Guitar Hero Live Review

Developer: FreeStyleGames
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: October 20th, 2015
Available On:
Mobile, Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Rhythm

Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.

For the longest time Guitar Hero would see several new entries every year. After the not so successful 2010 release of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock the series has been missing in action, along with most music games in general. Yet 2015 saw them suddenly come back, and Guitar Hero returns with Guitar Hero Live. Is a redesigned business model and guitar enough to bring the crowds back though?

The big new feature is the completely redesigned guitar controller. Instead of having five buttons in a line there are two rows of three buttons. This allowed me to have easier access hitting the buttons, and I never felt like I had to twist my fingers into weird shapes to hit that fifth button. Not to say Guitar Hero Live is easier because of this, it took me a while to figure out how to correctly work out how to get the controller working. Yet I feel like this new controller is a massive improvement over the old Guitar Hero controller and I’m really excited to hopefully see it continued to get used.

Guitar Hero Live is broken into two sections: the single player Live section and the online TV one. Live is set up as two rock shows where you play as the guitarist for various different bands. Each band plays a set of three to five songs usually focusing around one genre. One band plays metal song, another focuses on British rock, while a third is geared towards popular hits. There’s a little something for everyone here, though if you plan to finish all the sets then there’s probably going to be at least one you’re not going to enjoy.

With a total of 42 songs, some of the songs don’t quite fit as well as I would hope. Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Do in the Dark (Light ‘em Up)” and OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” are fun songs, but they don’t make good Guitar Hero songs as they mostly consists of hitting the same notes over and over. I’m also upset that they have gone back to locking songs: if you want to play individual songs then you have to finish up all the bands in the live mode.

One of the big new features of the Live mode is that there’s an audience behind the note highway that reacts to how good or bad you’re playing. It’s done with all the hilarious cheesiness you would expect: it seems like every member of the audience was told to just go wild with either love or hate. The band members themselves are even more hilarious: at various points of the show the camera would zoom in on them, and they give you looks of hilarious bewilderment. It’s like you’re some random guy who jumped on the stage to either rock out or mess up their song, rather than the guitarist that has been with the band for a long time. The videos are more like a goofy bonus for people who can pay attention to both the notes and the video, so they don’t change how the game is played at all.

The online TV feature is a major change-up from how Guitar Hero used to work. Working like a streaming service, at all times there are two “channels” playing different songs. You can hop onto a channel which will play three random songs, a few ads, then three more songs and continue this. The TV section features its own tracklist (of over 300 songs) with new songs being added every week. If you want to play a specific song then you need to spend a Play Token to do that. You can earn Play Tokens for leveling up, buy them with in game money that you earn by playing songs and logging in daily, or spend actual money on them. You can also buy an unlimited pass which lets you play as many songs as you want for 24 hours. The new system could be controversial to fans, but it has its place. It’s more for people who intend to play songs only one or two times rather than a high score chaser. The 24 hour pass is basically made for parties, and is a much better alternative than having to buy several songs everyone may want and never touching them again afterwords.

While playing on the TV mode, either in the channels or by picking a song, you always play with the song’s music video. This does come with some strange disadvantages. Some songs, like “Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let it End” by Spector and “Tribute” by Tenacious D, tend to interrupt their music videos for sketch comedy. This leads to sections where nothing is playing, sometimes throwing off the flow of the song entirely. Other songs, like “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit or “The Wire” by HAIM, have noises from the music video in the song that I sometimes found distracting. Still, these are a small price to pay and TV’s massive set list and surprisingly addictive streaming channels had me coming back constantly to check out what’s new and just kill an hour.

Guitar Hero Live has some kinks to work out. The Live mode still sticks by locked songs for some awful reason, the campaign is bare bones, plus both Live and TV’s song choices aren’t the best. Yet the amazing new guitar, the fun of seeing the goofy crowd reactions, and the genuinely fun TV streaming mode are a massive success. While we may have to wait for some patches or a sequel to make it the perfect rhythm game, Guitar Hero Live is already well worth investing in as it is.