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Rocking out with Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4, two very different rhythm games

Hayden Dingman | June 19, 2015
Rock Band is back! So is Guitar Hero! We went hands-on with both at E3 to compare and contrast their approaches to a familiar genre.

The sense of deja vu is enhanced in the current build because it's mostly old Rock Band tracks. Unlike Activision, which seems content to shotgun its tracklist into the air each week, Rock Band's been fairly reticent with its song selections. So far we've had a scant dozen revealed--you know, in addition to the 3,000+ DLC songs already available for you to buy or re-download at launch.

So it's mostly classic Rock Band tracks. Playing No Doubt's "Just a Girl," or Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," or Heart's "Barracuda," it's like it's 2009 again and I'm in a crappy college apartment in Southern California jamming with friends.

It's funny how the narrative flips. That warm feeling of familiarity? Of slipping into a well-worn groove? It's like I now love Rock Band for the same reasons Rock Band needed to die. That familiarity is exactly why everyone got sick of Rock Band (and all rhythm games) in the first place. Now, six years later, it's all I really want out of E3--to play more. To get all my friends into a living room and jam. To essentially "get the band back together."

Guitar Hero

Which brings us to Guitar Hero Live, Activision's attempt at reviving its own rhythm-game brand. What's interesting is that Guitar Hero Live is almost as odd and unique as Rock Band 4 is familiar.

For one, there's the new guitar. Guitar Hero Live ditches the five colored buttons made famous by the original Guitar Hero back in 2005. Instead, you have two rows of three buttons each, arranged one atop the other. Thus there's actually some vertical movement for your fingers, which is brand new. At times you'll also have to strum without holding down any notes, which is also new.

Speaking as an actual guitarist, I think it feels quite a bit more like playing a real guitar than any of its rhythm-genre ancestors. Will it teach you to play guitar? Is it really like playing an instrument? No, not really. It's not, in other words, Rock Band's drum kit, which doubles as an extremely effective learning tool.

But with just a bit of vertical movement between the two rows, as well as the ability to form "chord shapes" with buttons on both rows? Guitar Hero Live's controller seems just a bit more lifelike.

Unfortunately, I wish some other parts of it were less lifelike. During Guitar Hero Live's reveal, we learned the crowds would be completely FMV--meaning video footage of real live humans. This audience, as well as the interactions with your FMV bandmates, land squarely in some sort of uncanny valley area. It feels super awkward, to me--though also easy to tune out if you zone in on the note stream.


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