A long-time Guitar Hero fan checks out Activision’s bold reboot.
Although a re-emergence of Guitar Hero was inevitable, none of us could have predicted the form of its return: a stripped-down, single-instrument, full motion video (FMV) game. That’s not to mention the free-to-play streaming service, GH TV, which I found hard to understand even as the developers walked me through its menus and demonstrated various features.
But. But. As soon as I picked up the new, 3x2-buttoned controller, I knew that it would be fun to re-learn this kind of game with a new kind of dexterity test that feels just as fun and arguably more realistic as the original, five-button style. Now your hand will be more stationary, but your fingers get more of a workout, while your eyes and brain get to process a whole new language of “gems” and “highways”. The latter bit was actually my hurdle, but I got the hang of it all within just a few songs. Based on other songs playable in the demo, there should be plenty of depth in the new finger patterns, and I tend to enjoy that process of learning from scratch.
There’s no getting around it: the first-person, FMV scenes built around the main “GH Live” campaign mode are seriously goofy. I worried that they might be distracting, but once I moved from the audience to the guitar controller, the swirling faces faded into the background. The same goes for the broadcast channel of interactive songs, called “GH TV”. This other main mode effectively replaces downloadable content, since new songs are constantly streamed into the game on a predetermined schedule. This unusual approach may reduce player choice in which songs are available, though you have a limited number of “On Demand” plays. However, there’s a big upside: all the new songs are totally free. The idea is that you might play new songs every time you turn on the game, and all without paying any kind of subscription or per-song fee (as in Rock Band).
For the first time since Harmonix was behind the frets, Guitar Hero is a significantly different product than its rivals, and that alone makes it worth an extra look. What I played at E3 has me surprisingly excited for this new, slightly weird take on a franchise that was stale even before going on hiatus. Guitar Hero Live looks fresh, feels new, and sounds like it’s going to be a standalone product that should be a completely equal experience on Wii U.