Guitar Hero Live Review

Dan Webb

Many thought we’d seen the end of music-based rhythm games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. With their high price of entry, increasingly little room for innovation and the fact that they reached market saturation with each of the aforementioned franchises reaching instalments number 8 and 9 respectively, many thought their day had passed. We're amid a new generation though, giving each a new lease of life, and within as many weeks as each other, Rock Band and Guitar Hero are both back. The former opted for familiarity, while the latter, looked to innovate. Both are gambles, neither of which we’re sure will pay off.

Guitar Hero Live sees FreeStyleGames – developer of the niche but neat DJ Hero franchise – take up the reigns of the now defunct Neversoft (and co.) property, Guitar Hero. Rather than opting for the tried and tested formula that I rocked away on at university, the Midlands-based developer has opted for a change.

This is your crowd. Now entertain them!

That means, gone are the days of your five sequential coloured frets on the neck of the guitar, and in come two rows of three black and white buttons. Some will see it as a cynical moneymaking exercise, others will look at as the studio’s attempt to put its own stamp on the franchise. It’s probably a little from column A, a little from column B.

That really doesn’t matter though, what does is whether or not it makes the game feel fresh and innovative. In all honesty, that’s probably a yes and no. It’s a yes, because it feels new. New enough that you’re genuinely probably going to have to relearn the game, as it requires a few new skillsets and what not to completely master it. And not because it just feels like change for the sake of it.

If anything, the new setup is more akin to actually playing a guitar than the guitar-based rhythm genre has usually been. Unfortunately though, it’s a little more complex and a little less fun, which is not such a good thing.

The aforementioned skillsets that I mentioned you’d have to learn include: flicking back and forth between the lower white keys and the upper black keys; executing chords with different black and white keys; and holding both black and white keys together.

Sounds simple enough, but you also need to coach your brain in all new ways too, because instead of the five ascending rows on-screen, there are only three… and everything comes down to that much more narrow, more complicated play space.

Plus, it’s much harder to hit the notes now that the icons plectrums and not circular discs. That said, you play music games more with your ears than your eyes, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Those who became rock gods on Guitar Hero might be happy to hear of this ramp up in difficulty, as this game is ultimately infinitely much more difficult, thanks to more note combos.

Aside from reinventing the Guitar Hero wheel, FreeStyleGames has opted to make one of their main facets and the games namesake, Guitar Hero Live, a live-action, interactive first-person band experience. That means, you play the concert to real people, play real music – well, the original music acted out by other bands – and play with real bands, all of which respond to how you’re playing. Obviously, we don’t mean actual live reactive content just for you, it’s all pre-recorded, but it’s an interesting change and one I found myself actually really engaging with.

Start to miss notes and the on-screen action will transition to a more agitated crowd, your singer apologising for your inability to play, and a concerned band, all of whom tell you to get your shit together. Nail long sections though and the crowd will grow rapturous, your band mates will give you subtle “fuck yeah, dude, you’re the shit!” nods and roadies will give you winks. You’ll feel like the bees knees. That said, it can be a bit distracting, which is good and bad, depending on which way you look at it.

ZZ Top, here. Rich's beard will never be this lustrous.

The other facet of Guitar Hero Live is possibly the more interesting: Guitar Hero TV, which in laymen’s terms is music television that you play along to. It’s as simple as that. In this mode you can unlock various things, like the ability to play songs from the catalogue with plays that you earn, buy custom themes for your highway, but more importantly, it gives you access to new music.

I originally fell in love with the Guitar Hero franchise as early as Guitar Hero II, mainly because it introduced me to bands and artists that I’d might never have come across. Guitar Hero TV is next level shit in this regard.

The songs are split up in two ways: Guitar Hero Live, which is made up of 40+ tracks you can unlock and play as you see fit in a fairly traditional way; and then there’s Guitar Hero TV, of which there are already 100+ tracks already available.

Guitar Hero TV is a never ending playlist that you can just strum along to, earning levels and unlockables as you go. You don’t get choice of what tracks in the main channels per se, you just get to choose channels, with certain hours being dedicated to different styles of music. Like a song? Then you can use one of your unlockable plays to play it from the menu. Like it a lot, then eventually, you can buy it.

The joy is you can do what I do: and that’s just strum along to a load of new and classic music, all without dipping your hand in your wallet. Remember, folks, in-game purchases are a choice, not a requirement.

Hit a 50 note streak, and you're cookin'.

In terms of the music: GHTV has you covered, from folk rock like The Lumineers, to classic rock like The Rolling Stones and The Who, to more stuff like Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood. There’s even a little Katy Perry and Skrillex to mix things up. In all, it’s a great tracklist, which is easy to say when there’s a good 100+ tracks.

From an achievement perspective, the list isn’t half bad. It’s not impossible – well, it might be for regular players, thanks to the 100% four songs on Expert achievement – but it does require you dedicate a heck of a lot of time to the game – at least 24 hours in GHTV alone! It’s a list that boasts a lot of variety though, plenty of thought and cool nods in various directions, but be prepared to grind a fair bit. Given the almost limited scope of the genre though, that can be understood.

Guitar Hero Live is a decent return for the franchise in all. It’s not a game that is going to blow you away, by any means, and the new guitar feels like a change for change’s sake, one that makes the game a little less fun than it used to be, but FreeStyleGames’ stamp on it can be felt from the new gameplay – harder, as well! – to the new presentation in its Live mode. For me though, Guitar Hero TV is where it’s at, and is the perfect place to latch onto new bands and celebrate ones you’ve been listening to for years.

Guitar Hero Live

Guitar Hero Live is maybe a change too far for the Guitar Hero revival. It’s two facets, Guitar Hero Live and Guitar Hero TV, are wonderfully crafted and superbly engaging, but the fun factor seems to have been zapped from it somewhat. Maybe it’s a little too serious, maybe it’s hard to accept change, but that spark that we felt when we played Guitar Hero II for the first time… it’s just not there.

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There’s a good mix of music here from across the ages and from a variety of genres. You’ll only effectively have on-demand access to 40-odd of the 100+ tracks, but it’s still a great setlist.


The live-action concerts are actually really well presented and are incredibly engaging, almost too much though, that your eyes start to wander from the play space to see what’s going on around you.


The new guitar does make the game seem fresh, but it comes at a cost: that cost is fun. There’s something about the 5-row setup that made us feel like Slash, the 6-button controller makes us feel more like Chris Martin.


Both Guitar Hero Live and Guitar Hero TV are both well represented. There’s a distinct lack of direct player-to-player online multiplayer though, something which gave the other titles their longevity.


A decent list with some neat ideas. Clearly aimed at the more pro-players, but not entirely impossible for Guitar Hero noobs to grab a decent amount of points. Whoever you are though, be prepared to put in the hours.

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