E3 2015: Guitar Hero Live Delivers a S— Ton of Music 24/7
This October, the music genre returns in a big way with the most iconic names in the game bringing all-new efforts to the front. Developed by FreeStyle Games, the team behind the memorable DJ Hero series, Guitar Hero Live isn't just a resurrection of the brand; it's a drastic reinvention of the game that helped launch a craze.
At the front of Guitar Hero's return is a spanking-new controller, one that changes the way you play, while still being familiar enough that it's incredibly easy to fall back into without much effort. But the revamped guitar controller is just the beginning when it comes to FreeStyle's ambitious reworking of a series that desperately needed a kick in the pants.
"There's going to be a s--- ton of music in here," Jamie Jackson, creative director at FreeStyle Games, proudly boasted as we sat down to watch him show off Guitar Hero Live at E3 this year. While FreeStyle and Activision aren't talking numbers just yet, the word "hundreds" was bandied about with ease. That's not surprising given that in addition to the standard "career" mode in Guitar Hero Live, FreeStyle is taking things up a notch with its playable streaming mode, Guitar Hero TV.
While the base game will arrive with a set number of songs, Guitar Hero TV is a constant deluge of new music, complete with videos (both live recordings and more traditional music videos) accompanying the music. Where Guitar Hero Live has you playing with one of the game's fictional bands on the festival circuit, giving the impression that you're really touring and living the rock and roll fantasy, GHTV is all about just letting loose and playing your favorite tracks from your favorite artists. That's not to say that GH Live doesn't offer a similar experience, but that mode is more about being a star; GHTV is about outscoring your friends and others online, asserting your dominance as a true guitar god.
Though some of the assets are still in flux, the basic premise of Guitar Hero TV's layout and features were in place. There are multiple channels to visit, with tracks constantly rotating throughout the day as if MTV were back and relevant, and you could play along with every single song. You can jump in and out seamlessly, playing as much or as little as you want. The small handful of channels will offer you music by genre, your personal play tastes, or a set playlist curated by the team to showcase all manner of artists.
One of the biggest challenges FreeStyle wanted to overcome was the friction between menus and playing the game. With Guitar Hero TV, there's such a small barrier between you and playing, you can go from starting the game to shredding almost instantaneously. It's especially helpful considering navigating with the guitar peripheral has never been a treat, so the ability to jack in and jam is appreciated.
Everything is available to everyone with purchase of the game, but tracks added post-launch will be available to try out or purchase with in-game credit (or real money if you so desire). GHTV implements a freemium model, which at first made me cringe a bit, but after seeing it in action and learning more about the details, gave me a little hope for the final, full release. Just by playing GHTV, you earn credits towards in-game purchases, be they cosmetic things like note highway skins or new songs to add to your library. You can also earn Play credits, which allow you to check out new songs one single play at a time.
The option is always there to pay for the things you want with real money if you're impatient, but that you don't have to throw additional funds at GHTV if you don't want is appreciated. At least for now. When the full game releases later this year, and we get to see it in action and learn just how the credits are dispersed in-game, that could change.
Guitar Hero TV also has a channel devoted to GHTV Premium, which are limited run events online where you'll battle it out with everyone else while playing a special edition set from a particular band. You can buy your way into the event immediately, or you can take on a few challenges, like getting three stars on three specific songs, to enter for free. You might even find yourself qualified for the event just by playing on your own, as any and all progress you make in GHTV carries over to this mode. Finishing in the top few slots of the leaderboards will earn you some exclusive items, like new player cards or note highways, which will only ever be available from these events... for now.
We're still a few months away from Guitar Hero Live's launch, and there are still some details FreeStyle is nailing down. What FreeStyle is aspiring to do could make Guitar Hero relevant again, and right now, Guitar Hero Live looks like a promising and welcome refresh of a series that had burned bright and fast, exhausting the audience.
Guitar Hero Live will be available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U on Oct. 20.