I can’t play “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men on advanced.
Despite it being a great song, and despite being a long time fan of the Guitar Hero franchise since the PS2 era, my stupid fucking brain can’t get its head around the new guitar layout and it makes me want to die.
You see, the main difference between the recently released Guitar Hero: Live and the 276 games that preceded it is the new controller. Ditching the traditional row of six coloured buttons for two rows of three may sound like madness in theory, in practice it works so well you wonder why they didn’t think of it in the first place.
It just feels so much more natural, and is far more enjoyable to play as a result. The only real flaw with this new layout is that muscle memory will ultimately be your downfall. After years of playing Rock Band 3 at university, seeing a note appear on the far right of the screen still makes me involuntarily spasm, jamming my pinky into the now empty space on the fretboard where an orange button used to be. It felt like I had to learn the game’s higher difficulties all over again, which was admittedly a rewarding experience in of itself.
Guitar Hero Live shakes things up further by scrapping the traditional campaign mode and replacing it with “Live”, which sees the player assume the role of multiple guitarists for different bands, each performing gigs at two large festivals. The gimmick here is that whilst you play, the once forgettable backgrounds of old are replaced with a full motion video of a live performance, complete with screaming audience, roadies, security and of course your fellow band mates.
It’s cheesy, ridiculous and great. When Live was first announced earlier this year, I was dumbfounded as to why someone would ever think that resurrecting both a dead genre (rhythm action) and a dead idea (FMV cutscenes) was a profitable idea but… it works. It really does work.
Each band is oddly believable (in an exaggerated, almost cartoon-like kind of way) and the overall production of these scenes is extraordinary. Not only that, but seeing the crowd reacting to your performance in real time, praising you for doing well and scalding you for missing notes is incredible. Watching your bassist stare at you from the other side of the stage with utter contempt whilst empty cups thrown from a sea of angry faces rain down on you is genuinely exhilarating. I expected it to be shit. It’s now one of my favourite things in video games. I love it.
The track list in general is also fairly good. There’s 40 odd songs for you to unlock on the disc, and whilst some Guitar Hero affectionados may scoff at the addition of more “mainstream” artists such as Mumford and Sons and Rihanna, I felt the eclectic mix on offer was varied enough to keep me entertained. I could even overlook the addition of Bangarang by Skrillex, a song that I doubt has any guitar segments in it whatsoever, purely because the simple act of playing it was so enjoyable.
Despite two significant changes to the formula, it’s Live’s TV mode that is arguably the game’s more impressive addition. Replacing traditional DLC, TV chooses from a pool of (currently) 200 + songs for you, replicating a traditional music channel as a result. You simply tune in, play along to songs you don’t have access to in the main game, and level up as you progress. If you fancy playing something specific, then you can spend “tokens”, which can either be acquired through leveling up or by purchasing them with real money.
Sure, it sounds sleazy in concept, but I actually warmed up to the experience in general incredibly quickly. By simply playing the game I was being given an abundance of tokens, but it got to the point where I didn’t even want to spend them. TV had me addicted, glued to the screen, constantly excited about what might come up next.
Sure, purchasing the tracks to play whenever you fancy like in Rock Band would be a great feature, but TV almost allows you to trail everything on offer without spending a penny. All it asks is that you simply invest more of your time into the mode. It works. It’s great.
Guitar Hero Live may be one of my favourite games of the year. It’s certainly this year’s biggest surprise. It may even be the best rhythm action game ever made.
I feel shell shocked. This game has no right to be as good as it, and yet, I love it.
I will fucking beat Mountain Sound on advanced.