Confession: I spent the first five minutes of Guitar Hero Live shrieking with frustration. A set-in-my-ways bassist for over eight years (and one who hasn't played a rhythm game since The Beatles: Rock Band), I was instantly caught up in my failures and the overwhelming images of actual teen girls crying in the audience below me, because -- god -- I sucked. The new controller, featuring two sets of 3 buttons alongside one another (in white and black) took some getting used to, and in the face of my exceptionally frustrated fictional bassist, I was hit with the sudden need to prove that string-plucking jerk wrong.
That's the effect that Guitar Hero Live has on you, and while certain aspects fall just short of the hype that surrounded its marketing, the game still makes for hours of enjoyable fun with its two single-player modes.
The game features 40 un-lockable songs in its career mode (Live), where the aforementioned audience eagerly awaits whichever cover band you've joined for the selected song. Buttons are now only in black and white, but while this does take some getting used to, the new controller actually serves to eliminate some of the complications that the five-button fretboards of the past encouraged. What's more, chords and barre chords are now played much more conventionally, on separate rows next to each other. It does a great job of simulating an actual guitar without getting too overcomplicated, and though it's a definite test of your muscle memory, the play style is still fun enough for the biggest on-stage diva.
In truth, the acting in Live Mode is a huge highlight of this game, and every single person who appears onscreen has unique reactions to the way you play. While the previous crowds of Activision’s motion games were animated, the live crowds give a real, raw effect. It can get really distracting, and serves as a challenging backdrop for the player who really wants to get the on-stage experience.
But for me, the real stand-out of the game was it's GHTV mode. For those of us that grew up during, or on the tail end of the “MTV generation,” Guitar Hero Live offers up a hefty dose of nostalgia with GHTV: a live, streaming play mode that treats it’s stations like playlists. Players can play songs, live, as they air on the network. While this sounds a little tedious, jamming alongside music videos is something most of us did when they aired on cable - whether with air guitars or real ones - and an evening of rocking out in a similar manner on Guitar Hero Live was worth every second.
The only real disappointment -- and one that requires docking, because it used to be one of my favorite things about Guitar Hero -- was the relatively boring multiplayer mode. While a second guitar join the fun (and a smartphone can function as a microphone) there wasn't anything that particularly stood out beyond the basics, and at times, the second guitar ends up playing the same notes as the first.
Once your muscle memory catches up with the new controller, Guitar Hero Live becomes an exciting game for single players, and GHTV can seriously provide for a night of endless rocking out to your favorite songs without the pressures of song selection. Challenging, exciting and just a tinge ego-crushing, Guitar Hero Live is a seriously fun game that recalls the boom of rhythm games in the early 2000's, and brings back the thrill of rocking out while bouncing on your bed as a kid.