When Harmonix announced the last weekly DLC for Rock Band 3 on April 2nd, 2013, we all knew that eventually, with the so called “next gen” approaching, this would only mean nothing but a brief hiatus for the franchise. On March 5th, the hiatus’ expiration date was revealed, as Harmonix announced Rock Band 4. With the promise of re-vamped graphics, new gameplay features and backwards compatibility – not only for existing DLC but also for plastic instruments from previous iterations -, the game arrived both Xbox One and PS4. With more ups than downs, I’m happy to say “Rock Band is back”.
Rock Band 4
Available on: Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (tested)
“The song remains the same”
Being a huge fan of the series, I was pretty excited when the announcement of a new Rock Band was made, mostly because they understood that guaranteeing backwards compatibility for both songs and instruments would be a key feature to grab every fan’s attention. I’m glad to say that they pulled off the backwards compatibility in a very good way; in regards to previous games instruments, the job is flawless as they work perfect on this generation consoles, although PlayStation’s ones have an edge, as they don’t need an USB adapter to work as the Xbox’s ones do.
The existing DLC is a whole different story, as it still needs some refining; in order to get all my previously purchased songs, I had to literally navigate through the more than 1500 songs the library has, spotting the ones that said “Free” instead of their actual price. It was a pain to perform such task and I hope that with upcoming patches they will find a more elegant way to perform this now tiresome task. Also, the guys at Harmonix are currently working on a way to get all of your on-disc songs (say, Rock Band 1, Rock Band 2, Rock Band 3, etc) onto the game. I’m eager to see how they pull it off, as that would mean like, at least, a hundred songs more to add to the game’s library.
A library that definitely needs that boost from previous games and existing DLC since it is, in my opinion, the weakest tracklist from all the existing games within the franchise. What I found cool about the previous Rock Bands was that, despite the fact of having lots of “unknown” artists, it had fun songs to play along. This is not the case with Rock Band 4; don’t get me wrong, they placed songs like Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson ft. Bruno mars), Somebody Told Me (The Killers), Friday I’m In Love (The Cure), Panama (Van Halen… at last!) and, a personal favorite, Metropolis Pt.1 (Dream Theater), that are a blast to play. But most of the other songs are pretty dull and you will find yourself playing them just for the sake of in-game completion.
Graphically the game doesn’t push it too hard, mostly because it doesn’t need to. You don’t play Rock Band because of its graphics and Harmonix knows that. That being said, the game looks pretty much like Rock Band 3 with a renewed interface. The little details applied to the instruments’ tracks are nice and do the trick to refresh the game’s image to some degree.
Just like the graphics, gameplay has remained almost unchanged. You know what they say: “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. And that’s exactly what Harmonix did, while adding some little but cool twists. For instance, when playing drums you can choose how you will perform your fills in order to activate Overdrive; you can either go classic, free style fills, or choose the “Dynamic Fills” option, which is a really good alternative for those like me who don’t have the slightest idea of how to play a fill. With this option active, each time you are prompted to activate Overdrive, you will get a fill pattern that is generated dynamically, resulting in a fill that’s nice to hear and not a complete mess.
Vocals get an upgrade too, letting you sing phrases in a more free stylish way (between some logical parameters, of course). But the greatest addition of all are, without a doubt, Free Style Solos. Introduced in a very easy way, this feature lets you build your own solo by just pressing the buttons and strumming in different ways, always guided by some visual cues. The result is pretty amazing; all the solos you generate are always within the song scale and never feel out of place. What’s more, it’s the first time ever the five higher frets (the little ones) feel justified. It’s worth mentioning that you can turn off any of this newly added features, for a more “vintage” Rock Band experience, but I don’t see myself turning off Free Style Solos for quite a while.
Last but not least, the game features three game modes: Quick Play, where you play a song of your choosing; Play a Show, where you start off by playing 2 songs and then you and your bandmates get a prompt to vote the next few songs, in different ways (i.e: in one button you can get “A song by Foo Fighters” while on another button you get things like “A song from 1982”, and so on). You can go on playing songs like that forever, ending the show whenever you see fit, although you may get an Encore request, which you can accept or decline. The last mode is the Tour Mode, where you create a band (you can also create a character or use the ones that already come with the game) and start your career in the dark corners of a local pub, making your way up to super stardom. You get some choices to make while playing, each of them having its pros and cons. The mode is solid, albeit it falls short of songs if you play it only with the ones provided with RB4.
Should you play it? Either if you are a Rock Band veteran or a new comer, you definitely should try out this new entry. The gameplay is as solid as ever, with some cool additions, and despite having a weak setlist, you will have a blast playing it with friends.