Guitar Hero Live is a tale of two games. There is the offline, single player mode and a persistent online mode. The single player features 42 songs of questionable taste and five difficulty settings: Basic, Easy, Normal, Advanced, and Expert. I say questionable taste because a solid majority of the songs you slog through in single-player don’t feel like guitar hero-type songs. Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”, or Mumford and Sons, or OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” don’t ring as guitar anthems. Instead they feel like songs I’d have seen in the Band Hero, the children’s Guitar Hero spin-off. But pop music dominates the majority of single-player set list with a very, very light sprinkle of classic rock held out until the very end. What’s most disappointing is there is no further depth to single-player. Once you’ve gone through the initial set-list, that’s it. There are no more hidden or likely downloadable songs in the future. At least none which have been announced anyway.
Guitar Hero TV is the true reason you’d be playing this game at all. TV is a persistent online competition against anyone connected online to TV mode playing the same songs as you. A premium membership, like Live Gold or PS Plus, aren’t needed since there isn’t direct against a specific person. Instead you will be matched against ten players at a time and each player dukes it out for a gold medal. TV also has a much bigger and diverse catalog of songs, currently sitting at 152 songs. It plays like some bizarre form of interactive MTV or The Box, for those of you old enough to remember request lines during the cable black box generation. You immediately join songs in progress between one of two channels that swap playlists every half hour. It’ll be weird at first to join songs in progress, but it serves as practice while you wait for the next song to start. I love TV’s immediate access to songs but the mode is marred by a system I can only call mobile-itus. Yup, here’s where the micro-transactions factor in.
Instead of downloading new tracks individually or in packs like days of old, GHTV is constantly updating with new songs. If you want to play a specific song without having to wait for it to pop in a playlist, you can use Play Tokens. Play Tokens are unlocked when your profile levels up through play only on GHTV, so you’ll acquire a decent amount of them in your first few hours. What if you burned through your play tokens while making your own playlists, since the game charges you points per song? You can pay for more through Hero Cash or Coins. Hero Cash is literal cash converted into one fake currency to pay for more tokens, like Activision is laundering your money for some reason. Coins are provided at the completion of any songs played. You use coins to also buy play tokens, but naturally Hero Cash will gives you more tokens overall much more quickly. I feel like I’m playing a mobile game on a console trying to keep up with getting tokens and just hammering through general playlists.
On the flip side of TV is the weak Live mode. FreeStyleGames swapped fantasy avatars in imaginary sets to filmed live humans acting as if you are literally their guitarist while a band lip-syncs the real tracks. The audience is filmed in two segments: one with them really into your band and the other booing the shit out of you. The footage will blur repeatedly between the two depending on your level or success. I felt my grip on reality slip as the world blurred and the excited blond in front of me was now yelling for my blood in a possessed fervor, not unlike a dizzying schizophrenic episode. Honestly it felt creepy and frustrating being unable to skip over the fake high-fives and thumbs up from my douchebag band mates.
The new 3×3 design is a little confusing at first, but the design isn’t so different that you won’t pick up on it quickly. Instead of colors, like in previous games, the new guitar uses only three vertical frets numbed 1, 2, and 3 with an additional three beside them. After trudging through a tremendously lame single-player for practice, I started to pick up on things real fast online. Then again it also did feel a little odd starting off from the beginning all over again after becoming so familiar with the old way for so long. The guitar looks nice but I’m bummed the guitar still feels small. Then again I have big hands and long arms, so I don’t think Activision was thinking about 28-year-old men when it came to design. The buttons stick like the Rock Band guitar did, and it does get annoying when playing songs with complicated notes, but it wasn’t so persistent that it really hindered me.
I’m reluctant to pitch this game to my friends. Live is too weak in depth and set list to make it a staple at any house party outside of a teenage slumber party. Not to mention Guitar Hero Live’s online mode doesn’t permit unlimited play between songs. With each track having a real cost to them it’s tough for me to let my friends waste my hard earned credits on dumb songs. There is a local two player, one style between two guitars and one with a mic and guitar (a guitar is stilled required for mic use), but it’s limited to the Live segment anyway. I can’t call this a comeback, but it’s definitely been a while. Things have changed, and it’s been a nice slice of revamped nostalgia but the music revolution has already come and went.
Mandatory Score 6/10
A lot of a potential is seen in TV mode but I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of eager fans adding yet another plastic instrument to their collection. Again.