Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live Coming Fall 2015

Rock Band 4 vs. GH Live
Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live coming Fall 2015. Activision, Harmonix

It has been 5 years since a new Rock Band or Guitar Hero released.  Five years!  Fall of 2010 saw both Rock Band 3 and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock stumble in after several years of market over saturation (mostly Activision's fault for releasing way too many Hero games) and the consumer response was tepid at best.  Gamers needed a break.  The game industry needed to move on to something else.  And retailers needed to clear out years worth of accumulated plastic instruments.

  It was a good time to stop.

Now we're in 2015, however, with a new generation of game systems next to our TV's and instead of feelings of "There's too many Guitar Hero games.  I'm bored with this now ...", we fondly remember the good times we had making music with our friends and family.  It is a good time for some new plastic instrument games.

Fall 2015 will see the launch of Guitar Hero Live from FreeStyleGames (best known for the DJ Hero games) and published by Activision, and Rock Band 4 from Harmonix and published by Mad Catz on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.  One game is playing it safe and is bringing the same experience to current gen, while the other is shaking things up and trying something new.  We have all of the details here.

Rock Band 4

Rock Band 4 is a bit of a return to the basics for Harmonix.  It is just going to be a plastic instrument game again, and not a teaching tool for real guitar anymore.

  Ubisoft's RockSmith series does a better job of teaching real guitar than RB3 did anyway, so it is wise of Harmonix to recognize that and focus on what it does best - which is making crazy fun arcade-style music games. 

Harmonix promises that almost all of your music that you have downloaded on last-gen will carry over to Rock Band 4, which is pretty darn significant as there are 2000+ songs available currently.

  Not all songs will be able to be transferred due to licensing deals with record labels, but Harmonix is working to ensure as many songs as possible will transfer over.  RB4 will also have a brand new list of songs on-disc as well, of course, and Harmonix plans to start doing regular DLC releases again. 

Harmonix is also hoping that your last-gen instruments will also be useable on current-gen, but that is ultimately up to Microsoft and Sony to allow that to happen because the last-gen instruments will require a dongle of some sort to be recognized by your XONE or PS4.  Harmonix is optimistic that they'll work something out with the platform holders, which we're also hopeful for as we still have a closet full of instruments we'd like to keep using.  New current-gen instruments are also in the works which will be made by Mad Catz.  Here's hoping the old instruments work, because I really don't like the Rock Band guitars.  Just sayin'.

Update:  It has been confirmed that most wireless Xbox 360 guitars and drums will work with Rock Band 4 on Xbox One, though they will require a special adapter to work.  See our full Rock Band 4 XONE Instrument Compatibility FAQ for details.

For the most part, Rock Band 4 is going to be an evolution of the Rock Band formula without drastic changes to the gameplay.

  It will use the same 5-button note highway as previous music games.  As a return to the party, as it were, and with such an extensive library of existing songs, taking the safe route like this was a smart move.

Guitar Hero Live

Guitar Hero Live, on the other hand, is tossing out everything and starting entirely over from scratch.  Scheduled for release Fall 2015 on both current and last-gen, Guitar Hero Live is getting rid of the classic 5-button layout of previous games and has re-designed the guitar and the gameplay to be something new. 

Guitar Hero Live instead changes the guitar to feature two rows of three buttons stacked on top of each other with the top and bottom rows distinguished from each other by one being white, and the other being black.

  The note highway on your TV will only have three columns, so you play notes on whichever column - left, middle, right - on the color of button the note is.  It is a totally new style of plastic instrument gameplay that looks to simplify the game for beginning players - you only use your first three fingers and won't use your pinky at all - while offering a new challenge for experienced players.  You'll have to play "chords" of notes by pressing buttons on the top and bottom row at the same time, which simulates playing real chords on a real guitar surprisingly realistically. 

Without actually playing the new setup myself yet, however, I have to admit I'm a little leery of this change.  Even for experienced plastic instrument vets, you'll basically have to re-learn how to play Guitar Hero all over again, and I'm not sure it'll be worth it.  Might as well just jump into RockSmith instead if you're going to have to learn everything again anyway.  Guitar Hero and Rock Band both already teach you bad habits that are hard to break when you try to learn real guitar, and GH Live might just make it more confusing.  I wrote on article a few years ago on Guitar Hero vs. Real Guitar.

Because of the change in the guitar and gameplay, Guitar Hero Live won't be backward compatible with any of the previously released instruments.  The gameplay is just too dramatically different.  It raises the question as to whether this all for the better, or just an evil scheme on Activision's part to get you to spend more money on plastic instruments.  The answer:   Maaayyybe!

Likewise, because of the new guitar, your old DLC songs from previous Guitar Hero games won't work with Guitar Hero Live, either.  Granted, Activision wasn't nearly as successful with Guitar Hero DLC as Harmonix was for Rock Band so the catalogue of songs isn't nearly as extensive, but it is still a bummer not to have access to those songs you already paid for.  On that note, because the gameplay is different in Guitar Hero Live, don't be surprised to see the same songs previously released in other versions re-released for the new gameplay. 

Guitar Hero Live has a lot to prove.  Not just because it is all new and different (that's good!), but more because it is hard to trust Activision after how it handled the "hero" games before.  We're pessimistic for now.

See the full Guitar Hero Live Track List here.

Bottom Line

Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live are both scheduled for release in Fall 2015.  We'll have more coverage throughout the Summer leading up to release!