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Guitar Hero Live Is The Future Of Plastic Guitar-Playing

It’s been half a decade since literally everyone was happily jamming along to various iterations of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which seemed to be coming at us faster than a Metallica guitar solo on expert mode. Then everyone put their toy instruments away and moved on.

But wait!

After a five-year hiatus, both Guitar Hero and Rock Band are ready to dive back into the rhythm-based gaming world, and they’re hoping you’re ready, too. While Rock Band 4 allows longstanding rockers to transfer their back catalogue of DLC to a shiny new Xbox One or PlayStation 4, Guitar Hero Live is all about looking ahead, and for the most part it’s a smashing success. Here are three game-changing things Guitar Hero Live brings to the table that will hopefully—and probably—forever change the way we play with our fake guitars.

A Newly Designed Axe

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The first and most alarming thing you’ll notice after unboxing Guitar Hero Live is that its titular plastic peripheral boasts an entirely different fret button layout than we’ve seen in any previous Guitar Hero and Rock Band title. For the first time since playing Guitar Hero 1 a whole decade ago, I initially found myself completely sucking with my new instrument. For someone used to breezing through the death-iest death metal tracks on the hardest difficulty, I’ll admit this was a fairly traumatizing experience, like growing a third arm and trying to swim laps in a pool.

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Instead of five big, colourful buttons running along the neck of the guitar, Guitar Hero Live’s new gadget contains six fret buttons on two parallel rows. After coming to grips with incessant boos and death stares from my fickle audience, gradually I began to embrace the new layout, which I can now testify emulates real guitar noodling far better than its predecessor. After overcoming an actually very fair learning curve (assuming this isn’t the first rhythm game you’ve ever picked up), I found myself actually pulling off basic, real-life guitar chords. On normal setting, Guitar Hero Live is a cinch now, but the hardest setting offers a level of challenge that’s never felt so grueling to master and yet so satisfying to play. Just look how much fun James Franco and Lenny Kravitz are having. You simply can’t fake that.

GH Live

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There are two types of core gameplay modes, the first one being Live. Essentially the game’s main campaign, here you play the role of lead guitarist across a series of fictional bands and music festivals. Here’s the next outrageous thing Guitar Hero Live has to offer: full-motion video. Other than the moving guitar fret, note cues, and score tracker, everything is live-action, as if they strapped a GoPro to your head before throwing you onstage. Like the newfangled guitar neck, it’s an bold move that pays off.

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In terms of your band mates, they clearly resemble a generic knockoff off of the real thing, but there’s a playful self-awareness (I hope) to both these musical acts and their dorky fans who bring giant cardboard signs that read: “ARGH!” It’s also endlessly amusing to fudge a few notes and watch the entire audience go from ecstatic jeering to absolute loathing via shimmery wipe transition.

GHTV

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GHTV is surprisingly complex and, for the most part, free. An unrelenting broadcast of music videos hearkens back to the halcyon days of guitar-based games that actually helped gamers discover music, only now it’s their videos, too. If you’re feeling a tad underwhelmed by Live’s predominantly current music lineup, GHTV is where it’s at, and luckily it’s even more of a robust single and multiplayer experience than Live. Via a series of channels, you can play along to new and classic music videos for literally hundreds of songs. While these songs require music videos (or concert footage) to be included here, so far the variety has been very pleasing. I never thought I’ve be playing along to new indie bangers like Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian At Best,” especially after completing the far less esoteric Live mode.

Like many of today’s free-to-play titles, paying actual money isn’t a requisite, but it does accelerate the leveling process to unlock premium content like brand-new music videos and live concert footage. If you feel like earning stuff the old school way, just keep strumming to gain coins and level up to Hero Status. It takes a while, but unlockable goodies like new songs, concerts, Hero Powers, and custom note highways are a good incentive to rock on. Just make sure you play sufficiently well because you’ll be judged against nine other players, and the higher you rank, the more rewards you’ll reap.

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GHTV does a fine job at bringing the channel-surfing experience to gaming, with different channels representing different music genres and playlists. Better still, you can even sing to your heart’s content with a compatible USB microphone or use your iOS device as a substitute mic with the help of the free GHL companion app. Party on, Wayne!

Guitar Hero Live is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

INNERSPACE CLIPS