Preview Event Report – Guitar Hero Live

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If you’ve listened to the podcast or read any of our previous coverage for Guitar Hero Live, it’s pretty certain that you already know that both Josh and myself were pretty impressed with the direction this game is taking the franchise. Before our time with it at E3, we were both pretty skeptical when it was announced, and both of us said, in essence, “oh no, another one.”

What we saw and played though, was a return to the roots of the Guitar Hero franchise. Gone were the multiple instruments, gone were the lazy tabs placements, and gone were the songs that didn’t really fit into what many would consider “not really a guitar-focused” tune.

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We haven’t seen a new entry in the series since 2011, after Activision put forward a forced hiatus, and to me, I was impressed with the decision. Rhythm games in general were starting to get somewhat stale, and for me, the Guitar Hero series was showing those signs more than any other.

When Eric Hirshberg took the stage in NYC at the beginning of 2015 however, it was immediately evident that Activision realized this more than anyone, and the glimpse they offered that day showed a very different take on the genre in recent iterations. Now, they’ve taken the franchise back to its roots by being laser-focused on the Guitar and the songs that accent that ideal.

Not satisfied with only that change though, they surprised everyone by also displaying the new mechanics of the on-stage performance, and for the first time instead of watching along with the crowd, you ARE the guitar player in the band, and everything is played from your perspective on stage. The first time you truly see it while you’re playing, it will all make sense, and man does it work!

But I don’t want to rewrite what Josh already did after our time with Guitar Hero Live at E3, so you can check his impressions out here. Now four months later, and only weeks before the October 20th release, I’m in Los Angeles to play a near-final build of the game. Much more of the game is available now, most notably the newly available Singing option, which was revealed not too long ago. What’s also new is an abundance of new songs to try, and they’re also a bit further along with how in-game currency is handled, available add-on’s, and a more complete GHTV.

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First, vocals. It’s pretty obvious that the option was added to make the game a bit more accessible when friends are over, and I’m very happy it’s there. My left hand has a ton of nerve damage, so I’ve only ever been able to go “so far” in terms of difficulty settings in any guitar-based game, but I can sing (poorly).

The implementation is straightforward, and essentially any USB microphone can be used, which they expect that everyone already has. So not surprisingly, they aren’t including a microphone in the Guitar Hero Live bundle. Again, I’m ok with this because even if you don’t have a USB microphone, they’re easy to find. Not including it keeps the cost of the bundle down, and isn’t that what everyone wants?

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Next, the new guitar controller. Simply put, it works, it works really well. Gone are the five sequential buttons on the neck. Instead, they’ve been replaced by two rows of three buttons. So for beginners, they only have to contend with three buttons instead of five, and the progression to the tougher difficulties has a better curve, ending with a better challenge at the hardest settings than guitar-based games of the past. You’re now able to pull-off real chord shapes by moving your fingers up and down along with back-and-forth, which will take you a couple of songs to get used to. But once you do, it’ll just *click*, and that’s when you can truly dig into the game comfortably.

Fortunately, Josh and I have both had a couple of other opportunities to play the game at other events, so I already felt comfortable with it as soon as we were able to get hands-on. After a brief presentation by Tyler Michaud, Senior Director of Product Management at Activision, we were set loose upon the numerous stations set up throughout the two main rooms.

This time around, the festivals weren’t available to play, but I found a deeper playlist to dig into for one-time plays. It also felt like more songs were included in GHTV as well, so I started there simply to get my head wrapped around the new guitar controls again. As before, it took around 2 songs to get that muscle memory back, and then I got my groove back, but not like Stella.

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Early in the evening, I got a chance to interview Pete Bucknall, Producer at FreeStyle Games which will be included in Episode 440 of the podcast. Unfortunately, they’re still not revealing any details on how the in-game currency will work, from what it can actually be used for, how much you’ll need to use for those items, what the items will be, and what the pricing will be if you want to simply purchase it with real money.

What we do know though is that it can be earned in the game, and from what it sounds like, you can earn it in every mode. The other question that couldn’t be answered yet was anything about possible online play (beside having the challenge meter on the left side of the screen in GHTV). So, in other words, we still don’t know if there will be any actual online head-to-head play available (which I would like at least).

But never fear because there’s a lot of content in the package from day one. The way they’ve set things up with Guitar Hero TV alone, you don’t have to keep purchasing new songs, and they’ve made it clear that they plan on adding new content on a regular basis. We still haven’t seen exactly how things will work on GHTV, but how it’s been explained is that, on day one there will be two channels available, each with different genres of content running. It sounds like on each channel, these genres will run in blocks, almost like hour-long shows as if you were watching MTV back when they actually played music.

So for example, on Channel 1 you might find an hour of Country, and on Channel 2 you might find and hour of Metal, with both channels running 24 hours a day. They even run fake commercials every few songs to give you a break, and the ones I’ve seen were pretty cool. GHTV is also set up really well if you want to just leave it running in the background at a party or get-together. You can either use it for background music, or at any time anyone can just pick a guitar or microphone up and start playing.

It’s a seamless transition, a great way to let your friends (or enemies) earn XP for you, and to maybe get the party rolling. It’s a truly innovative mechanic for a game like this, and to me, this is definitely Guitar Hero Live’s secret weapon. It definitely has the potential to keep things fresh without having to go to the hip.

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But maybe there’s a song or songs that you want to play “right now”. There are a couple of ways that can be handled, and one of those options also allows you to do so without spending any of your own money. First, yes, you can essentially “buy” a song with your cash, and it will be available for play indefinitely and completely unrestricted. Or, if you do play the game enough, you’ll eventually earn “Plays”, which are specifically used to unlock a song for play at your whim.

The “play” is a one-time use however, and doesn’t unlock the song past one play at a time. So if you want to practice a song that’s not in the core playlist, you’ll either have to keep burning “plays” or simply purchase the song outright. Again, this aspect of the game hasn’t been fully explained yet, but we should have that information soon (especially since the game is out in about six weeks.)

The other announcement that we received that night was that if you pre-order the game, you’ll receive three songs from Avenged Sevenfold; Shepherd of Fire, Buried Alive, and Nightmare which are all accompanied by video shot at one of the their live shows. Even cooler was that the announcement was made by M. Shadows, the lead singer from the group.

I also got the opportunity to sit with Matt and talk about their involvement with the game, gaming in general, and what their plans for the future are. Depending on the audio quality, the entire interview will either be included in Episode 440 of the podcast, or I’ll get it transcribed and posted in a separate article. I will say though that he was a lot of fun to talk to, and you could tell how honestly enthused he was to be a part of the new Guitar Hero.

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So, impressions up to this point? I like that they’ve gone back to the roots of the series by boiling it back down to the “Guitar” focus of Guitar Hero. In a rare occurrence, it’s not simply PR hype when they talk about how the game can be “easier on the easy setting, and yet tougher at the higher difficulties,” and this can primarily be attributed to the new ‘two rows of three buttons’ design on the new controller.

Don’t let the change scare you though, because with five available difficulty settings, the game allows you to ease your way in. There’s a great deal of variety in terms of how you can play the game to suit almost anyone, and the interface is easy to navigate.

In terms of music genres though, I do fear that even though they talk about focusing on a wide variety, the playlist still seems dominated by some heavy stuff. I could cite quite a few bands and artists that would be considered masters with their respective axes even though they’d be known for styles like Country, Rockabilly, and other stuff that you don’t hear on the radio very often.

Don’t get me wrong though, the known playlist that we’ve seen so far shows emphatically that the team knows what they’re doing. They’ve curated an excellent group of songs so far, and the prospects for the future are excellent. Also, GHTV allows them to widen the breadth of genres with very little involvement from the gamers’ point-of-view. You won’t have to purchase and download tracks all of the time, but instead simply go to a GHTV channel to start playing the new stuff.

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What I like most though, is that Guitar Hero Live is different enough to exist in the same space as Rock Band 4. They both stand apart in some very key and distinct areas, and as something that I haven’t been able to say about a game in this series for a long time, Guitar Hero Live seems to be a worthy successor to what are considered the best entries in the series from the past.

*Full Disclosure* Glenn’s flights and hotel were provided by Activision for this event.

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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  • Elliott Rudner

    Online is definitely in the game, at rank 10 “Pro Face Off” is unlocked.

    • Right, but they won’t give-up any details really. I actively asked in our interview and they would offer any answers yet