Gui­tar Hero Live

PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion De­vel­oper Freestyle Games For­mat PS4 (version tested), Xbox One Release Out now

Just ten years af­ter the se­ries’ in­cep­tion, its ti­tle fi­nally fits. What’s changed? Your per­spec­tive, shift­ing from some spec­tral boom arm loi­ter­ing just off­stage to stand­ing on the boards and look­ing out onto a crowd of thou­sands. Ini­tially at least, this also con­vinc­ingly in­stils a lit­tle of the stage fright that must come with fac­ing down so many ex­pec­tant bod­ies. In the ab­sence of a full ensem­ble of plas­tic-in­stru­ment-wield­ing friends, it’s the next clos­est thing to feel­ing like you’re play­ing in a real band, but Gui­tar Hero Live’s jaw-drop­pingly clever film work has been built in ser­vice of plac­ing you, and you alone, cen­tre stage.

Play well and the crowd – along with your dig­i­tal band­mates – will prove an en­cour­ag­ing in­flu­ence. Fum­ble too many notes thanks to your sweaty, ner­vous hands and you’ll in­cite the dis­ap­proval of a bay­ing, pro­jec­tile-hurl­ing crowd. Even full wa­ter bot­tles don’t sting as keenly as your drum­mer re­fus­ing to make eye con­tact and shak­ing his head in ab­ject dis­ap­point­ment, though. The tran­si­tion be­tween th­ese ex­tremes is masked with a quick, though hardly sub­tle, cam­era blur, which can oc­ca­sion­ally throw up some jar­ring changes of heart from those around you. It’s easy to win the fans back if lost – es­pe­cially if you ac­ti­vate Hero Power, Live’s take on Star Power, ei­ther by tilt­ing the gui­tar or reach­ing for an awk­wardly placed but­ton. That ten­dency to flip-flop, how­ever, means you’ll face some ex­tremely fickle crowds while ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to the new setup.

There’s vari­ance in bands’ per­for­mances, too, al­though great care has gone into en­sur­ing each mem­ber cor­rectly mimes ev­ery note, beat and word of the song you’re play­ing. The ef­fect is a stun­ning up­grade over the fuzzier in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the polyg­o­nal mar­i­onettes that fronted ear­lier Gui­tar Hero en­tries, but de­pend­ing on where you fall in the spec­trum of reg­u­lar gig at­tendee to reg­u­lar X-Fac­tor viewer, the cast’s prac­tised ex­per­tise is some­what un­der­mined by an ex­cess of earnest en­thu­si­asm, which makes it all feel a lit­tle sani­tised. Not all of the per­form­ers are a nat­u­ral fit for the songs they belt out ei­ther, and you’ll reg­u­larly be ex­posed to the kind of cringe-in­duc­ing back­stage pep talks we imag­ine some teenage pop singers hap­pily sub­mit to be­fore grad­u­at­ing to a ca­reer of drug-fu­elled In­sta­gram nu­dity. But while events and per­for­mances might not al­ways ring true, this drama-school take on tour­ing life is cer­tainly no more cheesy than some­body leap­ing around their liv­ing room with a plas­tic gui­tar stung around their neck.

Not that you’ll have much time to an­a­lyse the cast’s act­ing chops while the mu­sic’s play­ing. De­spite the new first­per­son view­point, you spend most of your time with your at­ten­tion once again riv­eted on the fa­mil­iar note high­way at the cen­tre of the screen as it spools all man­ner of un­fa­mil­iar com­bi­na­tions to­wards you. All those new icons and for­ma­tions are a re­sult of Gui­tar Hero Live’s sec­ond big in­no­va­tion: a new gui­tar that ar­ranges six but­tons into two rows of three. The new de­sign en­sures that even in the mo­ments when you’re not con­vinced you’re at a real gig, you’ll feel like you’re play­ing some­thing akin to a real gui­tar. The six-but­ton ar­range­ment al­lows de­vel­oper FreeStyle a re­mark­able amount of vari­a­tion, making barre chords, power chords, ham­mer-ons and pull-offs feel pleas­ingly nat­u­ral to gui­tarists, and so­los par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing. The cost of this ad­vance is that Gui­tar Hero vets will have to re­learn their craft, but it also makes for a more nat­u­ral jump­ing-off point for any­one in­spired to pick up a real six-string af­ter play­ing the game. At its best, Gui­tar Hero Live’s re­designed pe­riph­eral will make you feel con­nected to the mu­sic in a way that a lin­ear five-but­ton setup can’t, and makes for a more mean­ing­ful dif­fi­culty curve as you progress from sim­ple strum­ming to just the lower three but­tons and then onto the game’s raft of new shapes. It’s hard to go back af­ter try­ing it, but the loud clack of the strum bar will make some play­ers wish they could splice in the new Rock Band gui­tar’s qui­eter guts. This more com­plex de­sign has pro­vided FreeStyle with a fresh chal­lenge when mark­ing up songs, too, and the ini­tial se­lec­tion of tracks feels in­con­sis­tent – at least on the stan­dard dif­fi­culty – when it comes to the level of chal­lenge on of­fer. Songs such as The Joy For­mi­da­ble’s Whirring or Bruno Mars’ Lazy present repet­i­tive, eas­ily aced pat­terns, while oth­ers chuck in daunt­ing dif­fi­culty spikes half­way through that feel more like Ad­vanced se­quences. Still oth­ers feel dis­con­nected from the mu­sic en­tirely – play­ing Bob Dy­lan’s Thun­der On The Moun­tain or Dis­turbed’s Down With The Sick­ness on Reg­u­lar dif­fi­culty feels like you’re fight­ing the mu­sic to fol­low a loosely re­lated on­screen tran­scrip­tion. Up­ping the dif­fi­culty to Ad­vanced in th­ese cases re­con­nects your fin­gers and the mu­sic, but the leap in com­plex­ity re­quires no small amount of ad­di­tional tal­ent. More wor­ry­ingly, we quite of­ten found the gui­tar line we were meant to be fol­low­ing was too low in the mix, oc­ca­sion­ally even in­audi­ble. Ask­ing a badtem­pered sound en­gi­neer to dial up your out­put in the mon­i­tor really has no part in the rock god fan­tasy.

Thank­fully, among the ini­tial offering of more than 200 songs, there are many more ex­am­ples that work than don’t. Yes, the fact the likes of the afore­men­tioned Bruno Mars and One Di­rec­tion fea­ture among more cred­i­ble gui­tar icons will prove di­vi­sive, but it’s clear ev­i­dence of Live’s broad tar­get de­mo­graphic. The ab­sence of flames and barbed wire from the logo is no accident ei­ther – FreeStyle wants ev­ery­body to be able to find some­thing that will ap­peal to them, whether that’s hon­our­ing Joe Sa­tri­ani’s re­quire­ment that ev­ery bar have at least three times as many notes as are

Live’s jaw­drop­pingly clever film work has been built in ser­vice of plac­ing you, and you alone, cen­tre stage

strictly speak­ing nec­es­sary, or sim­ply strum­ming along to a Pas­sen­ger an­them. We’re still not con­vinced that Skrillex’s in­clu­sion makes any sense at all, how­ever.

But any mis­giv­ings with the playlist are quickly quashed by Gui­tar Hero’s most bril­liant ad­di­tion: GHTV, a stream­ing ser­vice that feels like the off­spring of ’90s mu­sic tele­vi­sion. GHTV of­fers you a choice of gen­rethemed chan­nels (pop and metal at launch, with more to fol­low) that play mu­sic videos 24 hours a day, its li­brary the­mat­i­cally sub­di­vided into 30- or 60-minute ‘pro­grammes’. Only oc­ca­sion­ally does GHTV take a break from the on­slaught of fresh mu­sic to throw in an arty, charis­matic ident. Ev­ery song you play pits your per­for­mance against a group of other play­ers who have been judged by the match­mak­ing al­go­rithms to be of sim­i­lar abil­ity, and at the end you’ll be pre­sented with a leader­board. There are also global leader­boards to look at if you want to com­pare your fin­ger work to the world’s best. While FreeStyle places its filmed gigs front and cen­tre, it’s the con­stantly shift­ing GHTV that will pro­vide Gui­tar Hero Live’s real longevity, the de­vel­oper promis­ing a con­tin­u­ously up­dated li­brary that will shape it­self around the whims of play­ers, and dis­penses with the no­tion of paid-for DLC tracks.

In their place, the game al­lows you to spend Play To­kens on fir­ing up your favourite tracks on de­mand, rather than wait for them to come up in ro­ta­tion on which­ever chan­nel you’re tuned in to. You earn To­kens ev­ery time you level up, and you can buy them in packs us­ing the coins earned from play­ing songs or with real money. They’re handed out at such a gen­er­ous rate, how­ever, that in over 20 hours, we’ve yet to come up short or find our­selves need­ing to spend any type of cur­rency on them, real or oth­er­wise. In the ini­tial rush of work­ing your way through the starter li­brary, lev­el­ling up as you go, you’ll likely amass more Play To­kens than you know what to do with. For par­tic­u­larly com­mit­ted play­ers, and those hav­ing friends round, there’s also the op­tion of the Party Pass, which gives you ac­cess to ev­ery song in the GHTV cat­a­logue for 24 hours for £3.99. It’s a pay­wall that feels less gen­er­ous than the rest of the pack­age, but if you’re happy to just play along to FreeStyle’s chan­nel pro­gram­ming, you can do so at no ex­tra cost.

As well as the stream­ing chan­nels, there are Pre­mium Shows, which give you ac­cess to newly added con­tent early, or are tied to real-world con­certs – the first of th­ese be­ing three Avenged Sev­en­fold songs from their 2014 Down­load set. You can un­lock them ei­ther by spend­ing Live’s pre­mium cur­rency, Hero Cash, or by get­ting a three-star rat­ing or higher on three spe­cific songs. Rank­ing high in a Pre­mium Show’s leader­board will net you all man­ner of mul­ti­pli­ers that will be ap­plied to a num­ber of your sub­se­quent per­for­mances.

FreeStyle’s great­est achieve­ment is that it’s made the rhythm-ac­tion genre feel fresh again, cre­at­ing a game that’s as raw and ex­cit­ing as the se­ries’ de­but. Like a stage diver, Gui­tar Hero Live com­mits wholly to the un­known in the hope there will still be an au­di­ence to sup­port it af­ter the leap, and that un­guarded brav­ery re­sults in a few bum notes. But you’ll barely no­tice them in the heat of the mo­ment, and the game con­sis­tently re­minds you why you first picked up a plas­tic gui­tar all those years ago.

Con­fig­u­ra­tions such as the above re­quire you to place a fin­ger on each row, in this case feel­ing like a re­versed power chord. Match­ing the var­i­ous note ar­range­ments quickly is a greater chal­lenge than with the for­mer setup

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