Guitar Hero Live Review

*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in October, 2015*

Growing up I was a diehard Guitar Hero fan. I remember looking at the box of Guitar Hero II and seeing a killer line up of songs from a ton of my favorite rock bands. I poured hours upon hours jamming to Six by All That Remains, Jessica by the Allman Brothers Band, and Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil. Then came Guitar Hero 3 with a set list to slay Ormagoden himself. I shredded through some Slipknot and Metallica and I’ll never forget when Through the Fire and the Flames came on during the credits making for one of the most enjoyable credit sequences in gaming. I love the Guitar Hero series to this day and still have my trusty Guitar Hero 2 guitar that carried me through Dragonforce on expert back in my hay day. So once I saw Guitar Hero Live was going to bring the series into the newest console generation I was overjoyed. Boy howdy, did my excitement die out real quickly.

Booting up Live you’re greeted with a brief tutorial introducing the new button layout. The traditional five colored buttons are replaced by six buttons configured in two rows of three. This does effectively simulate the neck of a guitar a bit better as you have to readjust your hand position to reach over the neck. There’s even a built in button at the base of the strum bar to active your multiplier if you’re not one for tilting your controller to offer homage to the gods of rock. It’s a nifty design but ultimately falls short during play as the painfully button positioning makes for some awkward fingering when certain chords pop up on screen. I think they had the right idea with the guitar controller but just some poor execution.

There are two modes available in Live. The first is the “Live” mode, which is essentially the campaign, consists of 42 songs spread out over 13 set lists. Here’s where Activision and Free Style Games had a neat idea. For each of the songs in Live a real life concert was recorded using a first person camera on the band’s guitarist. So you actually get the perspective of being in a real life concert. Cool right? Except anyone who has been to a real concert can attest to how soulless and campy Live’s interpretation is. The band members and their names all reek of generics. Meanwhile I can sum up the crowd in the horribly boring signs they hold up such as “Excited” or “You’re my Hero” or “Raise the Roof.” Yeah, you’re digging deep there guys. Really making those signs meaningful.

And this not to mention how distracting the crowds are from the actual song. Between the crowd yelling, the random moments where the guitar highway drops out because you’re not playing, and the guitar track being boosted obnoxiously high over the rest of the song I could barely hear the music through the cacophony coming out of my speakers. The production values are great but fail short of creating an interesting experience.

Honestly, look at me! This is literally my candid face while playing my favorite band Bring Me the Horizon’s Shadow Moses! I’m even wearing the T-shirt for that album! I couldn’t have been anymore bored.

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The second mode in Live is Guitar Hero TV, this is the mode they’ve been pushing for this game as a whole. On paper you have a few ways to play. There’s a song list of about 200+ songs to choose from. With an eclectic number of artists like Of Monsters and Men, Queen, Slipknot, Incubus, and Gaslight Anthem just name a few. There’s also the live channels that stream a different playlist every half an hour. When you play any songs on GHTV you earn credits to buy things like new guitar neck highways or power ups to use in the online mode. All this is cool but this is where things turn sour.

You can’t just play from the massive list of songs at any given time. You have to play the live channels to earn in-game currency to buy “plays.” Plays let you, well… play the songs on the streaming list without having to go through one of the channels. And then you earn more coins, so you can buy more plays. Or you can spend those coins on aesthetic gear or quirky guitar powers that have replace the normal x2 multiplier traditional to Guitar Hero’s star power. Why? Why do I have to jump through these unnecessary hoops to get to the content I want to? Why do I have to play an arbitrary set list in order to play the songs I want? I earned plenty of plays in a few hour session, but if you’re going to shower me with playing tokens, why even have them in the first place? It seems like a roundabout way to make all this happen and it just makes the whole process unnecessary.

Really, GHTV was a good idea that fell short in execution. What could have been a cool streaming service ended up resembling a mobile game where you could play the game for chunks of time to advance… or you can just shell out real world money to have access to the songs for a… wait for it… whole 24 hours! Gee wilikers, what a steal! Or I could just go buy Rock Band 4 and download the hundreds of songs I already have…

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But what’s most offensive about Guitar Hero Live is the set lists. There were a good deal of notable songs from throughout the history of rock, metal, and folk, but none of them had the majesty of slaying the unique riffs in Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson, Trapped Under Ice by Metallica, or F.C.P Remix by Fall of Troy. The set lists in all previous Guitar Hero iterations felt hand-picked. They each had guitar tracks that were memorable not only because of the song itself but each solo had its own personality too it. They all felt unique.

Guitar Hero Live feels like its songs were just cobbled together. It ranges from Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down, a friggin great song for the guitar part, to Rihanna’s California King Bed. Rihanna, ya know, cuz she’s known for the sick guitar riffs of whatever back up guitarist she has.  Then there’s the contrast of Blink 182’s The Rock Show, a classic 90’s punk song, to Bangarang by Srillex. Why? I friggin love Skrillex. He’s my favorite EDM artist, but why is a dubstep song in a game about playing the guitar? And man did I love seeing Bring Me the Horizon, even if I was bored to tears by the time I got to play it. But wait….what’s this…?

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That’s it. I’m done. This game isn’t about being a “guitar hero.” It’s a rhythm game with a guitar controller at best.

Pros:

-Interesting take on the music set list with GHTV

-Innovative controller scheme

-Plenty of replayability

Cons:

-Dreadfully inconsistent song selection

-Too many gates in the way of actually playing how you want to

-Poor audio mixing/visuals in campaign mode

Verdict: Skip

There are some good things about Guitar Hero Live, but if you miss the days of yore when the game was guitar-centric, you’re not going to find any enjoyment here. If anything, Guitar Hero Live is a half-baked rhythm game at best.

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