NEW YORK — Before its temporary demise five years ago, popular rhythm game series Guitar Hero sold itself on the fantasy of being a rock star. However, if you could tear your eyes away from the fretboard, all you could see was the action happening onstage, making you feel more like a member of the audience. Guitar Hero Live, the franchise's first installment in a half-decade, looks to change that by letting you face down a live audience that cheers you on or boos you offstage in real-time.
I went hands-on with Guitar Hero Live at an Activision press event, and what I saw looked promising, if not necessarily as revolutionary as the company suggested. Like its predecessors, Guitar Hero Live is a music/rhythm game in which you use a plastic guitar peripheral to play some of the most popular rock, punk, metal and pop songs of the last fifty years.
MORE: Best Xbox One Games
What's new this time around is a redesigned controller and a change in perspective. Instead of five colored buttons in a row, players now use two rows of three buttons apiece to tap and strum in time with their favorite tunes. This means that you never have to make use of your pinky or change your hand's position on the fretboard, but some of the note combinations can get pretty difficult when you have to position your fingers on both rows at once.
Activision touted the second feature, a change in perspective, as the more important one, but it made less difference to me in practice. Instead of relying on cartoonish graphics, Guitar Hero Live has recorded live bands and audiences for a number of made-up music festivals. They respond in real-time to your successes and flubs as you play.
Hit every note and the crowd will sing along (the developers recorded live footage for each song), and your bandmates will give you approving nods and big smiles. Start messing up, and the audience will turn on you like a snapped guitar string. This feedback happens almost instantaneously, just as it would during a real concert.
The only problem is that it didn't make much of a difference to me. I played through When You Were Young by the Killers (which, fans may remember, was also part of Guitar Hero III). As in the previous Guitar Hero games, I was way too focused on the fretboard to notice much of what was going on around me. I'm pretty sure the crowd jeered while I struggled to make sense of the two rows of buttons, and applauded when I finally got the hang of it, but their reactions didn't change my gameplay experience much.
In addition to the live mode, Guitar Hero Live will feature Guitar Hero TV, which is more of an arcade experience. GHTV lets you play along to prerecorded music videos in real-time with friends or strangers online. You can tune into live "channels" that play songs nonstop in genres like rock or pop, or play songs à la carte.
Otherwise, Guitar Hero Live promises to include fan-favorite bands from a variety of genres, including Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Ed Sheeran, The Black Keys, Green Day and (of course) The Rolling Stones.
The game has no price yet, but will be available in fall 2015. Look for it on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and mobile platforms.