Heading into October we fully expected to be in love with Rock Band 4 and to see Guitar Hero Live as an interesting novelty. Now we’ve had Guitar Hero for a week Rock Band 4 is already starting to gather dust.
The most obvious change with this entry in the Guitar Hero series is the ‘Live’ part, which is made up of two separate game modes. The first is a campaign where you join various different bands on stage to play through sets of music. This time all of the gigs themselves have been videoed live and you see them all in the first person. Bandmates talk to you, the crowd cheer for you, bottles get thrown at you. There’s still feedback for how you’re doing and different recordings have been made for different reactions – do well and the crowd will be cheering, everyone will be having a great time and various kinds of craziness ensue in each set. Do badly and it becomes incredibly awkward, with fans often looking more disappointed than angry, occasionally even breaking down into tears while your bandmates scowl at you with disdain. Of course this is a family friendly game so it’s a very refined version of live music but the producers have clearly captured the essence of different kinds of festival, from more intimate club shows to hippy love ins and metal shows complete with pyrotechnics. You’ll laugh at just how enthusiastic every single member of the crowd is, you’ll wince at the groupie that bites her lip at you, you’ll regularly wonder just how they managed to direct so many people, but you will also really feel like you’re part of it and you’ll find yourself getting carried away. It might be cheesey as hell, but it’s so much fun you’d have to be stone-hearted to not enjoy it.
The second part of the experience is the genius Guitar Hero TV. There’s no DLC in Guitar Hero anymore, instead there’s a set of songs on the disc that you can play whenever you want, then there’s a much bigger set (over 200) that roll on two music channels that show different themed playlists on a schedule. You can just watch the music videos for these like a real music channel, or you can press a button on your guitar and immediately join in, competing on a leaderboard against a small group of other people who are playing at the same time. Sadly at the time of writing there’s no way to play against your friends, it’s all strangers, but it’s addictive and the temptation to stay online for just one more song is bolstered by the progress of unlocking new note highways and power ups.
If you want to play any of these songs a little more you can by using plays that you earn from playing along to the music channels. You can buy these with real money if you’d like but so far the game has been so generous with them it’s hard to see why you’d ever need to. If you do decide you want to break free of the constraints, you can pay just over £6 for a ‘party pass’ that lets you play any songs from the whole library whenever you want for 24 hours. Compared to paying £1.79 for each individual song, we see this as pretty good value but it’ll depend on what you use the games for as to how well it’ll work for you. If you just like playing casually, then it’s fantastic and means for the low entry price (£80 compared to £110 for Rock Band) you get access to a huge and constantly growing library of music. If you’re chasing high scores for your favourite songs, the system will be much more of a pain.
The new instrument now features two rows of three buttons rather than the traditional single row of five. This forces you to relearn all those skills you mastered over the years and in some songs provides a more accurate feeling of playing the real guitar, particularly with bar chords. It also makes the game feel incredibly hard and we had to drop the difficulty down to ‘advanced’ rather than ‘expert’ for a few days to get used to the new system. Once you’re up and running though it’s great. The guitar itself is solid enough and much like any plastic guitar you’ve used, albeit without the brightly coloured buttons, it’s a much more sedate black, white and brown affair.
One big problem we do have with the peripherals is a multiplayer issue. We were keen to try out the multiplayer (there is no online) so a friend brought round their guitar. With the bundle you get a little dongle that you plug into the USB port on your Xbox and it connects to the guitar. We couldn’t get it to work as whenever we synced one guitar, the other would lose its connection. After a quick search online we discovered that you need a separate dongle for each guitar, meaning you need to bring your dongle as well as the guitar with you if you’re looking for some local multiplayer. This seems ridiculous and was a right pain as we still haven’t tried the local multiplayer. Be aware if you try to do the same thing!
Overall this is a fantastic new version of Guitar Hero that feels genuinely fresh, as opposed to the much more conservative Rock Band sequel. The new guitar feels great and GHTV is one of the most addictive modes we’ve played in a game this year. Easy to recommend, even if the dongles are dumb.