Review: Guitar Hero Live
4.5Overall Score

Price (RRP): $150-200, dependent on how many guitar controllers you buy
Manufacturer: Activision

We’ve all had that dream at one point in time: start a band and be a rock star. Unfortunately, most of us will never get to live that dream, but the next generation of the “Guitar Hero” franchise gets close to delivering that experience.

It’s been quite a while since we needed to pick up an artificial guitar, so long that we forgot how much money we had spent on a fake guitar with controller circuits inside. You might even be in the same boat, because almost ten years ago, the music genre in video games was reborn. You could forget about the “Dance Dance Revolution” period that Japan had in its arcades, because American video game companies had a different agenda, and it started with a guitar.

Based on the Japanese “Guitar Freaks” game, developer Harmonix and publishers Red Octane and Activision set out to create a rock-inspired video game where you applied the Dance Dance philosophy of hitting blocks of colour in time with the music on a specialised guitar controller. The concept was easy enough, and paired with the right song, the game play was super addictive, resulting in a game that people jammed to that inspired at least five sequels, several band-specific titles, and a serious competitor that Harmonix created with rival publisher EA in the form of “Rock Band”.

That title took it to another extreme, bringing in not just artificial guitars, but an artificial drum kit and microphones for a band-based team-friendly karaoke session the likes of which no one had ever seen, which the Guitar Hero series also caught up to with its own title “Band Hero”. There was even a game that cashed in on the DJ craze named — you guessed it — “DJ Hero”.

It’s a wonder there was no Cello Hero, Piano Hero, or Bagpipe Hero (though there was a joke about that).

And with all these games came a need for specialised controllers, because you couldn’t just play with a gamepad. No, you needed a guitar if you wanted to play the guitar section, and a guitar if you wanted to play bass, and an electronic drum kit if you wanted to play the drums, and so on and so on. In typical gaming fashion, the controllers made for the PlayStation 3 version of the game weren’t compatible with the Xbox 360, and neither were compatible with the Wii, and so if you had multiple consoles in your home, there was a good chance that you had multiple fake instruments too.

This journalist once wondered if homes would be built with controller rooms just to store the bloody things.

At one point, though, it all came to a stop. Music games lost their appeal, and as the next generation systems rolled in — the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One — gamers quickly realised their controllers not only were incompatible, but so too were the games.

It has been around five years since a new Guitar Hero game rocked up, and yet here we are with something new. Will it make you want to get out the guitar for another concert, or is this just more of the same and likely to be relegated to elevator music?

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First things first, let’s get something out of the way, and it’s a something that has basically become synonymous with music games: you will get a new controller with this game, and no, you can’t use your old one. We know, it’s stupid, and we know that more than anyone else, realising there’s a Logitech wooden guitar with buttons instead of strings sitting in a storage spot, while another Logitech slightly better built electronic drum kit takes up space nearby.

Yes, it’s a shame, and those of us with old controllers will probably never spend big on expensive controllers again, but there’s a very good reason why you can’t just bring your old Guitar Hero controller out from hiding, we assure you, and it’s this: the controllers are no longer designed the same way.

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While the old design relied on several colour buttons — five, if we recall — traveling up the neck of the guitar, the new controller tries to base its design off the chords guitarists will typically play, with six buttons sitting at the top of the neck, meaning you don’t have to move your hands as much, just change and alternate the grip.

For guitarists, this take on the controller is kind of like how you play a real guitar. For a bassist, less so, but the crux of Guitar Hero Live is about playing guitar in a band, not bass, so at least there’s a good reason for this.