Guitar Hero Live Hands-On Preview – Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Guitar Hero is a weird franchise for me. When I heard that it was in development all of those years ago, I thought it was a fantastic idea. A game where you get to play out the fantasy of being a Guitar God? That sounded pretty awesome, especially since I was in a Metal band at the time (MetalBeast for life!). This was sure to be one of the best games ever released.

Then I actually played it.

I had my first encounter with the now infamous plastic axe at a Best Buy in the city. After some kids had their turn with the game, I stepped up and strapped the colorful axe around me. I picked “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest since I already knew how to play it on an actual guitar. I soon learned however that knowing how to play a song in real life doesn’t mean you can play it in Guitar Hero. That was the last time I played a game in the series.

Segue to April 2015 where I find myself at the reveal event for Guitar Hero Live. Despite my previous experience with the series, I was impressed by what I saw. The game was being redesigned from the ground up to make it more accessible to casual players but to also challenge the hardcore fans of the series. What grabbed my interest was the redesigned controller which seemed to mimic an actual guitar. It was still a big piece of plastic of course, having six buttons, but the fact that you had to do things like power chords made it all seem more appealing to me as a guitar player.


I didn’t get to try the game out at the event (our very own Anthony Nash did a fantastic job of covering it since he’s an old-school Guitar Hero fan), but I finally did last week during a private event here in New York City. This was at a hotel suite, a far cry from the crowded Best Buy Theater, but I preferred this as it gave me a more intimate look into what the game has to offer. Also, the free grub was nice… but I digress.

Things went a bit bad for me at the beginning. I have next to no muscle memory for this game so I barely hit any notes on my first try. Trying to remember that I had to contend with three black and three white buttons instead of four colored buttons was jarring at first. I had to dial back the difficulty to “Casual” so that I was only required to use the bottom three white buttons. I was able to do this on the fly by pausing the game and adjusting the difficulty. There is even an easier mode under casual where you’re only required to strum along and not have to worry about pressing buttons. This is great for kids who just want to play along for fun… or for those who are too drunk to play properly.

Though I did well on casual, it was a bit too easy for me so I played the rest of the songs on Regular. As I played, I got better as my brain figured out what to tell my fingers. I felt the need to continue to try and improve as well. Whereas the last Guitar Hero made me want to stop playing, this one fueled a drive within me to continue. The guitar having two rows of black and white buttons was also a big help because it made the controller feel like a guitar and allowed for a more guitar-ish play style.

guitar hero live

Power chords were done by pressing two buttons at once. This could be either two black buttons, two white ones, or a combination of white and black. I also appreciated how solos, which are usually done on the bottom three strings of a guitar, were always done on the bottom white buttons. Whenever I knew a solo was coming, I’d be ready to stay on that bottom row. The heavy power chords were always done on the top black buttons just like your would on the top three strings of a guitar.

Unlike previous games, you aren’t looking up at a digital band, but are actually IN the band. The main game has you on stage with your band mates as you look out over a crowd of fans, and in different venues, from small clubs, to massive, Rock in Rio-esque arenas. There are no in-game graphics to speak of, as everything in the game is Full Motion Video. This was done to make it feel more realistic and give people the experience of actually playing in front of a crowd.

This leads to a whole different dynamic being introduced; the fear of failure. Whenever you mess up, or in my case, completely and utterly suck, the crowd will begin to give you disgusted faces and sneer at you. The worst is the reaction by your band mates who look at you with so much disappointment that you just want to run off stage and hide in a hole. However, this fear of being resented is also what will inspire you to get better to win back the approval of your band and fans.

I switched back and forth between the game’s two modes, but the real meat and potatoes can be found in Guitar Hero TV. This is essentially like an on-demand type of channel where a variety of songs are available at different times of the day. Unlike the regular mode of the game where you play in front of a crowd, in GHTV, you are playing along while watching a music video. This opens up the game significantly as there are countless music videos out there and the game itself will feature hundreds of songs.

guitar hero live on stage

My overall experience with Guitar Hero Live was a great one and I had a lot of fun learning how to virtually rock out. There is a lot more to say about the various modes in the game but that information is something we’ll share with you all in due time. For now, just know that this game has the potential to bring back Guitar Hero in a big way.

Guitar Hero Live will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U on October 20.

About The Author
Tony Polanco Executive Editor
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