I used to be good at Guitar Hero. Back in 2006, when rhythm games were the next big thing that most gamers thought was stupid because “why don’t you play a real instrument instead, you fake faking faker?” (SO WHY DON’T YOU GO TO A REAL WAR AND SHOOT A REAL GUN AT REAL PEOPLE INSTEAD, YOU FAKE FAKING FAKER?), I was hooked on Guitar Hero II. The disc didn’t leave my Xbox 360 for, like, six months. I finished it on Expert. I was single then. Anyway.
I used to be good at Guitar Hero.
I’m not good at Guitar Hero Live. In fact, I’ll go even further and say I’m bad at it. So bad. Just between us, I had to dial down to the middle “Regular” difficulty to start, and even now, about a week later, I’m only barely muddling through some stuff on Advanced. Expert? LOL NO. It’s not entirely my fault, though, because Guitar Hero Live is a totally new game that introduces a totally new controller and a totally new way to play. Everybody sucks at it, and that’s the point. This isn’t another dreary, predictable iteration in a franchise that choked to death on its own vomit in 2011 – it’s a complete reinvention, and you’ll have to learn to play all over again.
Welcome to the school of hard rocks (sorry).
Instead of five buttons in a row, the Guitar Hero Live controller features six buttons, arranged in two rows of three. It’s simple enough at first – you’re pressing maybe only one button for every five notes played, but as songs become more complicated, and you turn up the difficulty, you’ll be pressing multiple buttons at a time, with fast swaps, and often in “chord” combos between the top and bottom rows. I’ve played guitar for over 20 years, and even my fingers are mostly an awkward, fumbling mess.
Also different to previous games, Guitar Hero Live‘s campaign plays out as a series of themed festival performances, usually including three or four pre-defined songs in a setlist. It’s all rather razzle-dazzle glamorous – in full HD live action video, you’ll swagger out onto a stage with your bandmates, in front of millions of screeching fans, and be a sexy rockstar for 10 or 15 minutes. Or not. If you muck things up, your bandmates will glare and mutter at you – seriously, I thought my bassist was going to punch me during an especially abominable rendition of a Mumford & Sons song – and the fans will boo. It’s a legitimately impressive spectacle and obviously cost a lot of money to put together.
Once you’ve completed a setlist, those songs are unlocked in the game’s “Quickplay” mode, where you can also jam competitively with a second player if you have another controller, plus add in vocals if you’ve got a USB mic.
Apart from the campaign, Guitar Hero Live‘s other marquee mode is “GHTV”, an online-only, MTV-style, 24-hour music video channel with 200-something songs looping on a rotation schedule. You can basically just jump in, hang out, and play whatever is up next, forever, or you can spend single-use “Play Tokens” to choose a specific song. You’ll get one Play Token the first time you switch over to GHTV, but you can acquire more by levelling up or cashing in coins, earned in-game, or you can buy them with “Hero Cash” real money microtransactions. I’m not entirely convinced that locking out what you actually want to play like this is exactly… awesome, though, and there’s no way to permanently unlock a song on GHTV. Bummer.