Generating a jump for joy or a audible groan based on your opinion of the gimmick, 2015’s E3 finally confirmed that the music focused rhythm games of last generation would indeed be making a return on current generation hardware. Identified as Guitar Hero Live from Activation and Rock Band 4 from Harmonics, many gamer’s were once again positioned to make a choice between the two long established franchises. So while many made their decision back in the Fall, I’m here to assist anyone who still might me on the fence as the inevitable prices begin to drop on the guitar included bundles.

The Controllers

The controllers that come with Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live is one of the easier comparisons between the two games. Both games really stepped out in different directions when trying to establish new gameplay styles.

This is most evident with the Guitar Hero Live controller which feature two horizontal rows of three buttons a first in the history of either series. Marked as “black” along the top row and “white” across the bottom, each color corresponds with a matching note color that streams down the highway (on the TV screen).

The Rock Band 4 controller keeps to the classic design of one row featuring the five button layout from last generation and it keeps the frets towards the bottom of guitar neck for “solo” gameplay (more on this later).

Both controllers resemble that “Fender” styled guitar, a whammy bar, guitar strap and navigation buttons as we’ve experienced before. In terms of quality however, the Rock Band 4 controller is the better option. Sporting a sturdier and less “clickier” design, I experienced the Rock Band 4 controller to be more responsive and overall much easier to use than the Guitar Hero Live counterpart. The “action” of the Rock Band controller really stood out during longer play sessions as I didn’t have to press the buttons as hard as I did using the Guitar Hero controller. I found that my hands became sore the next day if I put more than a couple hours at a time into Guitar Hero Live. Because the Rock Band 4 controller’s buttons require less force, I found sliding my hand up and down the fret board as I switched from rhythm gameplay and free play solo sessions to be easy and intuitive. The Rock Band 4 controller really stands out as a having been designed around the the player experience within the gameplay whereas the Guitar Hero Live controller more or less feels like it was just made to control the game.

Guitar Hero Live

Referred to earlier when describing the controllers, the new controllers distinctly change the way the new games are played from past iterations. In the case of Guitar Hero Live the new alternate row and color combinations results in a jarring first experience and a brief learning curve for first time player that have grown accustomed to the aged old five button layout found in the last generation and Rock Band series. The first time I booted the game and began the tutorial I was lured into thinking Guitar Hero Live would be a breeze to play. As soon as I witnessed alternating chord-like patterns involving a white+black+white button combinations my mind was overwhelmed and I simply couldn’t keep up. It required between an hour or two of practice before I began to get with the program. Once mastered though the feeling of accomplishment was noticeably evident. The added complexity the new controller resulted in me feeling quite accomplished when I earned a high score on a frantic song. The new input style made me pay more attention to the game as I played and was absolutely smile inducing. I could only compare it to the experience one might find in a stressful but rewarding game of Dr. Mario or Tetris.

Guitar Hero Live features two modes that are new to the series. The first dubbed Guitar Hero “Live” is a live action video feature where the player actually plays the part of guitarist during the concert. On stage with other real people, as opposed to animated characters, in a staged reenactment of a major concert. The crowds react to you the player in correlation with your performance. Miss some notes and they’ll boo while your band mates scold you for wrecking their big chance. Vice versa, string together a perfect 20 notes or so and the crowd will pop and your band members will rock out full of smiles. The venues range from indie outdoor music festivals to the largest nighttime arenas with massive crowds that really provides a sense of what it’s actually like to be a rock star. Ultimately this mode is disrupted by its’ scripted “atta boys” and signs of encouragement that all come off as ridiculously corny but the approach and execution is solid. I couldn’t recommend revisiting this mode over and over, but the first time through is a fun experience. One has to wonder if a real band would ever sign up to be featured as the live action tour in the future and allow you to actually step into the shoes of a real music superstar.

The second mode found in Guitar Hero Live is the named “TV.” This mode features an old school MTV from the 80s or 90s music video streaming service and essentially replaces the previous generations model of having to purchase your rhythm game music library a la cart through DLC. While the service does offer a micro-transactions as well as a daily party pass, I found the rate at which the player can earn “plays” (the currency used to pick and choose songs from the library) more than enough and I haven’t purchased any “plays” out of pocket during my time with the game for more than a couple months now. The library is often refreshed similar to what you might find with something like Netflix. New songs are tacked on and old songs are removed periodically. There are two channels playing songs based on a certain genre at all times, usually Rock vs. Pop with hour segments such as “90s pop idols” vs. “British Rockers” going head to head. In addition to new songs and their respective music videos, exclusive shows are also added to the service for those having reached a high enough level or with enough points to unlock. These shows act as an “early access” of sorts to music that may have not yet been added to the library. GHTV also features a live leaderboard for each song being played and random “rival challenges” where you’ll be pitted against another player for a song. As you could imagine,  a streaming gaming service is only as good as its internet connection and if your speeds are less than ideal you’ll encounter songs buffering, skipping, and drop outs which could render your experience very poor. This new mode is absolutely my favorite way to play Guitar Hero and I really enjoy not only being exposed to new music as I jump into whatever’s currently playing but also seeing music videos find a new home outside of YouTube as it certainly isn’t on TV these days.

Rock Band 4

The only tangible new attraction in the gameplay department with Rock Band 4 is the “freestyle solo” mode during appropriate songs. This new Rock Band 4 evolution features a make-your-own solo portion during a song that enables the player to hold any combination of notes along the highway to produce a solo that are somewhat in tune with the rest of the song. There are visual cues for the player to follow should they choose, but ultimately the input is left to the player. I believe many players will find this attraction most rewarding being that it represents the first time in either series the player can actually feel like they’re taking part in the creation of the music and not simply playing tablature as the music streams. Another gameplay element that Rock Band 4 features over its rival platform is a home for the entire band. Yes, drums, mic, bass, and guitar are all supported in Rock Band 4 and while this is not a new feature, its a distinct difference from Guitar Hero Live which only supports up to two guitarists and one singer via microphone. If you and your friends are contemplating getting the band back together on your Xbox One or PlayStation 4, Rock Band 4 is your only choice if you want more than the guitar in your hands.

Rock Band 4 doesn’t offer much in terms of new ways to play as Guitar Hero Live does. New doesn’t always equate to a better experience, but even Rock Band 4’s continued Quick Play and Tour modes fall short of those found in Rock Band 2 or 3. The campaign mode that strings together a tour of gigs leaves much to be desired. I found the character creator to be very “cookie-cutter” and bland resulting in every band member looking very similar to each other. Not be found in Rock Band 4 are the cleaver cut scenes showing your band’s experience in the life of a rocker between shows. In their place are simple text based choices that have little to no effect on the gameplay experience. Choose the life of band that lives out of van and you’ll earn more fans, choose to be managed by a high powered manager and you’ll net more money. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. You play the songs in each venue until you reach the end. I felt these changes and lack there of make Rock Band 4 lose the charm it was so known for in the past. I really missed watching those 20-30 second clips of my band getting into mischief of running from adoring fans. Ultimately, I can’t say there’s really any incentive or fun in playing the Tour mode over the quick play outside of unlocking some songs for your library.

One area that Rock Band 4 absolutely excels is quantity of music content if you include the DLC support. There are over 60 songs that come on the disc with RB4 but the user has access to over 2000 additional songs via DLC but they won’t come cheap ($1.99 per song). Cross-download support was promised to those that wanted to carry purchases from last gen to Rock Bands new platform however at this time of writing my attempt was unsuccessful. I was informed my issue can be attributed to me having changed my Xbox Live account name. I had only a handful of songs in Rock Band 3 so I really didn’t mind to repurchase them and I have seen the sync work for other players so this should in no way be taken as a slight but more as an acknowledgement of how hard a feat Harmonics has seemingly accomplished. You should have more than faith that your Rock Band music library will transfer with you going forward should future versions of Rock Band continue to be produced.

Outside of these new features the games play as you would expect for the most part. You have new controllers with each that take up space in your gaming room corners and each offers that addictive feel like a rock star gameplay even if both of the newest iterations skew slightly more towards the pop than rock genre of music.

The Set Lists

Complete set lists can be found here – Guitar Hero Live Song List & Rock Band 4 Song List

I can go on & on about how much I like one feature over another but this entire debate usually just hinges on what songs are included. These games have largely been valued solely on their set list and the users’s preferred play style and these two are no different. Comparing track lists between Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live is where the debate can really heat up. If you’re a hardcore Rock Band player who has tens if not hundreds of DLC purchases on your old account, the decision is a no-brainer. Buy Rock Band 4 and move on. However, if you’re new to the genre, didn’t purchase a bunch of DLC last generation, or are one of those gamers that went over to enemy lines this generation Guitar Hero Live has a compelling case to make.

Yes the Rock Band 4 set list features a ton of more content if you count the DLC, the main problem is that you actually have to purchase it all. The 65-ish songs featured on the Rock Band 4 disc leaves a lot to be desired in this reviewer’s opinion and I would expect to spend at least another $25-75 dollars in DLC before you’re most like content with your new music game library. Conversely, Guitar Hero Live doesn’t offer as many “hits” on the disc but when you include the library on the streaming service and consider its potential to evolve over time as a service, that’s quite a lot of value that comes on the disc no extra purchases necessary.

Ultimately I think it comes down to this – Do you want to own (download) your music to your console’s hard-drive at a much higher expense or would you prefer to have the most bang possible for the initial purchase of $60?

The Value

While I value those opinions that judge a game based on its merit as a game alone, I think it is equally important to judge any product in relation to its market to provide a full appreciation for the consumer. First and foremost – If you’re aiming to play on Wii U the only option is Guitar Hero Live as Rock Band 4 is only available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. Here’s the breakdown between both games.

  • Guitar Hero Live SKUs
    • 2 guitar bundle (includes microphone too) retails for $79.99 and is currently selling between $49.99 and $59.99 on all consoles.
    • 1 guitar 1 microphone bundle is $39.99 on all consoles.
  • Rock Band 4
    •  The full Monty (guitar, microphone, and drum kit) retails for $169.99 and is still within that same range today (April 22, 16).
    • The guitar only bundle has recently been slashed to $69.99 for both consoles.
      • microphone and drum kit sold separately (however the Wii U Guitar Hero Live microphone works for Rock Band 4)

Guitar Hero Live wins!

It’s very unlikely that Guitar Hero Live will ever feature a quarter of what Rock Band 4 provides in pure amount of songs. But what they lack in quantity, I feel like Guitar Hero Live makes up for with quality and gameplay not to mention Guitar Hero Live won’t negatively impact your bank account outside of the original purchase.