Hands on with Guitar Hero Live

GH Live 6It’s been five years since the last Guitar Hero game was released, a quiet, unspectacular demise. 2010, it seems, was the end of an era. For those of us who have really begun to miss the music genre, there is much to look forward to in 2015. The Guitar Hero franchise is coming back on October 20th with Guitar Hero Live. Activision put together a sneak preview event, and we were there to play it.

Before we got a chance to play at the individual kiosks, M. Shadows, the lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold, took the stage and announced a few tracks for GH Live. The song that was demoed included multi-camera live concert footage. They also showed off a special note track design and hit effect with the Avenged Sevenfold logo.

Our hands-on time with GH Live was limited to a little more than two hours, but it was enough to leave with very positive impressions. Game modes were not fully accessible in this build, so I’ll focus on the music and gameplay you can expect and save the rest for the review. There were only a handful of songs in Live mode (the main campaign mode), and GHTV had one channel available. Thankfully, there was an open playlist in GHTV where a ton of songs were unlocked, and that is where I spent most of my time.

If you’ve followed the development of GH Live, you know the guitar controller has been given a redesign, and with it, so changes the gameplay. The five buttons in a row are now replaced with six buttons stacked in two rows on top of one another. The buttons are also now flush with each other instead of being spread apart, which allows for more natural sliding between chords. In theory, that is. In practice, there is a thin metal separator between the buttons that makes this a little harder than hoped.

I began with GHTV and started playing right in the middle of the current song. Someone had given me a tip before we even started playing that instead of looking at the color of the notes on the track (white on the bottom and black on top), I should focus on the direction the note is facing (they are shaped like picks with the white pointing down and the black pointing up). On medium difficulty, and with my past experience with Guitar Hero, I found myself putting together 100+ combos before the second song was over. While medium and below will be perfectly playable for any skill level, I think the simplicity takes away from the magic that makes you feel like you are playing along with the song.

Above medium difficulty were advanced and expert. I spent the rest of the evening on advanced and found it to be the perfect introduction to learning the controller and feeling connected with the music. At this level you begin to see, beyond just more notes, a smattering of chords on the note track. I had a chance to talk to one of the musicians from Freestyle who worked on the note tracks. He said they really tried to achieve the chord shapes one would use when playing the song on a guitar, and it shows. I smiled to myself at the first heavy rock song that I played with chords of a white and black note on top of each other (picture your index finger pushing down one column of buttons), which is just like playing in drop D tuning.

Unfortunately the time flew by. I probably played close to a couple dozen different songs in my time, and I loved it. Guitar Hero has that uncanny ability to make me enjoy playing and listening to music that otherwise wouldn’t be on my radar. GHTV, given the little glimpse that I got, is going to be amazing. The number of songs there, that is continually growing, is staggering. If Guitar Hero had lost its magic over past iterations, this brought it all back for me. I’m anxiously awaiting the official release and a chance to pour through all the new content.

Guitar Hero Live screens: