Guitar Hero Live Reboots Franchise with Huge Changes

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The life and death of guitar-centric rhythm games seems to parallel rock stars of yore – flashy, loud and insanely popular before drowning in its own success. While rumors of a comeback have been floating around for some time, Activision finally broke the silence today with Guitar Hero Live.

“Guitar Hero is a franchise that so many people love. Figuring out how to bring it back with true breakthrough innovation has been years in the making, and a labor of love,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, Inc. “Guitar Hero Live lets people rock real crowds with real reactions. Our goal was literally to give people stage fright. And with GHTV, we have created the world’s first playable music video network. All of it is playable on consoles, or mobile devices. Guitar Hero is back and better than ever.”

GH Live – A Whole New Perspective

The first thing to note are the new developers – Harmonix is no longer with the brand, Neversoft is now defunct, and Vicarious Visions has their hands full with Skylanders. Filling the void is FreeStyleGames, the British subsidiary that gave us the DJ Hero series and Sing Party.

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Replacing our caricaturized avatars on screen is a live-action crowd dynamically reacting to the player’s performance. Guitar Hero Live now plays through a first-person perspective, in a mode called GH Live, and the whole idea here is put the player up on stage. There are various venues of course, from small clubs to massive outdoor festivals, but the level of immersion they’re shooting for extends beyond standing in front of a crowd.

In VG247’s report, one of their sessions started with the backstage journey: “We got more of a chill, however, from snaking through the corridors backstage of a more traditional venue with a roadie’s torch guiding our steps over the mess of power cables held roughly in place by gaffer tape. Edging onto stage past the female drummer adjusting her seat, the vocalist and fellow axe-men awaiting your arrival, the bizarre sense of solitude contrasting with the baying crowd was uncanny.”

We’ll skip those parts eventually but it’s nice to see the amount of effort they’re putting in to sell the whole concept. Not everyone will agree with this new direction, and I’ll genuinely miss the goofy avatars, yet an upheaval such as this was what the series needed to make an impactful reboot.

More important than what’s on-screen, however, is what’s in our hands.

The New 2×3 Guitar

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The redesigned Guitar Hero Live controller features two rows of three buttons instead of five large ones running down the neck. It’s to better reflect how guitarists naturally play, and at advanced levels helps to mimic actual chords (somewhat).Beginners start out by mastering just the bottom row, while veterans are free to create “complex chord-like shapes and finger combinations.”

This shift also eliminates the hurdle that many people faced when progressing to harder difficulties, as suddenly needing to use the pinky finger to hit the fifth button turned players from feeling like a rock god into struggling newbies once again.

Unfortunately this means our old ones are now destined for the recycling bin, and the likelihood of there being some form of trade-in program, particularly in Singapore, seems to be very slim.

GHTV – The Playable Music Video Network

What on earth is a playable music video network? Well according to their press release, GHTV is “a 24-hour mode that lets fans play along to a continually-updated collection of official music videos.” It covers all sorts of genres, spans multiple channels and themed shows, and lets players choose songs on-demand. There’s even an online competitive mode, where your group competes for the best score while completing challenges along the way.

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My immediate question would then be its payment model. Polygon spoke to Creative Director Jamie Jackson during the press reveal and he had some surprising news – there is no subscription at all. “You’ll go there and there will just be new music for you to play,” he said.

Activision’s Senior Director of Product Management Tyler Michaud added that they’re “still trying to figure out things” with regards to spending real money. Since GHTV is a connected network, however, it does mean they can simply update the service and add content without having to annualize the franchise.

And they do mean business when it comes to music variety. We have rock, folk, EDM, hip-hop, country, and pop acts, featuring all sorts of artists: The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Gary Clark, Jr., Green Day, Ed Sheeran, The War on Drugs, The Killers, Skrillex, The Rolling Stones, The Lumineers, Carrie Underwood, Pierce the Veil and Blitz Kids and so much more.

Available Fall 2015 for US$99.99

With new infrastructure removing the need for annual releases and an organic music library replacing DLC packs, it seems Activision now has less chances of running the franchise into the ground again. I’m dying to see what Rock Band has in store now for when they make their own reboot.

Guitar Hero Live is coming to the PlayStation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, and “select mobile devices” this fall (between September to December) bundled with one guitar.

More details for Guitar Hero Live will be shown during E3.

[Press Release, VG247, Polygon]

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Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.