E3 2015 was a great chance to see all kinds of awesome upcoming games! It was also a chance to wish that my fellow showgoers had brought more deodorant, but that’s neither here nor there. My favorite part of the experience was the set of private appointments that I’d made beforehand, since they gave me a chance to get away from the crowds and get some quiet time with a game or two here and there. One of those was with a game that intends to revive an entire genre: Guitar Hero Live, and given that I hadn’t heard much about it I was kind of surprised to see how much has changed in this upcoming entry.
The guitar controller is newly revised, for instance. There’s five buttons now instead of six, arranged into three rows of white and black. Notes show up on the pathway as white, black or both; you then press the correct button before strumming. Star Power is back as well, now called Hero Power and offering a variety of different effects rather than just a straight score boost. Altogether these changes lead to a less awkward playstyle, though they also mean that you’re going to have to re-learn how to play Guitar Hero and I’d further assume that older guitar controllers aren’t going to work with Guitar Hero Live. And, yes, the controller still looks and feels like a toy, so you’re not going to impress anyone with your mad skillz aside from other people who are interested in flailing around with a plastic guitar. Sorry, Wyld Stallyn.
The majority of the information we were presented with was about the DLC scheme for the game moreso than the gameplay, though. As far as I could gather, it works like this: Guitar Hero Live is split into two sections – Live and GHTV. Live’s your typical Guitar Hero experience, while GHTV is where DLC will live. It’s basically an endless streaming service of tabulated songs, so if you see something you’d like to play you can hop in and get to strumming. GHTV’s separated into a variety of channels, so you can choose the genre and artists you’re into instead of getting stuck with noise you’d rather not hear. What’s more, if there’s particular songs you like, they’re available to play whenever.
Of course it’s not that simple. Nothing in life is free. That’s particularly the case when it comes to games these days, so naturally GHTV wants your money and wants it bad. Playing a song on GHTV costs you a token, called a “play;” these are earned via gameplay, so you’ll stock up as you play Guitar Hero Live, though of course you can also purchase more with real money. The reps were coy about how quickly these are earned, so I wouldn’t count on them being a readily available resource. GHTV is a streaming service, so it’s entirely possible to hop in on a song halfway through – this will, of course, reflect on your score since you aren’t playing the whole thing. I wasn’t entirely clear on whether or not playing half of a song would cost an entire play or what.
That’s not all, though! I mentioned GHTV was separated into channels, right? Not all of these are freely available, plays or no; there are some premium channels available as well that cost you whatever Guitar Hero Live’s premium currency will be called. These offer difficult challenges and provide customization rewards for skillful play, but each attempt will cost you. I’m not sure how this is going to go over with the average player, honestly.
What if you’re not interested in any of this channel nonsense and just want to play the songs you like? That’s an option too. You can spend your plays on individual attempts at songs or purchase them for unlimited access; based on the demo, this is quite a bit more expensive than just buying plays or even making attempts at premium channels.
Frankly, I can deal with all this DLC nonsense. The sheer amount of content that was on display was impressive and I’m willing to accept a la carte access to such a large library of songs. I can even deal with the way that silly lane, note and player card customization is being pushed. It’s cute and easily ignored if you don’t like it, so whatever. One thing on display did give me pause, though: this is an Activision game, so of course there’s a ton of DLC and of course there’s a leveling system in place.
Leveling earns you points that can be spent on different “skills.” How does that work in a Guitar Hero game, you ask? Well, your skills offer bonuses to different aspect of your play, with the ones that concerned me being focused on your score. It’s entirely possible to use skill points to improve your score directly by offering a higher multiplier or increased score per note hit. I had it confirmed that this carries over online. In essence, this means that two players who both play a song perfectly are going to see different scores, where the higher-level player will beat the lower-level one simply because they’ve played more. Given there’s an increased focus on online leaderboards and scoring, I’m sure you can see the problem here. I’d be surprised if this weren’t changed for release.
I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a little excited at the revival of the plastic toy instrument game. I used to love these things, after all, and Guitar Hero was my plastic toy instrument series of choice (nothing personal, Rock Band). Aside from my quibbles with the experience system, I think Guitar Hero Live is shaping up to be an experience worthy of the name…well, worthy of the first two or three games’ name, as that series kind of went down the hole over time. What I mean is that it should be pretty good, just so long it isn’t strangled to death with micro-transactions.