Backstage at this year’s most experimental revival
Faced with the Pointless category of Videogame Publishers Renowned For Taking Risks, you’d stand a pretty good chance of advancing to the next round if you plumped for Activision. With a Call Of Duty game arriving for the big winter holiday sales season of every year since 2003, the company has built a reputation for identifying what works, and then giving us some more of it, albeit with twists to the ingredients. Apparently the FIFA bods over at EA Sports could hardly process the news when they were told to surrender the game industry’s Most Likely To Announce A Sequel trophy after having the category sewn up for so long.
Against this backdrop, Guitar Hero Live manages to be a surprise on multiple levels. Unlike 2008’s Guitar Hero World Tour, the new game is focused not on filling your living room with instruments, along with friends to thrash them, but solo play. And there’d be no need to drag out all of that old kit, anyway, because Live can only be played with a new controller that demands a fresh approach from millions of fingers accustomed to millions of hours spent playing so many guitar games past. Then there’s presentation. In Live, instead of watching a band play on stage as you perform, you inhabit the guitarist, a firstperson perspective presenting a view across the all-important audience. Which happens to be not a bunch of 3D models but filmed footage of real, living people.
Guitar Hero Live, then, is the opposite of the easy option. Activision is playing against its image and layering risk upon risk, asking developer Freestyle Games to experiment in order to give new life to what once seemed a played-out series. In the process, the studio has faced the sort of challenges that are never listed in game industry recruitment ads. Like wrestling with a two-tonne robotic camera rig, picking through smashed-up Xbox 360 controllers, and trying to make a pitch-perfect choir sound drunk. In our access-all-areas story, the company’s creative leads explain exactly what it takes to get us to care about plastic guitars all over again.