Guitar Hero Live (XB1) Review

Too old to tour?

It feels like the year that time forgot. First we had a new Tony Hawk game, now a new Guitar Hero. Don’t get me wrong, these are two of my favorite franchises, and while they have been dormant, I was always curious how they would fare in the current landscape of gaming. I already delivered my thoughts on Tony Hawk, so now it is time to turn my attention to Guitar Hero. With Rock Band already out of the gate, and feeling more like it should have just been a free platform for DLC, Activision has decided to forget the past and bring the series in fresh. The results are a mixed bag of good ideas and poor implementation.

Let’s start with the most obvious change, the guitar. Guitar Hero Live has thrown away the idea of being a band game. The only options found here are guitar and vocals. The guitar itself is also completely different. The standard five-colored buttons are gone, and instead are replaced with two rows of three, top and bottom. The highway in the game only has three frets, and indicates which button to press with an up and down pick.

MSRP: $99.99
Platforms: XB1, PS4, Wii U, PS3, 360
Price I’d Pay: $69.99

There are also open chords, similar to expert bass in the classic style, and notes where players hold down both buttons on a given row. It is a lot to process, especially when the standard has been embedded in our brains for so many years. I usually play hard/expert on something like Rock Band, but even after hours of practice, I have still not been able to move past medium in Guitar Hero Live, and I know how to play a real guitar.

The actual stage presence is excellent. The videos they filmed for each set are high quality, and really drag players into the world of performing. When I started doing bad, they booed. When I was nearing failure status, the crowd would throw objects at me. It is really well done and integrated. The crowd also sings along, which is a nice touch. I did have some issues getting the calibration just right, which is odd considering Rock Band 4 was perfect right out of the box.

The second major change to the formula is how songs work. There are 42 songs on the disc that can be played in single player. They are a mix between traditional rock songs, and more popular tracks. It is weird playing Katy Perry and Skrillex in a Guitar Hero game, but that is where we are. The other portion is called GHTV, which requires an online connection. This is where things get weird.

So GHTV is a streaming service that lets players choose channels, based on musical style. These are constantly running, and players can drop in at any time. They will be competing with others in the same channel. The songs are always running so there is no option to just pick and play, unless they use play tokens. These are in-game currency earned through playing sets. They can be used to play one song per play token of their choice. Players can also purchase a party pass that gives them access to every single song available for 24 hours; these cost $5.99.

It is weird to see this method of delivering music. On one hand it is great for those that don’t want to drop tons of money on DLC for every new song. On the other hand I cannot pick and choose what songs I want in my playlist to own. There is no option to just “own” any song in the library, and it is worth noting that some songs could be removed over time due to licensing issues. It is a double-edged sword. I like the idea, but still prefer to just purchase and own the songs I really want to play.

I do really enjoy the presentation of GH TV. Music videos and concert footage of the bands play behind the note highway. It is a nice touch. Future songs will also include newly filmed footage for the performances. It is all very ambitious, but again starting over it is hard not to compare the paltry song list to Rock Band’s massive library of DLC.

The guitar itself is really well-designed, much sturdier than the Rock Band equivalent. The strum bar has more of a click to it, so that is worth noting for those that hate the sound. It also has a button below the strum bar for Hero Power, the replacement for Star Power. The big difference with Hero Power is that it can do more than multiply score. Power-ups can be purchased (with in-game currency) for new powers such as removing notes from the song.

A lot of the issues with GHTV is that it is confusing to understand how it works within the game. Players are used to just buying songs a la carte. The new six button setup will also throw players for a loop. Again, I totally respect the new direction, but the familiar tones of its competitor really draw me to prefer that offering. Plus I can play what songs I want, when I want. I will be interested to see how this game evolves over time, and I hope like Harmonix, they intend it just to be a platform. I don’t want to see Guitar Hero Live 2 next year. As it stands though, this is one purchase I am finding a hard time recommending to those that already bought into Rock Band’s ecosystem.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • The new guitar build quality
  • All songs are accessible
  • Great presentation
  • Six buttons gets overwhelming
  • Most songs are only online
  • GH TV is extremely confusing at first
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.