PAX Prime 2015: Guitar Hero Live Hands-On Preview – Strumming Along

I’m awful at Guitar Hero. I can play violin, piano, guitar, and viola in real life, but I can’t seem to translate those skills into this musical game. Still, despite my inability to be good at it, I think I’ll pick up Guitar Hero Live when it releases in October.

A lot of things are new in Guitar Hero Live, and a lot of these things are improvements. For starters, there is a new guitar. Instead of having five buttons all in a row, it has six buttons not in a row. Instead, there are two rows of three buttons at the top, with one row featuring black keys, and the other, white. During gameplay, some notes will show up as black, and some as white, allowing the player to know which row to use. The developers told me this was done so that players wouldn’t need to slide their hand down the guitar to try to find buttons. It was also done to allow players to do barre chords, meaning they put their finger across two buttons at the same time.

Live Like a Rockstar

Another thing that is new is the “Live” mode, which gives the player the feeling of actually being a, uh, guitar hero. In this mode, the classic Guitar Hero button image shows up on the screen (like the screenshot above shows), but behind that animation lies a stage and a horde of fans. The camera moves around a lot, showing hundreds of fans and sometimes looking at fellow band members, with the idea being that whatever the camera sees is actually what you would see if you were actually in a band.

It’s a cool idea, and what makes it cooler is that the developers actually recorded fans jamming out to the song, so their expressions, attitudes, and moods make sense. An fact, it all makes so much sense that when you start to do poorly (and I did poorly more than once during my time with the game), the fans actually start looking angry, and will throw things at you. It’s both hilarious and intimidating, but it’s still nicer than simply being kicked from the game, as some of the old Guitar Hero games would do when you began doing very poorly.

Music Killed the TV Star

Besides the Live mode, there is also a new “TV” mode. In this mode, there are two TV “channels,” with one streaming pop-y music videos, and the other streaming rock-y music videos. Players can jump into the music videos at any time, and can begin either singing along or strumming along. It’s a fun idea, and what makes it more fun is that it’s multiplayer. Players from all around will all see the same music video, and Guitar Hero will pit players of equal skill with each other so that they may face-off. There are a lot of music videos already set to the channels, and the developers told me that these will be switched up every so often once the game releases.

Besides simply playing the modes to have fun, players can also play to earn things like coins or “plays.” Coins may be used to buy different customization options, while plays can be used to “play” through a song that has left the live TV streaming, but can still be seen in the streaming playlist. These “plays” can also be purchased with real money instead of being earned, in case you were wondering.

Luckily for me, there are five different skill levels. I saw one of the developers play through a song on “Expert,” the hardest difficulty, and it is just as fast-paced and crazy as you could hope for. But, for people who might need a bit of practice before attempting anything tricky, there are two easier modes that only utilize the white row of buttons, taking away the difficulty of having  the either use barre chords or having to switch between the two rows. At the same time, like past Guitar Hero games, there are certain songs that are simply either far easier or far harder to play than others.

Rock On!

Like I said before, I don’t typically like Guitar Hero games, but I did like Guitar Hero Live. The new controller made things easier for me, especially when playing on an easier difficulty, and the Live mode really made the game feel more realistic and interactive. At the same time, the idea of the TV mode seemed really intriguing, although how well it actually turns out depends on how many people play online. If you like the classic Guitar Hero titles, it might take a while to get used to the new controller, but from what I’ve seen, it will be worth it.