Prospects for a new Guitar Hero game looked bleak for a while, but an all-new title in a the much loved franchise is on its way this autumn and Pocket-lint was invited to have a play on the PS4 version ahead of a more official outing at E3 next month.
We were huge fans of the series originally, so were dismayed when Activision decided to can development of any new additions in 2011, citing musical differences. It believed that the music gaming genre had "declined" to a point where it was no longer viable to spend the cold, hard cash to make new titles. Rival Rock Band also faded at around the same time, and many fans soon hung up their small plastic axe, never to rock out in their living or bedrooms again.
But a new generation of consoles means a new generation of gamers and clearly something has prodded the genre back to life. Not only will there be a Rock Band 4 released later this year, but Guitar Hero Live will also hope to reinvigorate interest in playing along to popular music using a wee plastic instrument.
Unlike its rival however, Guitar Hero Live mixes things up a bit. It's not just a new gen version of the same game type, there's plenty of improvements and tweaks, not least with the guitar accessory itself.
Developer FreeStyleGames has devised a new guitar that is as simple to get to grips with as the original toy add-on, but uses a control method that is a touch more inspired by the finger movements of real guitarists.
Instead of a line of five coloured buttons along the neck, the new guitar has six buttons configured in two rows of three. This allows for a great variety of notes you have to hit, but in a more natural position for your fingers. At times you'll have to press one or more of the bottom three buttons together and, on regular skill level and above, one or more of the top three. Sometimes, you'll be required to bridge a bottom and top button, in a similar way to playing a chord on an actual guitar.
By limiting the amount of space the buttons take up, you can leave you'll fret hand in the same place - not whizz it up and down the neck as before. However, you will need a little more dexterity and getting to grips with the harder songs on the tougher levels feels much more like a challenge than before.
During our demo period (we played the game for 45 minutes or so) there were three songs to play in total, which we whizzed through in rookie mode - using just the bottom three buttons. We also played the first two in the regular mode, which added the top three buttons and the occasional chord combination. We then tried the advanced and expert modes and were lost within seconds. But at least these allowed us to see one of the new features for the game in action.
The new Guitar Hero will have two modes of play. Guitar Hero Live is the career mode, if you like, where you take the mantle of a rising rock star. But rather than present the on-screen action in cutesy, cartoony graphics as before, you get live action, filmed actors pretending they are in a band and you see the whole event in first person. That means you go through the behind the stage stuff before getting in front of the audience and then see what it would be like to genuinely be up there, no matter whether it's a dive club or festival.
Cleverly, the video on stage changes depending on how well (or badly) you are doing, with band mates and audience members either encouraging, congratulating or booing you throughout the song. And FreeStyleGames has filmed numerous different incidents that cunningly blend into each other, so you don't notice much of a join between actions. Needless to say, we saw a lot of angry faces and dismayed roadies on the harder skill levels.
As we only played three songs in total (several times for different outcomes) we only saw three set pieces, but there will be plenty in the final game. Well, we hope so anyway as the same sequences can get a little tiring after a while, although, to be honest, while you're playing the game it's not that often you get to look at the storyline playing out anyway - you are concentrating too hard on your finger positions and the plectrums note markers coming at you on the screen.
The final game will also have a Guitar Hero TV mode, which we didn't get to see in action during our hands-on. That will expand longevity dramatically and is described by Activision currently as a Guitar Hero version of MTV. Music videos will be broadcast live and you can just jump in at any time and play along. We're yet to see how it works in full and if there will also be the ability to buy and download videos to play locally too, but that will probably be further explained during E3.
As things stand now, we're thrilled to see Guitar Hero return and are very much looking forward to seeing more of the game ahead of its release later this year. The new guitar control system is more intuitive than ever before and in some way we're even happy that the size of the accessory still gives us more than a little chuckle whenever we see ourselves accidentally in the reflection of a window TV screen.
Guitar Hero Live will be available for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and there will be a "full experience" version for mobile platforms too.