Guitar Hero, like so many other of the ‘living room rock band’ games, has spent the last five years hibernating. Why? Well the simple reason is it stopped becoming cool.
People grew tired of the cartoon-like characters, the constant focus on a specific group of genres. Even the multi-genre Rock Band couldn’t find the answer.
Well five years later and the answer is here, OK it’s not literally here, it’s at a small games studio called Freestyle Games in Leamington Spa.
Freestyle Games don’t have a previous Guitar Hero to their name, in fact the last game they made was a Call of Duty online shooter that you’ll never get the chance to play.
Look further back though and you’ll find a hidden gem: DJ Hero. This excellent 2009 game was the Guitar Hero’s way of shaking things up, and it really worked.
DJ Hero was a new experience, it was challenging and most importantly, it was relevant.
While people couldn’t play it in their living rooms with friends, it succeeded in fulfilling another childhood ambition of the masses: Mastering the deck.
Freestyle has taken this fresh approach and given Guitar Hero a serious makeover, it’s lighter, cleaner, leaner and most importantly of all, more real.
If you haven’t yet seen the trailer for it, then we seriously recommend you do as almost nothing we say will put across the major changes that have taken place more.
Real-life, there’s something about it that just makes the whole experience better.
While we loved the old Guitar Hero games, the world has moved on from the Tenacious D form of rock god humour, in its place are the literally hundreds of music festivals that we’re now going to.
Freestyle knew the only way they were going to get that festival feeling into a game was by bringing reality with it.
The team decided on locations and then, in much the same way that you’d shoot a large-scale music video, they recreated on the scenes they wanted. This meant bringing in hundreds of extras, choosing a real-life musicians to play the parts and then filming it all. Twice.
That’s right, twice, because of course a crowd isn’t going to love you if you’re terrible. So when you’re in-game, the crowd will change how they react to you dependent on how good you are. Easy enough to manipulate when you’re talking about pixels, but these are real people.
Using state-of-the-art rigs and cameras they were able to recreate exactly the same filming pattern, allowing the software to switch from the good times for well, the not-so-good times.
So what’s it like to play? Well to answer that question we went not to Leamington Spa, but Los Angeles, and in particular E3 2015.
The first thing you notice is that the guitar itself feels familiar except for one key component: the neck. Gone are the primary colours and stretched little pinkies. In its place are two rows of black and white buttons.
The design feels more ‘grown up’ and it ties in really nicely with the new minimal interface. All of those minimalism though does rather give you the mistaken impression that it’s actually quite easy to play. It isn’t, it’s tough.
Here’s some people who aren’t very happy. You’ll want to change that.
Your first gig will not be one the crowd enjoys, and in some ways that’s how it should be. You really feel the nerves kick in as you see real people lob cups of stale beer at you as your bandmates soldier on.
While they’re your friends they will turn on you as well, pulling contorted faces of rage as you screw up the song’s major guitar solo.
This pushes you to do better, and as you do you start to see the crowd jump a little higher, the bandmates will come over and start riffing with you. The immersion this game provides you with is remarkable.
In much the same way that Forza Horizon 2 gives you a truly blissful view into the world of the super-rich, this lets you know what it’s like to play an career-defining performance at a massive festival as the sun comes up.
While it’s still intrinsically the same premise as last time, the new wardrobe change is drastic enough that it feels like a genuinely new product. The introduction of real-life is remarkably immersive and feels primed for a virtual reality port in a few years.
What has us really excited though is the potential the new filming technique has: Using the same technology, they could theoretically film any festival or gig the same way. Imagine being able to download the ‘Glastonbury’ DLC and actually play on the stand at Glastonbury on a Saturday night?
Now there’s a thought.