After five years ‘Guitar Hero’ is back with brand new features and awesome music. Guitar Hero Live allows players to rock on stage in front of thousands, as well as play online against players from all over the world, all rocking to the same tunes.

Activision is betting that consumers will once again want to strap on a plastic guitar and make like a guitar hero.

The first new entry in the popular music game franchise to arrive in five years, Guitar Hero Live ($99.99, ages 13-up), is out Tuesday for Sony PlayStation 4 and PS3, Microsoft Xbox One and Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U).

Guitar Hero helped stoke the music game category to its peak in 2008 when the games brought in nearly $2 billion annually. Activision says Guitar Hero was the first game to breach the $1 billion barrier. But “the category was run into the ground,” said Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy.

For this comeback tour, Guitar Hero Live has an entirely different look and new ways to play online. Gone are the cartoony characters in the game’s story mode. Game studio FreeStyleGames auditioned real musicians and filmed them as they played gigs for real crowds to create live-action footage for the game.

“We needed people who could really behave like a really tight band so when we put the player in the middle of that everyone else is a rock star and it’s up to the player to step up and fill that place as the lead guitarist,” said Nathan Coppard, senior designer from FreeStyleGames, which previously created the DJ Hero games.

And the crowd gets into the act, too. “Literally, if you are doing well the crowd loves you, but if you are doing poorly they start to throw beer cups at you,” said Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg. “That is a pretty cool way to escalate that rock star fantasy.”

The 100-plus song playlist runs from Rock & Roll Hall of Famers (Queen, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top) and alternative (The Clash, Pearl Jam) to modern rock (The Black Keys, the War on Drugs) and poppier rock (Charli XCX, Ed Sheeran). Songs will constantly be added, too.

Other new twists include a GHTV online video network lets you play the game to music videos and compete online with others for top scores (you have to have your game system connected to the Net to play). Activision and FreeStyleGames hope to build this into a music discovery platform that benefits music labels as well as listeners. At launch, the game will have a playable three-song set filmed at an Avenged Sevenfold concert. You can expect more exclusive content such as this, as well as music video premieres, Hirshberg says.

And the guitar controller is different in that the five-button line on the guitar neck has been swapped for two rows of three buttons. On easier difficulty settings, players must only tap the bottom buttons in time with the music. Higher difficulty levels bring the top row of buttons into play.

Those who don’t a console video game system can get Guitar Hero Live at retail ($99.99) and in Apple’s app store ($49.99) and play on iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch (a version is in the works for Apple TV, too). You can play directly on your device with or without a guitar controller, or you can connect your device to the TV.

A Guitar Hero Live companion app also turns your iPhone or other iOS device into a microphone so you can sing along to the console game. Guitar Hero Live can be played solo, but two players can jam together on guitars and a singer can join in, too.

Earlier this month, the arrival of Rock Band 4 kicked off the music game revival. Guitar Hero might have an advantage in this round of the competition, Digital World Research’s McNealy said. “Guitar Hero has much bigger brand value … I think inherently there would be a bigger audience for Guitar Hero given the legacy.

“Activision hasn’t had many big swings and misses in the last five years. They figured out how to build franchises. I would be surprised if they missed on this.”

At Wedbush Securities, equity research managing director Michael Pachter said he thinks “there is room for a (music game) revival, and I think the online strategy is a winner if the price is right.”

But the music game revival won’t likely match the category’s previous success, he said. “They’re never getting back to the prior levels, but sales should be two to three million units combined.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider

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