'Guitar Hero Live' boasts old rhythm, new blues

"Rock Band is the reigning champion, and looks to maintain its foothold at the top of the music game genre well into the future."

Tuesday morning brought a not-altogether-welcome, not-altogether-surprising surprise in the form of Activision’s announcement that it's releasing a new Guitar Hero game parallel to Harmonix’s "Rock Band 4" release later this year. This is a bittersweet announcement for me, because I feel like "Guitar Hero" is The Rolling Stones of video games: Its legacy may be better if it had stopped years ago.

The last string of games in the "Guitar Hero" franchise became increasingly hokey as time went on, with little nagging additional gameplay nuances that worked to disguise the simple fact that "Rock Band 3" was more fun than all of them. Back in the glory days of GHIII and RB2, both franchises were a blast to play, equally fun with their different mechanics. It’s a time to which this forlorn soul harkens back.

In an ideal world, the decision between Activision’s “Guitar Hero Live” and Harmonix’s “Rock Band 4” would be impossible; balancing between the setlists, the unique gameplay and the replay-ability of both titles should have me cringing in anxiety at the thought of forsaking one title for the other. However, as it stands, Rock Band is the reigning champion and looks to retain its foothold at the top of the music game genre well into the future.

"Rock Band 4" seems a much more stable investment this holiday season for two critical reasons:

1) The Instruments

One of the big selling points of “Guitar Hero Live” is the new guitar peripheral — a 6-feet, two-level board adorns the top of the exquisitely pimped out black guitar. Its power is its curse; due to the unique design, this new guitar and game are incompatible with previous instruments, meaning that Activision is charging a $100 price tag for entry, compared to the expected $60 price of “Rock Band 4.” On top of this, "Guitar Hero Live” will only feature the guitar as a playable instrument in lieu of the full-band experience still being offered by Harmonix. Maybe Activision is appealing to loners; I’m not sure.

2) The Music

In the same vein as the new peripheral, Activision seems to be taking an alternative approach to the setlist this time around, with a majority of the songs coming from contemporary bands instead of classic rockers, and the confirmation that some of these tracks won’t even be guitar lines.

Compare this to the open suggestion box that Harmonix has established for community setlist preferences (which can be reached here) and the schism between the two games widens to the scale of the San Andreas Fault. Not to mention, "Rock Band 4" promises to be compatible with earlier instruments as well as previous song banks. Considering I have more than 600 songs in my song library, I would be hard-pressed to give up that aggregated convenience merely for a new first-person perspective.

"Guitar Hero Live" is going to need a lot more than a graphical overhaul and new peripheral to be king of music games. It needs to win us over by simply being a superior game first. At this point, "Rock Band 4" looks like a shoo-in for that distinction. Unless Activision’s E3 offering is earth-shattering or I win the Powerball, it’ll be a decidedly Harmonix Christmas this year.

Reach the columnist at hfinzel@asu.edu or follow @OnlyH_Man on Twitter

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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