Take a quick look at the comments on Guitar Hero Live’s reveal trailer on YouTube, and you will find a laundry list of complaints, the majority of which are actually understandable. Bringing in the realistic crowd and first-person perspective has disappointed fans who like being able to customize their character. The emphasis on the new six-button guitar, with the frets arranged in two rows of three, means that the drums and vocals have been dropped and that none of your plastic guitars in storage somewhere are compatible with the game anymore.
Furthermore, some expert players feel that the two rows would be too easy, particularly without the pinky finger. As someone who can normally five-star every song in Guitar Hero on Expert, I was dubious too. But with my hands-on time with a PS4 build of Guitar Hero Live behind closed doors, I now appreciate the direction that FreeStyleGames and Activision are taking with the reboot, and one thing’s for sure: It’s not easy.
The most challenging part of Guitar Hero Live is reading the notes that run down the highway. Instead of each lane corresponding to a particular fret, there are only three lanes that can correspond to three different notes: a white note, a black note, and a white/black note (where you have to hold both frets in that row). On top of that, there are open notes that require an strum without holding any buttons down, and any of the non-open notes can have a lightning bolt symbol on them that earn you star power if you nail the sequence. Thankfully, activating star power here will help protect you from the negative reactions of the crowd if there’s a particular section that you find tricky.
It took some adjustment to figure out where to place my fingers, especially with the speed at which the notes were coming at the screen. After finishing one song on Regular just to get my bearings, I attempted another song on Advanced which was a huge leap in difficulty, with the notes asking my hand to move between each row and hold chords with buttons on different rows (all with the calibration being a bit off, by the way). Off to the side, I saw one of the developers complete Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” on Expert, which required three-fret chords which has an almost ridiculous pattern of notes. (I can’t wait.)
I found that the “live” aspect of the realistic audience to be an incredible technical feat. Immersively placing you into a music festival based in either the US or the UK, the game will have your band members and the crowd react to how you’re performing in a song on the fly. Miss several notes and the lead singer will give you scowls in disgust and the audience will start throwing bottles at you. I’m not sure how "realistic" this is, and I think the negative crowd reaction could put off new players, but after a minute of focusing on the notes themselves, I didn't mind the background at all.
One of the most important aspects to understand about Guitar Hero Live is the inclusion of Guitar Hero TV. The explanation of this feature was difficult to wrap my head around at first, but in essence, it’s a reworked expansion of the typical DLC store. Playing at any given time are several channels representing various genres of music, paired with their actual music videos in the background. Not only will this introduce people to new music apart from the song list that's available in the main Live portion of the game, but you can play along with the songs on the channel to earn in-game credits and play tokens which will allow you to access any song in the entire catalogue as sort of free trial.
In that way, FreestyleGames is embracing streaming technology so that you can experience any one of the hundreds of songs that will be available when Guitar Hero launches. If you like a particular song, you can purchase it as DLC; if you don’t, you can try it and forget it. Better yet, for parties the developers are providing an option to purchase a time pass where anyone in your group can access any song in the catalogue for a limited time.
At the same time, Guitar Hero TV is its own mode, combining elements of an RPG as well as challenge-based playlists. Here, players can level up, earn in-game currency, change up their star power, and purchase upgrades to their multipliers like adding more power-note sections and boosting the standard multiplier higher than 4x. You can also buy premium currency for expedience, getting you instant access to challenge playlists and a quick conversion into in-game credits if you need it. That said, you won’t need any premium HC currency so long as you continue playing the various modes in Guitar Hero TV.
Hardcore Guitar Hero players will want to focus their energy on the premium playlists, which can be unlocked using premium currency or by completing three goals that usually require you to earn a certain star rating on several songs. Placing well in these playlists will earn you special highways and other cosmetic items on your player card that can’t be earned anywhere else.
Guitar Hero Live will release on October 2 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U at around a $99.99 price point for both the game and the six-button guitar.