Rhythm and music-based games were insanely popular for a time, but tanked pretty hard after 2008. 2015 is looking to bring back the genre to some degree with Activision’s Guitar Hero Live, which we got to spend some time rocking out with at San Diego Comic Con’s (SDCC) Xbox Lounge.
There are only so many changes you can make with a game like Guitar Hero, but developer FreeStyleGames managed to make two significant changes.
First, a name like Guitar Hero Live stresses the beloved element of live music so because of that, we have a new atmosphere to play within. Rather than animated settings, you’ll be rocking out with a filmed band and crowd. For the demo at least, the camera maintained a first-person view for the entire one-song set. Our rocker occasionally turned to face the bandmates, but focused on the excited crowd. It’s not really a super meaningful change. Activision’s big thing was that the crowd would react in a negative way if you started to choke, but that’s not any different than animated Guitar Hero. Does it make it worse to see humans rather than animation? Not really, but we never played so poorly that they were seriously booing, and that was in spite of some new controls.
Notes flowed down pretty much the same way, but the second major change is with the guitar controller. Comfortable in terms of size and weight, the key buttons have moved from a five-key set to one that features six keys stacked three-on-three. The on-screen keys will let you know which row you need to hit. White/downward facing keys will indicate the bottom row, black/upward facing will require the top row, and a combination will mean both need to be pressed. This is where things got a little funky and not in that Grand Funk Railroad way (for the record, I played “Gold on the Ceiling” by The Black Keys while Danreb played “Light Em Up” by Fall Out Boy). Knowing what you’re supposed to press isn’t confusing, but executing could definitely introduce a new learning curve.
Old muscle memory kicked in, which caused all five fingers to be used, causing the third key down in both rows to be consistently missed. You’ll need to stick to using your index, middle and ring fingers and kick any habits of using your pinky. With only a one song demo, it’s difficult to place a time on the learning curve, but it’s likely to be at least a fair setlist of material for casual players. We didn’t find this all too comfortable for the one-shot deal.
Available to play were “Ceiling”, Pierce the Veil’s “King for a Day”, and Fall Out Boy’s “My Song Knows What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”, but there will be a few dozen eclectic songs to rock through when Guitar Hero Live releases October 20.