Next month, we’ll be seeing the revival of both Activision’s Guitar Hero and Harmonix’s Rock Band, it now being 5 years since the last main game release of both series. You’re probably already aware that both of these games exist, but chances are you know very little about them. In this post, I’m gonna break down the new features of both games and hopefully better inform you of which one to get.
What consoles will they appear on?
Rock Band 4 will be released on Xbox One and Playstation 4. Guitar Hero Live will be released on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and even mobile devices. Neither game has a PC version planned.
What are the controllers like?
Rock Band 4 will see the return of the “core band”, with new guitar, drums, and microphone peripherals. Keys will not be supported and there are currently no plans to add them later in a patch. The new controllers are all improved over the previous versions, and are reportedly the best peripherals ever made for the game. They each have built-in auto calibration, which removes the need to manually calibrate and is said to pretty much remove any audio and video lag entirely.
One of the best things about Rock Band 4, though, is that Harmonix went and made nearly every legacy controller compatable with Rock Band 4. If you have a wireless Rock Band or Guitar Hero controller, it should be compatable with Rock Band 4. Playstation 4 players will have this feature natively, although you will still need to have a USB dongle to use them. Xbox One players will have to buy an adapter to do this. The adapter will be bundled with the disc-only version of the game, and also be sold separately (Amazon). Refer to this chart for full compatibility information.
Guitar Hero Live, however, returns to the GH days of yore and drops all other instruments in favor of the guitar. It has a new guitar peripheral that has six buttons instead of five that are laid out in two rows of three, to simulate both frets and strings. Unfortunately, this means that it isn’t possible to use your older instruments with the game, as it runs on an entirely different engine. It also means that you must buy the new controller to even play the game. Guitar Hero Live will also feature vocals that are pretty much identical in function to the vocals from Guitar Hero previous.
What are the new features of these games?
Rock Band 4 has new gameplay mechanics added to each instrument. For guitar, they’ve added freestyle guitar solos. The feature basically turns the guitar into a synthesizer, and each of the 10 buttons (5 upper and 5 lower) on the guitar, the whammy bar, and even tilting the guitar can be combined to create your own original solos. The game will give you prompts that represent different ways of playing the guitar (tapping, chords, pull-offs, etc.) and if play your solo while following these prompts, you’ll get a higher score. There will also be an option that will drop the prompts entirely and let you go full freestyle. Freestyle solos are an optional feature. There will still be a mode where you play the solos as they are charted, just like the previous Rock Band games.
For drums, they’ve added the new “Dynamic Drums” fill system. Instead of the freestyle drum fills of the games previous, there will be a new mode that has pre-recorded fills for you to play. When you reach a fill, the game will pull one of these fills from a pool of hundreds for you to play. The fills are different for each genre and speed, and are all recorded by professional drummers. It’s a way to mix up the usual drum fills, and for people who have no ability to make good drum fills to add a little personality to the songs. The original drum fill mechanic will still be available should you want to use it, and you can turn off the drum fills in favor of playing the actual drum part of the song.
Finally, they’ve added freestyle harmonies for the vocals. Instead of being super strict on what pitch you sing at like in Rock Band previous, the new system will allow for singers to add variation to the songs. With the new system, as long as you sing in tune, you’ll be allowed to improv your own vocal parts. The game has a separate scoring meter that will track these improv parts, and will add them to your score. On top of all that, thanks to the efforts of a few fans, vocal harmonies have been retroactively added to EVERY SINGLE SONG that has ever been released for Rock Band. Now you can finally sing that duet to “Bring Me to Life” that you’ve always wanted to do!
Guitar Hero Live has two big new features, Live Mode and Guitar Hero TV (GHTV). Live Mode is likely the only thing you’ve seen of the game, as it’s been the centerpoint of Activision’s marketing. It features first person FMV to give the illusion that the player is actually performing at a real rock show. How the crowd and band reacts to you depends entirely on your performance, as the FMV will change dynamically depending on if you’re doing well or not. There are a total of 10 different bands that you perform with, each representing a different genre, across two different music festivals. The idea sounds very cool and fresh, something the genre needed after it grew stale for a lot of people a few years ago.
GHTV is probably the most interesting feature of the game, though, and also the one that you’ll spend the most time using. It’s an “always-on, 24-hour music network”. In it, there are several different “channels” to pick from. Each one is playing a different genre, so you can pick one depending on the mood you’re in. Each channel is constantly playing music videos much like how MTV used to be, with scheduled programming that lasts the entire day. It behaves much like an actual TV channel does, as GHTV is powered by the cloud instead of your console, so when you start it up you’ll see whatever’s being aired at that time. At any time, you can jump in and start playing along with the music video. Or you can use it as a literal music channel, and have it play in the background at parties or something. I’ll reiterate that you cannot pick what song to play, but there will be an on-demand feature (read: microtransactions) that’ll let you play the songs whenever you want. More on that in a bit.
What about multiplayer?
Rock Band 4 will feature local multiplayer with support of up to six players (one guitar, one bass, one drummer, and three vocalists). There will be no online multiplayer support at launch, the reason being that it was one of the least used features of the games in the past. Harmonix wanted to focus the development on the other parts of the game. The feature hasn’t been ruled out as part of a future update, however. Both career and freeplay modes will support local multiplayer.
Guitar Hero Live will have both local and online multiplayer support for the GHTV mode only. While playing in GHTV, the game will automatically matchmake you against other players. You will not be able to play against only your online friends, instead you will be competing against everyone currently playing that GHTV channel and the game will show how you’re doing compared to everyone else.
What about the soundtrack and DLC?
Now for the part that you are probably the most interested in, the music. What would be the point of a rhythm game without music, anyways?
Rock Band 4 will feature 65 songs on-disc, skewing more heavily towards modern music than any Rock Band previously. Unfortunately, Harmonix doesn’t have the budget that they used to, since they’ve gone independent from MTV (who is owned by Viacom) and consequently don’t have as much money available. This is definitely noticeable in this setlist, which is the weakest in the series, but there’s still a good number of good songs in the game. To see the full setlist, click here.
Harmonix has said that Rock Band 4 will be more of platform compared to the previous games. They will provide regular content updates to the game, presumably adding features or clothing or game modes. Harmonix has said that this is meant to be the only Rock Band game for this generation of games, as it’ll be the last Rock Band game you’ll ever need.
For those of you who want a little more out of the setlist (and there will probably be a number of you), several songs were made to be part of pre-order bonuses, all of which will be available as regular DLC at some point (For comparison, Rock Band 3 had three pre-order songs that took only two weeks to be available as regular DLC). On top of that, if you’ve ever bought DLC for a previous Rock Band game, or imported other setlists, Rock Band 4 will allow players to carry over these purchases within the same console family. This is great news for people like me, who have spent literally over $1000 on DLC for these games. It also insures that your favorite songs from the series will still be playable in Rock Band 4. Unfortunately, at this time Rock Band 3 isn’t exportable, but Harmonix has said that they’re looking into the possibility.
Guitar Hero Live is a weird case. We don’t know the full setlist right now, but all advertising for the game will tell you that there will be hundreds of songs available at launch. Here’s a list for all the songs that will be in Guitar Hero Live in some form. However, there’s more to it than that. The only songs that will be on disc are the ones that are featured in Live Mode, with the rest being available for GHTV. That “always-on 24-hour music network” is, well, always online. All songs on GHTV exist in the cloud. What this means is that, while there will be hundreds of songs available, currently only 15 have been announced to have Live Mode, which in turn means only 15 songs have been announced to be on disc. A whopping 84 songs have been confirmed to be in GHTV, and 36 more that will be featured, but haven’t been confirmed to be Live content or GHTV content. That’s right, and this is where things get a bit shady, most announcements about the game’s soundtrack have conveniently left out which songs will be featured where. Announcements like this, this, and this. Why is that a big deal? The answer is: microtransactions.
The way that GHTV works is that it’s a constant stream of pre-scheduled songs for you to play. If you want to play a specific song, you can either rent it with points earned while playing the game, or spend real money to unlock it to play it whenever you want. Pricing hasn’t been announced at this point. The thing about this, though, is that it can’t really be called DLC, because there is no download. All GHTV songs exist in the cloud, and the only thing you’re buying is access to the song. This means that once the servers go down, and they will eventually, you no longer have access to that song you payed money for. This also means that those “hundreds of songs available” would be reduced to (currently) 15 songs on-disc. This is, of course, a nightmare scenario for people who are against DRM and microtransactions, since this is basically a single player experience that has microtransactions, but will take away these purchases from you later.
The setlist is still massive, though. Assuming you like to listen to music, there is something for everyone in this game. You don’t have to pay any additional money to have access to all of these songs, either. Assuming Activision puts out frequent updates to GHTV, you’ll be playing the game for quite some time and won’t be hurting from all that DLC money you could be spending.
So which one should I buy?
It really depends on what you value in your games.
If you want a great party game, like to play drums, still have functional plastic instruments, and want a large library of DLC to pick from (or have already bought a lot of DLC), then get Rock Band 4.
If you want access to a large number of songs without spending any money (and don’t mind enduring the DRM around it), like the idea of getting stage-fright in front of a fake audience, or want to try out the new guitar, then get Guitar Hero Live.
Rock Band 4 comes out October 6th, and will be available for Xbox One and Playstation 4. (Amazon)
Guitar Hero Live comes out October 20th, and will be available for Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii U, and iOS (Amazon)