Game review: Guitar Hero Live

A bold and largely successful return of the bestselling franchise
The new look for Guitar Hero keeps the series fresh. Picture: ContributedThe new look for Guitar Hero keeps the series fresh. Picture: Contributed
The new look for Guitar Hero keeps the series fresh. Picture: Contributed

Game review: Guitar Hero Live

Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / Wii U / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3

Score: 8/10

IT is testament to the success and ubiquity of the Guitar Hero games that nearly every household in Scotland can count among its cupboard clutter a plastic guitar that has been gradually gathering dust. Five years have passed since the last instalment, Warriors of Rock, a necessary hiatus given the glut of titles that seemed to emerge every other month. But now, the franchise is back, ready to challenge veterans and newcomers alike.

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While the latest Rock Band title - another rhythm game stalwart that has been revived for 2015 - stripped things back to provide a retro-style offering that plays to its core strengths, the new Guitar Hero goes in the opposite direction, introducing a new way of playing based on streaming services like Spotify as well as a revised fretboard. It is a brave approach that is a qualified success and deserves to breathe new life into a much-loved series.

This is not a game for those seeking a quick nostalgia fix

Anyone who buys Guitar Live in the hope of a nostalgia fix will be in for a rude, yet ultimately enjoyable awakening. Gone is the row of multicoloured fret buttons, replaced with a new tiered design consisting of six buttons over two rows. At first glance, it looks more like a real guitar and once you sling it over your shoulder and start playing, it plays more like one, too.

Unlearning the muscle memory of the previous set up takes times and chances are your first few hours with the game will be spent fumbling along at lower difficulty settings. In time, though, the layout becomes intuitive and you soon pick up how to arch your fingers to meet the sterner demands of hard and expert levels. The fact the buttons are now closer together means you hardly ever have to glance away from the screen. It is a small change, when notes are hurtling towards you ten a penny, it is a vital one.

The acting in Live mode is questionable but the footage lends the game energy

The familiar career mode, now known as Live, has also had a root and branch overhaul. The cartoon style graphics depicting your performances have been ditched in favour of live action footage. While this might rob your budding guitarist of their individuality and introduce some questionable acting, the new look gives performances a burst of energy. Play well and you will look down over a sea of delirious gig goers; pull a stinker and your bandmates will shoot daggers at you and the crowd will turn.

The biggest change, however, is the introduction of Guitar Hero TV, a series of channels broadcasting music videos across a range of genres 24/7. Instead of picking a song of their choice, players can log on to streams and riff for as long as they please, in the process earning tokens that allow them to play songs of their choice. The system has incurred the wrath of those who regard it as a cynical ploy to bolster microtransactions, but in truth, the curatorial approach works wonders, keeping you on edge and adding a degree of unpredictability to proceedings.

The sacrifices are worth it when you consider the roster of improvements

The downside is that some players will feel less inclined to try and master a fiendishly difficult song on expert difficulty - one of the great attractions of previous Guitar Hero games - but it is a sacrifice that is worth it when you consider the wealth of improvements elsewhere. The series could easily have stuck to the same old formula but Live is a welcome and surprising innovative leap.


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Even if you consider yourself to be a Guitar Hero expert, don’t jump into the deep end and start playing Live at an extreme difficulty level. The new guitar takes time to master so go easy at first.

Combo notes are easier to achieve with the new button layout so be sure to play the tutorial and practice at it under you can boost your multiplier each time.

Experiment with each of the seven power-ups available in the game. For beginners, the bomb that clears the screen of notes is a useful tool.