Guitar Hero Live: Another band’s getting back together, and it wants to explore new directions

It doesn’t take an expert industry analyst to explain why your once treasured plastic axe has been gathering dust for the last few years. guitar hero sparked a revolution in 2005 that extended beyond the realm of gamers, but over time the novelty of donning a cheap-looking peripheral and strutting around to ‘Killer Queen’ for an audience of tipsy student mates simply wore off.

But with guitar hero live, UK studio freestyle games hopes to rekindle your dormant enthusiasm for simulated six-string heroics. It’s the biggest step forward the series has seen since the first game; from the breadth of genres it covers to a new first-person, live-action presentation style and you might want to sit down for this six buttons, split into two rows of three.

As if your muscle memory could ever let you forget, previous guitar hero controllers had five coloured buttons on a single row of the fretboard. It looked like a simple enough scheme, but it was easy to get your fingers lost in the journey up and down. as creative director Jamie Jackson puts it, “as soon as  I had to get my pinkie involved, it all went to sh*t.” .

By increasing the button count to six but arranging them on two rows, the new peripheral increases the possible permutations of input commands and allows for chord shapes,  and also takes that clumsy pinkie finger out of the equation.

Six Appeal
That one design call alone represents the most dramatic shakeup for guitar hero since its inception, although admittedly the bar for innovation was set ankle-low by the franchise’s ‘same game,  more songs’ approach between 2005 and 2010. It means that as we go hands-on with guitar hero live and clatter our way through fall out boy’s ‘my songs Know what You did in the dark (light em up)’, we’re forced out of the comfort zone  of muscle memory forged by its predecessors. we have to re-learn
fake guitar playing.

It doesn’t feel like the old formula’s been shaken up for the sake of it, though. playing across the new peripheral’s six buttons feels much more like playing an actual guitar, and while it opens up a new and fearsome chasm of player challenge it’s simultaneously more intuitive.  we hope you’re still sitting down, because there’s been another quiet revolution in the game’s uI to aid that newfound clarity: the colour coding’s finally been dropped…

Colour Us Surprised
well, almost. there are still black and white notes on that familiar fretboard highway to indicate the upper and lower rows on your peripheral, but gone is the dizzying array of brightly coloured note-skittles hurtling towards your retinas. during guitar hero live’s pre-production phase in which the team experimented with prototype hardware and new in-game concepts freestyle games found to its surprise that, “everyone suddenly got better without the colours,” Jackson tells us.

And when you think about it, of course they did. the colour-coded uI was asking your brain to do an additional layer of decoding which simply wasn’t necessary. You  know which note the game’s asking you to play because of its position on the highway, so any additional information layer is just another stumbling block for your grey matter. In guitar hero live’s case the black-and-white coding is necessary, but because it’s a binary system it feels less like juggling weasels over an assault course.
Live Go-Pro-style first-Person video replaces the old cartoonised antics.
There’s one more significant change to the franchise in guitar hero live, though it’s probably safe to stand back up for this one if you’ve been getting antsy. live-action, gopro-style first-person video replaces the cartoonised onstage shenanigans of previous GH titles, and production values  are impressive throughout.

After selecting your song via the game’s spotify-aping menus, you find yourself backstage, fiddling nervously with a plectrum while watching your drummer tapping  out a beat on his thighs atop a tour case. a stage crew member summons you through the wings while you find it impossible not to think of spinal tap, and then it hits you. the lights. the crowd. all the bloody clapping. please don’t make us go on stage, mummy.

Drum And Coke
Sound design adds to the immersion, too. It really sounds like you’re playing a live version of a given song now, and not simply click-clacking your way through the multicoloured studio version. there’s a natural reverb in the mix, and as you wander closer to, say, the drummer on stage, you’ll hear the drums get louder. You’ll get clear feedback on your performance, too fluff a few notes and you’ll see punters at the front of the crowd signal their disapproval, and the wide-eyed, “what the sh*t are you  doing?”  look from your own bandmates.

There are tough questions guitar hero live must answer to prove its relevance in 2015: do people actually want to be guitar heroes in an era when edm is so dominant? has the goldmine of cheesy classic rock anthems been emptied already? and do those innovations revitalise the genre or just delay the onset of that familiar fatigue? In spite of ourselves, we can’t help but be hopeful for a renaissance.

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