New Guitar Hero Revealed With Revamped Hardware and Online Music

Guitar Hero Live will be Activision's attempt to reignite the rhythm game genre with a redesigned peripheral and a new way to access songs.

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Activision today announced the revival of the Guitar Hero franchise with Guitar Hero Live. The announcement itself perhaps isn't too surprising; we've heard rumors about Activision bringing the franchise back for a while and rival Harmonix announced their own re-entry into the genre with Rock Band 4 earlier this year.

But Guitar Hero Live is more than just re-release of the previous games. From the guitar peripheral to the visual direction of the game, to the way music is accessed, Activision is promising a very different experience.

Live is being developed by FreeStyleGames, the same rhythm developer that worked on the DJ Hero franchise, and the company started by reworking the guitar peripheral itself. Instead of five colored buttons reaching down the neck of the guitar, there are six (three on the top and three on the bottom), and the buttons are only black and white.

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Speaking with Jamie Jackson, the creative director at FreeStyleGames, he explained, "As soon as you had to use the pinky, it all got a bit dangerous. So we built this around the concept of keeping the fingers in one position, but adding complexity at the higher levels." Beginner players can experience the game while using only three buttons, but intermediate and expert players get a very different, and very challenging new experience. You can see GameSpot's impressions and the game in action in the video at the top of this article.

Visually, the game is also a big departure from the previous Guitar Hero games. Instead of the previous games' customizable avatar and cartoony graphics, all of the performances were filmed with actors in front of a live crowd. Jackson said, "We filmed the crowd. We basically made a movie. We didn't do it in the old engine with avatars and things like that. We just went and filmed it. ... Every song is unique and is crafted with a band, an audience, and a venue." As you perform well, your bandmates and the crowd cheer you on. But when you perform poorly, the reaction from both groups is significantly more negative.

While we'll likely hear more about full track-list for the game closer to E3, a press release listed out a sampling of the current line-up:

  • The Black Keys
  • Fall Out Boy
  • My Chemical Romance
  • Gary Clark, Jr.
  • Green Day
  • Ed Sheeran
  • The War on Drugs
  • The Killers
  • Skrillex
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Lumineers
  • Pierce the Veil
  • Blitz Kid

How much of that will be available out of the box? "One thing we did with DJ Hero is that we didn't lock all of the music. We wanted people to be able to come in and, if you didn't like a certain type of music, we didn't want you to have to play another type to get to the one you want. That said, there is some progression, and there are some unlocks," Jackson said.

But Guitar Hero Live's on-disc game is only part of FreeStyleGames' plan. According to Jackson, "The other part is all about the digital side." Guitar Hero TV will be the game's online playable music network.

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Wherever you are in the game, you can press a button to access GHTV. "When you go there, it's going to throw you into a TV channel with music playing. And you can play that track wherever it is in the music. If you come in halfway through, you'll just join halfway through. There'll be a ton of people playing, and it'll match-make you against people that match your skillset. If you don't like that song, you just press a button to open up a channel guide. Change the channel and see what's on another channel, see what's on another show. And if you still don't like what you see, you can jump into the song on-demand section and just pick a song play it on-demand."

GHTV plays music videos in the background as opposed to the filmed experiences of the game. "We want you to be able to discover music through here, and we want you to be able to find music you know you love," said Jackson. "You'll be able to jump between the channels however you want, and it's 24-hours so it has shows throughout the entire day. We're not going into details about the type of show yet, but it could be pop, dance, rock. It could be all kinds of stuff."

Just like TV, you don't select songs when playing in this mode. You play what's offered up, and the genre will depend on the show rather than the channel. Jackson explains, "You might know on Friday night that there's some sort of rock show, so you can go there and there'll be some kind of rock."

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In the box for the game, you'll have the guitar, the main tracks in Guitar Hero Live, and access to Guitar Hero TV, but how will access to those a la carte songs work? Will it incur an additional cost? Jackson said, "We're going to get into that at E3. There's a lot more depth to it because it's more than on-demand. There's premium show stuff as well where you're going to have exclusive content. There's sh** tons of stuff in GHTV, but right now we're just framing up the TV channels and music videos"

And of the big changes in strategy from Activision and FreeStyleGames is that this isn't just the first game in what will be a yearly release of new titles; just like Harmonix's approach to Rock Band 4, this will be the only Guitar Hero game. Jackson compares the experience to TV in that it will be continually updated. "You won't have to buy another [game] to have new stuff come to you. People play games different now. We consume games differently. We consume music differently. We even consume TV differently. And this is our answer to that."

While later Guitar Hero games introduced not only bass, but also drums and vocals, Jackson says that with Guitar Hero Live, "For us, right now, it's guitar. It's called Guitar Hero. We really focused on making the best guitar game we could make. That was always our driver for this, so right now, just guitar."

The game plus guitar will cost $100 and it's currently slated for every major platform: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U. And also much like Skylanders Trap Team from Activision, a console game that also had a full-featured (and full-priced) release on tablet and phone, Guitar Hero Live will also be released for mobile devices. The game will allow you to connect our phone or tablet to your television, providing a way to access the full game for non-console owners.

Guitar Hero Live is expected to release sometime this fall.

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