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New or old, four buttons or six, "Guitar Hero" is an enjoyable experience, either solo or with a friend. It just should be a better one.

PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Guitar Hero Live’

Guitar Hero is back. The announcement that the rhythm game would return after an extended hiatus was made months ago and now it’s here in all its glory. Or, some of its glory. Or, at least a little bit of glory. We wrote up a piece over the summer on what people could expect, but it’s now time to revisit that as the game is out. A lot of important background info though is there at that piece from the summer, so if you haven’t read it, it’s worth checking Guitar Hero Liveout.

We are going with the assumption that most folks here know, generally speaking of Guitar Hero.  If not, in short, it is a game that asks that you press buttons on a plastic guitar and strum as notes appear on the screen.  It sounds silly, sure, but it can be a lot of fun.  Even here, in a game with serious flaws, it can be exhilarating.

Honestly, the most important difference between Guitar Hero Live and the old game is the guitar itself. Gone are the four colored buttons, one for every finger save the thumb. They are replaced by six buttons which are set into two groups of three.  There is one row of three black buttons and one row of three white buttons (see picture below). Depending on whether one holds the guitar lefty or righty either the black or white row will be on top and the game will adjust accordingly.

In game what this translates to is, well, an annoyance. It is a “learning curve” which some will not be able to overcome no matter how much they try.

There are two lower difficulty levels which don’t require the use of the two sets of buttons, but one of them is the beginner level which requires no buttons and only strumming. Earning points, which is essential for unlocking bonuses including songs, happens at a greater rate at higher difficulty levels, making it truly important if one wants to play the songs one wants to play and customize one’s guitar as they see fit.

The double button for a single finger system, however, has the game tilt greatly on a sort of dexterity which hadn’t previously been required. Additionally, even if the notes do, slightly, point up and down to let the player know where on their guitar the black and white buttons are, it isn’t quite enough of a cue.

The game itself is divided into the two sections we looked at in that summer piece, one which has users rock with a band in front of an audience, GH Live (this is more of a career mode but not a hugely in depth one), and the other, GHTV, which is focused around playing along to music videos on “channels.” More of the content is centered on this second half of the game. Wonderfully, Guitar Hero doesn’t ask players to have a PS+ membership, even when playing online, in this channel mode, against others.

One of the big negatives with GHTV  is that kids will have trouble with it depending on the parental control settings. Those who have a user profile locked down so as to not allow interaction with others will not be able to play GHTV, despite its not truly allowing interaction other than playing a song at the same time as the rest of the world and seeing how players compare in that song. Worse, a locked down user profile cannot even play as a secondary person alongside a primary user who does not have a locked down profile. This may be a PlayStation limitation as opposed to Guitar Hero, but wherever the issue lies, the frustration is great.

guitar-detail4Much of the success of the game—too much, in fact—lives and dies based on GHTV and whether the player is happy with the music that is available at any given moment. If one doesn’t like the “show” currently on either of the two “channels,” they’re not going to participate and that means not earning the points required to play whatever they like.

In the end, organizing the game this way feels silly and restrictive. Real world microtransactions can unlock the content people want to play, and while it isn’t necessary to pay for the content—as stated, one can always just play what the game makes available and earn plays of what they want—it offers the sense of pushing one towards a real world financial exchange and for a game priced at $99 ($149 with two guitars), that’s disappointing.

It is a shame though, because new or old, four buttons or six, Guitar Hero is an enjoyable experience, either solo or with a friend. It just should be a better one.  The career mode should be deeper, more songs should be available all the time, be they with a band in front of a live audience or in a music video.

Guitar Hero Live is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Lyrics. This game can also be found on: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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