After a five year hiatus, 2015 is the year that plastic peripheral music games have made their triumphant return. With new, next-gen consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One offering more processing power than ever before, there was a massive gap in the market for the popular party games.
But how do they compare? Guitar Hero Live introduces not one, but two new play modes to the genre, along with a fundamentally different play mechanism, while Rock Band has focussed its efforts on further perfecting the whole band mentality.
With both titles here at techradar's Australian office, we decided to throw the games against each other in an old-school rock off. To make matters interesting, each of us has a slightly different take on the rhythm music genre – Rob is a real-life musician with a real-life band, Stephen is a bit of a music game expert, and Nick is a relative newcomer to the music game scene.
Together, our little band tackled both Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. And here are our thoughts:
For those about to rock
Nick: It's been a long time coming, but the rhythm music genre is back. Interestingly though, after years of copying each other, Rock Band and Guitar Hero have approached next gen with very different ideas.
Slams, you're a plastic guitar God from way back - what are your initial thoughts of the next gen offerings?
Stephen: It's true – I do like to rock and roll all night (and part of every day), so I was looking forward to the glorious return of the plastic instrument genre of video games.
Though I've been eagerly anticipating the return of Guitar Hero and Rock Band for several years, I immediately wondered what these titles would have to offer gamers in 2015.
For Rock Band 4, it's really offering more of the same, basically repackaging last gen's experience with some slightly nicer (and much more expensive) instruments.
The question is: does it really need to do more than that? The game was damn-near perfect last gen, so why fix what isn't broken?
It's a question that its rival, Guitar Hero Live, has completely ignored.
While the new Rock Band feels unchanged, Activision has taken its Guitar Hero franchise right back to the drawing board, with a brand new guitar and a split gameplay model that sees you rock out in front of a 'live' crowd on one hand, and play along to a streaming, MTV-style music channel on the other.
When it comes to both titles' approaches to this generation, it feels like Guitar Hero Live is the only one that couldn't have existed on last gen consoles.
Rob, you're a bonafide rock star, how do you feel about the new Rock Band and Guitar Hero games?
Rob: I agree, Slams. Guitar Hero Live is definitely the game that feels like it couldn't have existed on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
Maybe it has something to do with the fragile egos of us musician types, but the use of a 'live' crowd that responds positively or negatively to your playing is surprisingly effective in creating an atmosphere. It really adds to proceedings. While some of the other performers on the stage might seem like the last people you'd want to form a band with – backstage bust ups would be a certainty – Freestyle Games has really nailed the whole rock star fantasy element.
After playing Guitar Hero Live and flicking over to Rock Band 4 I found myself becoming bored quite quickly, and wanting to change back. The crude animations that Rock Band has always offered just didn't cut it anymore. It was like I'd been thrilled watching Prince wailing on his guitar and then all of a sudden I was confronted with *shudder* Nickelback.