The New Guitar Hero is Awesome

I tried the new Guitar Hero Live, launching in October. And it's awesome
| Updated: November 27, 2018

Back in February, Engaget reported that Activision would be rebooting its beloved, fake-guitar-strumming franchise Guitar Hero this year after halting development in 2011 "following the underwhelming release of Guitar Hero 5."

As for the reason behind the new game release, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based video game company told Engaget in a statement that "as one of the most beloved entertainment franchises, we would only bring Guitar Hero back if we developed the right innovations to usher the franchise into the new generation of gaming."

Well, they've done just that. And come October 20, you'll be able to gather your best pals 'round the TV and play the seriously updated, brand new Guitar Hero Live. Being the immense GH fan that I am--I spent many hours in my mid-20s mastering Guitar Hero II and III to the point that I played on the expert level (what up)--I couldn't wait until October 20. So when Activision invited me to give the new game a whirl during this weekend's PAX gaming conference, I accepted with unbridled enthusiasm.

"We really wanted to take it back to what it means to be a guitar hero," says Nathan Coppard, senior designer at FreeStyleGames, a British music-rhythm games studio that's under the Activision umbrella. "Rather than looking up at a band playing up on stage, we put you on stage, flipped the camera around so you're looking at your crowd of adoring fans. And to make it more visceral and real we shot it with real video footage with real people."

There are two modes in the new Guitar Hero Live: the regular, arcade-style GH Live with 10 fictional bands playing the hundreds of licensed musical tracks at made-up festivals, and GHTV, a comprehensive online mode featuring a continuous broadcast of playable music videos where you can earn in-game currency to play songs on demand or snag stuff like custom scrolling note highways.

The guitar itself has also been redesigned. Gone are the five colored buttons, replaced instead with six buttons in two rows of three, color coded in black and white. "We wanted it to be quite easy for people to just pick it up and play," Coppard says. "We did loads of research and found that when people started to add in their little finger it was bad."

That sixth fret button was a doozy, but oh the sense of accomplishment when you mastered a tough green-orange combination like this:

This was hard; old version of Guitar Hero

I knew I couldn't still play on expert. The fact that my mad GH skills had vanished was made quite clear to me several months ago when I made my husband hook up our XBox 360 (old GH games aren't compatible with our current XBox One console) so I could relive my glory days; I was barely able to keep up on medium.

When I slipped the new guitar over my head, it felt wonderfully familiar. I opted for Now by Paramore on the regular skill level, hoping I could hack it. But the instrument's new button design totally threw me off and what was once a barrage of colorful orbs scrolling beautifully along is now a mix of black and white guitar pick-shaped icons. As I missed note after note, the real audience began to boo and my tatted up bandmates hissed at me to get it together. (Similar to the GH games of yore, the audience reacts to how well or poorly you play. At one low point during the demo, an audience member angrily stormed the stage and was thrown out by security.)

The new Guitar Hero Live guitar

Coppard paused the game and suggested we switch to "casual" skill level, which only uses one row of buttons instead of both. (In retrospect, what a positive word to use. I'm just casually playing, guys. I don't really care about stuff.)

My soul broken, I managed to excel in this casual mode, hitting note streak after note streak. The audience and my fellow musicians were back on my side.

While I miss the colored notes and Pandora the Dark Princess of Rock, I like the first-person perspective and the real video footage. The GHTV is a cool element; with endless song choices you're not likely to get bored playing Message in a Bottle over and over. (Though honestly, that song is awesome so how could you?) And surely with a little practice, I can be back at expert level in no time. My favorite song to play on expert was Black Sabbath's War Pigs. I don't see it on the track list yet, but hopefully by launch I can again be strumming along to Ozzy et al's magnificent masterpiece.

Guitar Hero Live ($99.99) launches on October 20; for XBox One, PS4, WiiU, XBox 360, PS3 and select mobile devices


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