Hero game; great reinvention of the plastic guitar
Poison Mushroom for...
Less immediately accessible song catalog

Most people would probably agree that plastic instruments are passé. Sure, picking up a plastic guitar or a set of drumsticks was fun in 2008, but years and umpteen insert-band-name-here versions of Rock Band and Guitar Hero later, having a whole set of plastic instruments in your closet becomes less awesome and more of a drag. As a comic book and videogame collector, I know storage woes especially well, and so I didn’t greet Guitar Hero Live with much fanfare, especially after the tepid reaction to its closest rival, Rock Band 4.

I was wrong on so many levels.

Back to basics

If you strip all the style away– and more on that later– Guitar Hero Live is 90% like its brethren. Notes flow down from the screen, and you must hit the notes in time with the song, by tapping buttons on your plastic guitar. This time around, instead of having five buttons, one for each fret, there are two buttons on each fret, which creates opportunities for barre chords and multi-level chords. This also means that, more than ever, you feel like you are actually playing a real guitar, with the finger cramps to match. Alone, this new guitar makes Guitar Hero Live‘s gameplay vivid and refreshing. But that’s not all.

Unlike Guitar Hero, but very much like DJ Hero– which is fitting, as the team on Guitar Hero Live hails from DJ Hero 1 and 2– you can’t just start the game and expect to play any song on the catalog. Actually, when you start the game, you’re led into an unskippable tutorial– but one that you won’t want to skip. On screen, you see a man, in live action, pass you a guitar– “try it out,” he says– and you dive into the gameplay. After familiarizing yourself with the new guitar, the man ushers you out, and urges you to knock ’em dead. And as you walk, you realize you’ve been backstage all this time, and in first-person, you step out to your screaming crowd.

My first thought when this happened? “Wow, Guitar Hero, you’ve grown up.”

Guitar Hero Live makes the old seem new again. It'll make you feel younger, too.

The classy Guitar Hero

Like a lot of people, I first played Guitar Hero in college, where the faux-rock trappings and hilariously-dressed characters struck a chord with my nigh-feral need to reinvent myself for a brand new college life. Considering the novelty of plastic instruments back then, my friends and I couldn’t see what eventually became a little tacky, a little droll. We’d give our characters stupid names, throw them onstage, and essentially treat them– and the gameplay, and therefore the game– as disposable.

Guitar Hero Live refuses to be disposable, and it’s definitely not tacky. Since 2005, a lot’s changed in the music world– Coachella’s practically become a millennial rite of passage, raves are a dime a dozen, and Spotify is king. Guitar Hero Live reflects that. Instead of tacky cartoon characters, you play to a bewilderingly living audience. More than ever, you feel like a rock star, with all the trappings. When you play well, your fans scream and wave giant signs in the air. Your bandmates give you thumbs-ups and throw rock signs. You feel good.

But of course, if you don’t play well, the crowd boos, your bandmates glare at you and shake their heads, and all you can think is how you’ve got to get better at this game.

GHTV killed the GH star

And oh man, are there chances to get better at Guitar Hero. Instead of a career mode, Guitar Hero Live lets you live out the stories of faux independent bands, and as first pioneered in DJ Hero, you’ll play sets at music festivals as each different band, unlocking songs for free play as you go. Each band sounds a little different, with varying song “playlists” that really get you into the mood of each band, whether they’re hard rock, teenybopper pop, or hipster folk. And of course, the music festival backdrop changes for each one, which, when combined with the first-person gameplay, made me want to quit my job and become a traveling performer.

But it’s Guitar Hero Live‘s Guitar Hero TV (GHTV) mode made me fall even harder. Accessible from the main menu (and for free!), GHTV is a 24/7 stream of music videos, over which you can play Guitar Hero. Every day, GHTV plays shifting playlists, with themes like heavy metal or classic rock. It’s like a Pandora Radio or Spotify Music stream that you happen to be able to play Guitar Hero over. Ingeniously, Guitar Hero Live shows a live ranking of people who have played the song, overlayed with your gameplay, updated live as you fall behind or push forward. It may be hard to get people together to play in the same room, but online “live” multiplayer is the next best thing.

As you play GHTV, you’ll accumulate points, which you can trade for free plays of anything in the GHTV catalog, or use to buy new guitar skins, tab skins and more. While there is the possibility of buying more plays with real money, you’ll never have to– points come easy, and besides, playing GHTV is its own reward.

The new normal

Guitar Hero Live impressed me more than I can say, and though the game’s been out for almost two months now, I still play it almost every day, which is crazy, because I rarely have anyone else to play with– and multiplayer used to be a major selling point of music games. When I came home from work, one of the first things I used to do was turn on Spotify radio. These days, I turn on GHTV, and if I feel like playing a song, I just pick up the guitar controller.

Guitar Hero Live doesn’t want to be your disposable videogame anymore, and it’s fine with being in the background. Because like any good song, it knows how to get your attention– even if you thought you weren’t listening.

2 Responses to “Review: Guitar Hero Live

  • 784 points
    Marc Deschamps says...

    The plight of being a video game nerd AND a comic nerd. I know it all too well. I also collect Transformers so… Yeah, space is a premium.

    Great review. As someone that was once really into this series (I even enjoyed the DS iterations), I just haven’t been able to muster any interest in GH: Live. This review, and a lot of the other positives I’ve heard, have really made me wonder if I should reconsider.

  • 1291 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I’m like Marc, my excitement level for this one has been sort of nonexistent, mainly because of what I read about song selection this time around. I’m still not sold on it, but I loved the little bit I’ve played of the game in stores with the new setup on the guitar, so I might have to break down and get it, soon. Great review.

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