Guitar Hero Live (2-Pack Bundle)
- Street Date:
- October 20th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- October 20th, 2015
- Game Release Year:
PS4 version reviewed. As part of the review kit, Activision provided a two guitar bundle, which included a $9.99 HC voucher. Also in the kit (but not part of the game bundle) was a CAD U1 USB mic and a Monoprice 4-port USB hub. Other mics, including a Logitech and Wii U mic, were used during the review.
The game that set off a craze and ignited a genre nearly a decade ago, 'Guitar Hero,' has returned. Though there is secondary support for vocals, the new game focuses on the guitar, but 'Guitar Hero Live' has a lot more up its sleeves than just the same old thing. 'Guitar Hero Live' has been developed alongside a new guitar that eschews the old five button set-up in favor of a new 2x3, six button design.
Likewise, 'Guitar Hero Live' offers two fairly distinct modes. The 'Live' side takes players in first person perspective through two rock festivals, the UK-based SoundDial and the US-based Rock the Block and through 42 on-disc tracks. Meanwhile, the 'GH TV' side gives players access to two streaming channels of music video-based songs. At launch, there are more than 200 tracks on the GH TV side, and GH TV also has its own player progression to play through.
Within these two main modes, 'Guitar Hero Live' contains tutorials, two player versus, quickplay, vocals, challenges, leaderboards, five difficulty levels, a player level and customization system, premium content, and more.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The PlayStation 2 was still king when the original 'Guitar Hero' began an infestation of players' homes with plastic instruments. In spite of the dozen or so popular rhythm games that followed, the original five button and strum bar combination remained at the core. But with 'Guitar Hero Live,' there is finally something new. Not new like a real guitar with real string new, but new in the sense of a new or least very different design.
Fundamental to the relative enjoyment of 'Guitar Hero Live' is the new Guitar Controller.
The controller is wireless via a USB transmitter.
The gameplay revolves around the 2x3 neck buttons (two rows of three) and the biggest strum bar I've seen. (The strum bar clicks.) There is also (thankfully) a large Hero Power button, a whammy bar, and a tilt sensor. Two other buttons and a four way nob complete the guitar's ability to navigate both the game and the PS4, while there are also two recessed buttons used for pausing the game.
The guitar gets along well with the PS4 and can be used without a DS4. The guitar is assigned a user much like a normal controller or mic.
Connecting two guitars isn't as straightforward, but it works well enough. Connecting the mic is easy provided you're in the right parts of the game.
The guitar is surprisingly light. It uses two AAs, which were included. The guitar comes in two pieces and connects at the neck.
This is supposed to be a one-way connection (as in connect once and never disconnect), but I was able to disconnect it a few times in order to take pictures by rotating a recessed button. The only other piece besides the battery cover to think about is the included strap which looks like a fairly classic 'GH' design. In 'GH' fashion' it connects to fixed posts. There are three posts to support both right and left handed play.
Most of the guitar is a glossy black with gold highlights. There is a white pinstripe and a new white 'GH' Pick logo. The white, brown and silver neck is matte. Overall, the new guitar manages to look a bit more sophisticated than the 'GH' axes of old, but the small footprint is unlikely to convince anyone that it is more than a controller.
Six Buttons, Three Tracks
The first thing to really understand about 'Guitar Hero Live' is that the new guitar enables a new three track design that may have players doing some hitherto unknown finger calisthenics. The middle (of the five) difficulty, Regular, is the where this new action starts.
Notes come on the lower white row, the upper black row, as barre chords (a white and black together in same column), open strums, and even diagonally (infrequent on Regular). After playing the games a few different times during development, I was anxious to get to play the game unfiltered, where I could really learn to play.
The new track design, note charts, and guitar frets are without a doubt a major win. I've seen rhythm game experts get their first tastes of the game, and subsequently seen the blinders come on as they take in the different feel. For my musically unsound, stupid finger self, the new gameplay is like an awakening. It actually can feel like I'm playing notes rather than playing 'Simon.' This is true even though I basically learned to play the game the wrong way.
I learned to play by using the lower finger joints for the white buttons, which let me be effective but was disastrous when moving up to advanced. I believe now the correct way to play is using finger tips (except for the barre chords), but fortunately, the readjustment hasn't been as bad as I feared. Going back and playing the Live set with 'Love Bites (So Do I)' that wrecked me the first time around gives credit to my current comfort level with the new guitar.
This action I do with my fingers dancing around the guitar controller, often times moving faster in response to a tough section than I'm consciously processing, it's what makes the game so worth having and playing.
Everything else I'm about to go into is merely the trappings that enable that core gameplay to shine.
Two more things to note here. The lowest difficulty the game offers appears to just involve strumming. The next lowest, Casual, is mainly just the white buttons. For me, playing on Regular and some Advanced, I do sometimes get in trouble with wanting to play notes that aren't there. The Expert note tracks are the beginning point for FreeStyle Games, and at times it shows.
One interesting thing that happens with those lower tier difficulties is that in the opening tutorial and subsequent song, which is based in Live part of the game, the gameplay will challenge brand new players to play above wherever their likely comfort levels are. I saw more than one of my friends get a little frustrated in their first song because it seemed likely every time they did well, the game would get harder.
Guitar Hero Live
Ever since it was first revealed, I was wary of the 'Live' part of 'GH Live,' and I know I wasn't alone. FMV? No rendered venues or characters? First-person view and chatty band mates? It all seemed like trouble. Well, consider me now well converted. I had expected the crowd and band mates to be amusing with their reactions to my poor play, but now I have to give the whole endeavor major credit.
Both festivals in the game have a certain appeal and narrative, but it's the bands that have been put together that have endearing personalities. There's the dancer/vocalist in Quantum Freqs that let me I know I sucked in between songs. There's the stoic roadie for Broken Tide that gives the ever so subtle nod of approval after the crowd goes nuts. There's the bassist that that chucks the bottle at me when I can't handle 'The Kill (Bury Me)' Advanced. There's the freaking lead singer who can crowd surf and sing simultaneously. And yes, even the crowd with their signs, selfies, and barricade jumping, is a heck of lot more enjoyable than ever thought possible.
Playing the festival sets is a single player affair, and it's very much about keeping the crowd happy.
The FMV will branch to different levels of crowd and band happiness (3-5 levels I would guess), while the unbroken note streak and multiplier are noted. You can deploy to fire up the crowd, but the score is kept hidden until the end of the set. Revisiting these same Live tracks in the Live Quickplay section, and the FMV will be the same branching set. The score will be visible, and both a vocalist and second guitar player can be brought in versus style. Live Quickplay can be one song at a time, or a playlist can be created of Live songs. Live songs are unlocked by playing the festivals, and then can be played whenever.
Obviously, the 42 tracks in Live are open to a subjective judgment. The set list probably appears to have too much scattered pop, but really, it's curated in a good way that reveals itself song by song.
There are songs in GH TV that I really hate and don't want to play, and that helps to cast the overall selection of Live as smart (if safe). I'll talk more about Live in the other the review sections, but I liked this mode so much that I've be willing to pay cash for more festivals of similar quality, which is a strong endorsement. (This possibility seems quite remote for now.)
With 'Call of Duty' as an example, Live is like the campaign for 'Guitar Hero Live' while GH TV is like the online. That is to say where Live is structured in part to be balanced, to teach the player, and to tell a story, GH TV is another creature. GH TV has its own tutorial, but it's focused on navigation and progression. It's in GH TV where there is a player level that is raised via XP (called Status). It's also in GH TV where some 200+ songs can be found. These songs are streamed music network like through two channels (GH1 & GH2). These channels have half hour and hour programming blocks, with themes like Indie, Rock Hits, Metal, etc. A third channel is said to be coming post launch, but as it is, the effect is that the player has two channels to switch between at any time. The songs that are streamed are backed by music videos, though in some cases, that means band footage.
When playing GH TV songs, players will be thrust into a group of ten, and those ten players' running scores can be seen on left. Even now, the closest thing to me to this kind of constant, running competition has been 'Forza' racing (both direct and rival style time trials). This is all point-based, so keeping up a multiplier is important. I found Hero Power to be kind of silly here. The default Hero Power will blow away all visible notes on the current section of the chart, so I guess it's good for avoiding a small, but tough section. Since missing a note means losing the multiplier, however, the Bomb ability is generally too little, too late.
That isn't to say that competition is straightforward. Players can be on different difficulties, making scoring comparatively wild. (Playing poorly on higher difficulty can still yield more points in some cases.) On top of that fact, when the player hits Level 9, they can begin upgrading their guitar. That means more points, a higher multiplier, a quicker multiplier, etc. This disparity is like to shock many, but the idea is that good players will max out upgrades (12 total upgrades) and compete on equal footing.
Focusing for a second on what it feels like to play 'GH TV' in channel form, I really like it. For one thing, it works well. There's some kind of local cache that keeps things moving smoothly, and the days I've spent playing have reflected this smoothness. The songs selection is all over the place, but it's mostly very good with a few songs/videos that make me turn the channel. (A few songs that are in Live are also now in GH TV.) I've had it happen several times that I'm about to quit, when the one more song desire keeps pulling me back in, triggered by whatever played next on the channel. I still don't think I've played every song, and that's really saying something.
Plays, Coins, and Hero Cash
As well realized as GH TV is at launch, people can be forgiven for the confusing nature of the model. The channels are part of the game, and can be played at any time. Those same songs are listed in a song catalog and can be played at any time, but only by spending Plays. Plays are one of the game's rewards for playing GH TV songs and leveling up. Spending one Play lets you start a song from the song catalog. There is no buying of songs as DLC. GH TV is like Spotify or Netflix or any number of modern streaming content providers, and the expectation is that while content will be continually added (like the announced Weezer concert stuff), players can't buy songs.
The game is pretty free with rewarding Plays. I had some 30 plays before I knew it, even though I had been using them here and there. My first GH TV two-guitar session saw me spend 10-20 Plays over the course of a fun evening. Those Plays came back pretty quick, but there is more to it.
Playing a song in 'GH TV' awards the player with Status (XP) which tabulates to raise player level. It also awards coins.
Coins are the real virtual currency of 'Guitar Hero Live.' They can be used to by Plays, to buy personalization items like Player Cards and Highways, and to buy the guitar upgrades that do things like raise the multiplier. Again, this is all about as complicated as the Prestige system in 'Call of Duty.' In theory, players get so many coins that they could be buying Plays like crazy, but then that would make buying those 12 guitar (3 upgrades for 4 categories) harder to come by.
So what about buying Plays with real money? Well, say hello to Hero Cash. Hero Cash is the real money virtual currency. At launch it's only useful for buying Plays and for bypassing Premium Content challenges. That is to say, Hero Cash is benign at the moment, and likely to stay that way.
What players are more likely to spend money on is the 24 Hour $5.99 Party Pass that makes all of GH TV available to play in the Song Catalog without spending Plays. As its name suggests, this is meant for parties, but it's worth noting that playing the channels is still suitable for parties. It's easy to add in a vocalist or a second versus guitar into channel play. Having said that, a long party where people only want to play and sing songs that they know is definite Party Pass territory.
So far Activision and FreeStyle have really delivered with GH TV. The stream of songs with videos and attached competitors to play against feels remarkable different from the Live experience. In contrast to voting for set list songs, playing the channels is fun and keeps things moving.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Ah, how exactly do you rate FMVs and music videos? The Ui is very monochrome, though that can be tweaked by using different highways, but it also very sharp. It makes for a clean presentation, and not one I would expect from the older games. One issue I've found is that when the blue outlines that sometimes accompany the notes can make the black and white blend together in spite of the triangle/inverted triangle shapes.
For the Live segments, the live-action stuff is well-produced and manages to be engaging but not distracting.
When I'm hovering between playing well and missing notes, the transitions come with a quick blur that is like sweat in the eyes. The system is robust, but when circling the drain, there's lots of "yeah you are awesome footage" cut with "you are crap." (There are also parts when playing well and pleasing the crowd, that they still throw stuff. It makes me think of the beginning of 'Road House.') The worse parts by far are the skylines that back the crowds. It's like a SD TV show matte background but in HD.
There is band/album art everywhere in GH TV, but it fits in well with the clean looks. The music videos look much better than some earlier builds I saw. Still, there's lots of SD content and stretched or cropped 4:3 content in older stuff. Even recent indie videos will go with a VHS look.
Some videos are downright distracting, but this is offset by that same appeal that once made MTV destination viewing.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Now this is what I'm talking about. 'Guitar Hero Live' includes options for TV, stereo, 5.1 surround sound, and full dynamic or night time audio. Beyond that, the game just sounds good, much better than any kind of cable music system I've used. Of course, playing notes correctly really only lets the actual songs play unfettered (this isn't a synthesizer, and neither has the guitar been separated from the rest of the instruments). Vocals can sound good as well. The surround sound is great in the Live section where the first person view is constantly shifting.
There are still squawks when missing notes. These are fine unless the song has its won squawk like sounds. They also can be distracting in local versus.
The game sounds so good that I've spent hours using a stereo headset plugged into my receiver, which is not something I normally do.
I did find that once or twice that the surround setting in options wouldn't exactly take. (There's an audio test in the same spot.) Relaunching the game always fixed this problem.
I've tried to avoid mentioning 'Rock Band 4' in this review, but wow does 'Guitar Hero Live's audio presentation seem like it's on another level.
This could easily be a 5, especially considered the promised additions. I had thought for sure that the Live part would be a play it once and forget it part of the game, but I've played those sets a few times, and I want to go back. Watching others play and taking on high difficulties produces all kinds of surprises in the FMV branches. Live Quickplay is great, and should be the first destination for versus and vocals play, but inevitably frequent two (or three) player play is going to mean switching over to GH TV.
Again, the GH TV channels in their launch state have depth at any difficulty. I've poured in hours, but I'm still not at max player level, upgrades, and so on. There are Daily Rewards for logging into GH TV (playing Live does not count towards those rewards).
There's also the Premium content to consider.
Right now the Premium Show is Avenged Sevenfold, but there are two other events that may be placeholder, but nevertheless have the same framework. Each event requires the player to three star three specific GH TV songs to get entry. (You can wait for those songs to come up on a channel or spend Plays.) These entry requirements can be bypassed by using Hero Money, but it's not exactly hard to get three stars on three songs. In the events, like the Avenged Sevenfold show, players play a 3-4 song set list with ranking awarded like a 'Mario Kart' style set of races. The top three at the end win special rewards like x2 coins on the next couple of songs. After that, those entry requirements return. This is a pretty fun diversion right now, but with Weezer concert content announced as incoming, it looks like it will grow.
With multiplayer, there are the Live song leaderboards, the GH TV rivalry style competition, and there is local versus guitar as well as vocals. Vocals use a USB mic, though there is some way to link a phone through an app or something that I haven't figured out. The vocals are very basic. There are no difficulty settings and no Hero Power. Even so, they are a really smart addition and make the game much more party friendly than otherwise. The vocals are scored and feel good, so they do just enough to be worth using.
A third channel is incoming, as is more Premium Show content. Furthermore, there is something to having the two modes. As opposed to just loading the game and going to either Quickplay or to Career, there are more meaty options, which of course of is helped by the large bulk of GH TV songs. For now, the sky is the limit for replayability.
In 2015, it's takes a real statement game to justify excitement in the rhythm game genre. 'Guitar Hero Live' is that statement game. With a New guitar, new gameplay, two distinct modes and a new content delivery method that should see players awash in free, marquee songs, 'Guitar Hero Live' is packed. FreeStyle Games has gone back to the drawing board and returned with both a rock star vision and a streaming music/video gameplay model that ought to attract fans old and new. Alongside the normal AAA titles to look forward this holiday, 'Guitar Hero Live' should be of special interest to home theater enthusiasts on account of the sound quality and the enjoyable novelty and passion to be found in the gameplay and visuals.
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