A New Beginning
I’ll admit, I surprised myself the day Guitar Hero Live was released. Having decided earlier on in the month that Rock Band 4 was surely where my money would be spent, I refrained from purchasing it. The game was too much of the same, and too costly. The DLC sounded like a nightmare of a time in order to transfer over to a new generation, and the crowning achievement of the franchise, Beatles Rock Band, failed to even make the cut. 250 dollars in reckless spending was averted, at least until the urge kicked in again; I was going to play one of these damn games. For the last time in my life, I was going to re-live the craze that started ten years ago, only to quickly die due to oversaturation. It was then that I thought that if this was going to be the swan song of the music peripheral genre, I’d at least go with the more insane option. The end result from Activision is an fresh and innovative guitar scheme muddled by a terrible tracklist and questionable design decisions.
Guitar Hero Live is a self-indulgent, shameless parody of a video game. Whereas Harmonix chooses to play it safe with its final Rock Band game, Activision decides to utilize full freaking motion video for a triple-A 2015 release. The end result, all of which can be experienced in the game’s “Guitar Hero Live” career mode, is one of the most preposterous visual experiences I can ever recall having. The Live mode features “you,” a faceless guitar hero (in first person mode no less) who must perform in front of tens of thousands of enthusiastic young adults. Technicians, roadies, and your band members greet you on stage as if you are a god, complete with ridiculous facial expressions and typical “bro-speak.”
But not all of it is fun and games; miss a few notes and suddenly the entire venue turns on you. What was once a blissful atmosphere quickly transforms into a hilarious cacophony of boos and disgusted looks. The drummer will begin shaking his head disgustedly, the once positive signs of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “You Rock!” become “Boooring” and “No! No! No!” The effect is integrated seamlessly into gameplay via a motion blur edit. While it’s a neat idea, the player will be so distracted with the note highway that all of the fun fan interaction is happening way off in the periphery.
This mode would be tolerable if not for the music I had the displeasure of performing. Now I get that I may come off as a bit of a music snob, and I really do understand Activision’s decision to stick with hits from the past ten years, but even if we were discussing this from the perspective of “music tastes being subjective,” a good portion of these tracks hardly even feature guitar! Skrillex and Eminem, to name a couple, strike me more as additions to a new DJ Hero (Freestyle’s last game) rather than Guitar Hero. But if you enjoy the Black Keys, Green Day, or Fallout Boy, then good Lord, this game is for you.
The guitar itself remains the single greatest thing about this beast. Eschewing the horribly dated five fret neck board, GH Live offers a new take on things: three frets, six buttons total, and two on each fret. Even on regular difficulty, this is an incredibly difficult thing to acclimate to. To make things even more intense, bar chords and open notes have been added, making for a somewhat closer approximation to the instrument than the previous model. Having easily been cruising on expert in Rock Band for the past few years, I’ve only attempted a handful of songs on Live’s expert mode so far. Advanced offers the most reasonable challenge for me at the moment.
The other mode other than the FMV addled Live is the new, intriguing idea of Guitar Hero TV. Like Spotify or Netflix, TV is a streaming channel showcasing blocks of music in real time. For instance, log on at 3:30 and you could be faced with enduring a half hour of current metal, but wait until 4 and there might be something more along your preference. It’s also worth noting that the tracklist is completely different as well, allowing for a wider span in years. Though a much more palatable selection than the GH Live stuff, you can’t officially buy any of the tracks in TV. There’s an intriguing randomness element to it all that I thought I’d appreciate, but after an hour of trudging through selections I disliked, I’ve never gone back to it save for playing songs I actually liked with the credits I’d earned. And that’s the thing; like a jukebox, Guitar Hero Live does offer you a way to play specifically the songs you want, but the game eventually limits how many tokens you can earn. There is a package you can buy to gain access to all of the songs for a day, but this way seems backwards.
I wanted to love Guitar Hero Live, but I feel it ultimately just wasn’t the time for a new one of these games. The song choices certainly didn’t help, nor did the questionable ways in which to play the actual, you know, songs themselves. After having no interest in playing a new Rock Band, when Rock Band 1 was among my favorite games of the last generation, makes me really wonder if one of these games ever does need to exist again. The new guitar was fun to learn (disregarding a few calibration hiccups early on), but if we’re being honest here, the tried and true method of five buttons just seems like the only way. And that’s the true tragedy here...even if Guitar Hero Live was to feature the best tracklist of all time, and even if it had been presented in a better way than FULL. MOTION. VIDEO...I still don’t think I’d be truly in love with this game, because quite frankly, music games have come and gone. RIP.