Guitar Hero Live Review (PS4)
My poor pinky. All those years of Guitar Hero and Rockband made it stronger than it had ever been. Now pinky is no longer needed. He curls up, like an abandoned child left to sulk in a corner. The rest of the fingers don’t notice. They’re having too much fun.
As the resurgence of the plastic instruments continues, Activision’s Guitar Hero Live follows Rock Band 4. But while the latter has been reincarnated in essentially the same form, Guitar Hero has come back subtly different. And the changes are almost all good.
First off, Guitar Hero now has six buttons, three on the top and three on the bottom. This change completely reinvigorates the game. It might seem like a step backwards – and it is strange that the aforementioned pinky no longer sees any action – but the combination of high and low buttons really does work. It’s effective because this new button layout is totally unfamiliar to Guitar Hero veterans, therefore you need to completely re-learn how to play. And it’s great. Failing and losing is a refreshing slap in the face.
For old rhythm action veterans, it’s been a long time since we’ve failed in a song that doesn’t seem insanely difficult. It takes you back to the first time you played Guitar Hero, back on the PS2, when your brain was slowly adapting to this totally new genre of game.
The top and bottom buttons also completely change the shape of your hands as you play. Having to hold a combo of lower and upper buttons forces your finger into a barre chord shape – something that will be familiar to anyone whose tried to learn to play guitar. As the difficulty level ramps up, the chord shapes you’ll be making are a little closer to real guitar chords. It’s not going to teach you how to play real guitar – and it’s not really very much like real guitar playing at all – but it strengthens the illusion.
The guitar peripherals themselves are of a reasonable quality. They look and feel nice, although in the pack that I got with two guitars, one of the buttons was stuck on one of the guitars. A bit of fiddling with it got it unstuck, but while the strum bar is great, the buttons don’t feel quite as snappy as the best controllers from last generation.
The main thing is that they are responsive enough to handle even the faster sections though, and the strum bar is of the clicky rather than mushy variety. The buttons feel well made and solid too, with a dedicated button for the Guitar Hero TV mode, showing how important that aspect of the game is.
Guitar Hero TV is the most important new gameplay feature. Effectively a range of channels that you play along with, it’s a massive library of content that you can experience. You have to play whats on the channel, but you can play as long as you like without ever really seeing the same song repeat. The whole time you’re competing with other players online who are also on the same channel.
It’s an amazing competitive and communal experience, and once you start playing it’s incredibly difficult to stop. Playing earns credits that you can use to play specific songs from the massive catalogue of streaming choices available. As an alternative to buying specific songs, it appeals to me far more than old systems of DLC. I was constantly finding new songs to love rather than playing the same old library.
And competing online with others pushed me to improve. When a particular hard chord would come down the note track, it’s great fun to imagine your rivals will struggle with it, especially if you know you can hit that chord.
While Guitar Hero TV plays the songs original music videos, the Guitar Hero Live campaign (for want of a better word) takes you through a series of gigs where you play three or four song sets. Played out against an FMV background of real actors and musicians, it’s an utterly bizarre experience.
It doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay, but it can be unnerving. Looking out the crowd of real people feels pretty good, but the nods of approval from the roadies or the reproachful glare of your band mates when you mess up feels really naff. The generic signs the audience hold up as you play are hilarious too. They can’t be specific to bands or songs, so say things like “You Rock”, or my personal favourite, “!!!!!!!”.
But in truth the FMV is a wise move away from the old cartoonish, OTT metal-ness of the previous games. Guitar Hero is a bit more like Just Dance or Singstar now, and if you think that’s me critisizing, you’re completely wrong. Those games have an inclusiveness that welcomes gamers and non-gamers alike, and after playing a bit of Guitar Hero Live in front of friends who didn’t own consoles, they were asking me where to buy an Xbox One or a PS4. That’s the power of these games. That’s what Guitar Hero can do and Halo never can.
Still, the armchair cynics will moan and moan about Guitar Hero. “Why don’t you just learn to play a real guitar” they’ll say. With their joyless mouths. But real guitars don’t replace the Guitar Hero experience any more than buying a real car replaces playing GTA. It’s a fantasy and it’s a game, and it works as both very well indeed.
Guitar Hero Live is a fantastic game. More successful than anyone could have expected, it has refreshed rhythm action games and reminded me what it was like to play Guitar Hero for the very first time. I didn’t think those feelings would come back. I’m glad they did.