Activision plans to bring back Guitar Hero with Guitar Hero Live, a new video game developed by DJ Hero creator FreeStyle Games, due to release this fall on all major consoles, smartphones and tablets. While the foundation that made the franchise a success remains intact, with players pressing buttons on a plastic guitar in sync with on-screen notes, exciting features should bring gamers one step closer to living out their fantasies of becoming rock stars. 

Previous Guitar Hero games featured characters with exaggerated features, face paint and plenty of leather. This cartoon-like appearance served the games well and established an identity, but the series needed change. Guitar Hero Live replaces these visuals with live-action crowds that react to your performance.  Play well and the fans sing along to the music and jump around.  Miss several notes and there’s a brief transition to an angry mob that throws plastic bottles at your head, boos and lifts signs into the air that read, “You suck!”  Even your band mates react accordingly, shaking their heads in disbelief or jamming alongside you. 

It’s the sort of visual presentation that looks too good to be true, a virtual parlor trick from Activision that’ll receive a downgrade in time for launch, but it’s 100 percent real.  The fact that you play this game from a first person perspective only serves to intensify the experience of physically being on stage in front of thousands of people, or a couple hundred depending on the venue. Perhaps even cooler, the game looks exactly the same on both console and mobile, which may turn out to be the biggest technical achievement of all. 

With the audio, Guitar Hero Live comes with positional sound design. Hang out near the crowd and you’ll hear these people sing and shout. Walk over to the drummer and more of the beat will come through the speakers. That said, it doesn’t seem like you control your character’s movements. The audio adjusts itself accordingly as the camera takes you around the stage, or deep into the fans if you perform a stage dive for some crowd surfing; screw up the song and they won’t catch you. 

The notes scrolling down the screen share similarities to Guitar Hero games past, except you won’t see the familiar orange, blue, yellow, red and green icons. FreeStyle Games removed these entirely, not just from the game but also the new plastic guitar that features two rows of three buttons, all of which are brownish in color. The idea behind this was to make the difficulty progression easier for Guitar Hero fans that play with only three fingers.  Side note, this guitar is forward compatible with future Guitar Hero games; sequels confirmed. 

While the live crowds look incredible, you’re able to switch to a more casual vibe with GHTV, an online music network featuring hundreds of songs complimented by music videos.  Not only will it feature several different genres broken up into channels, but the developers also plan to upload new pieces of content on a regular basis, with songs from bands like The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, The Rolling Stones and The Killers, to name a few. The idea here is to present a never-ending stream of music while friends focus on the notes and/or the videos in the background. 

From what we’ve seen, Guitar Hero Live will cause a lot of people to do double takes. The game looks great so far, and if Activision achieves its goals with GHTV, this could result in yet another million seller. With that in mind, expect new details on this game and the new Rock Band in the months ahead.