A little over five years ago, the rhythm and music genre was at the forefront of the gaming industry. Between Rock Band and Guitar Hero, games and plastic instruments for the genre were everywhere. You couldn’t look at your friends list on any platform and not see someone playing through the games, whether they were plowing through the various career modes or having a drunken karaoke night with their friends. It was everywhere, and it quickly became too much. We over saturated ourself with it all and burnt ourselves out. A few years have passed, and it appears as though the industry is ready to try their hand at the genre once again. The music games are back in 2015 and leading the charge is Rock Band 4.
Harmonix is actually taking a very safe approach with the new generation of Rock Band by not changing things around too much. In fact, you could argue that they are actually scaling things back a bit, at least compared to Rock Band 3. With the new entry, the series has returned to being more of an instrumental-karaoke package rather than a teaching tool, which actually helps the overall experience in the long run. While lacking a lot of the frills and extra stuff that most sequels are overloaded with, Rock Band 4 has chosen to shave a lot of part three’s additions off and focus purely on the original, core mechanics of Harmonix’s formula.
It’s clear from the start that things are more focused this time around. Your gameplay options are a lot more limited than they have been in the past. In Rock Band 4, you basically have two choices: play through the career mode or quick play different songs or created sets. That is all that there is at this time (more modes have been promised with future title updates). Gone are the options to practice different songs and their more complicated sections as well as the online options that were available in the past. While the practice option is something that I do miss, it is a bit refreshing to see a game dedicated to simply getting things rolling as quickly as possible. Regardless of which mode you choose, you are quickly whisked through the song selection screen(s) and into the performance. Thanks to the new generation of consoles, the loading times between your selection and actually playing music has been drastically reduced.
Along with the disappearance of some of the side-modes, returning fans will also find that the keyboard option has also been removed. Harmonix is placing the emphasis on the original, core Rock Band experience of singing, drumming, and playing guitar (lead and bass). As a result, you don’t necessarily need any new, expensive hardware aside from your console to hit the ground running with the new game. A good majority of your old Rock Band hardware works with Rock Band 4. I have tried a couple of different options, including a first party Guitar Hero III wireless controller, a few third party guitars designed for older Guitar Hero / Rock Band titles, as well as a Rock Band 2 drum set. All of them worked without a hitch.
The career mode has been altered a bit, which is both good and bad. In terms of the good alterations, things seem a bit more streamlined this time around. You are quickly moving from concert to concert as you trek across the world with your created band. While it is an improvement to move from gig to gig so fast, everything in between unfortunately happens on boring, text filled screens. The career mode doesn’t offer the great visual takes that the earlier games once did, such as the loading screens in Rock Band 2 that really gave character to your fictitious band mates.
Every once in a while you are given a choice to make which will determine the direction in your band. The decisions always boil down to taking either a route that leads to more fans or another that leads to more money. The end results of both simply dictate what unlocks in the in-game gear store and how quickly you can afford the items. That brings us to another area that seems limited: character creation and cosmetic items for your band. The choices are just, for lack of a better word, lacking. Granted, I don’t really pay much attention to them when playing the game because my eyes are on the note-highway, but still, I expected more variation this generation.
In addition to bringing your old instruments back from the dead, Rock Band 4 also brings back the DLC that you have invested in over the years. This means that returning fans will have more than just the base-game track list to work through when playing through the game’s modes. While I have heard a lot of people complain about the game having a weak, on-disc tracklist, I didn’t find that to be the case. The included tracks definitely look a bit lacking when you read through what is included, especially compared to the previous games, but once you get in and begin digging through them you will find that it is actually incredibly solid. It will be natural for you to gravitate to those that you are familiar with, such as U2, Van Halen, and Aerosmith, but don’t ignore the likes of the Protomen, Imagine Dragons, and The Warning.
The only real gameplay addition to the experience is that of guitar solos. I have to admit, I didn’t care much for these at first but once I finally took the time to learn how to best utilize them, they became a welcome addition. Solos, just as they are in real life music performance, are truly “what you make of them”. You can plow through them, simply strumming at your own pace and slamming on the fret buttons, and you will be rewarded with a couple of thousand points for your score. They’ll never sound off key or out of place; they just aren’t always in tune with the tempo or “feel” of the song you’re playing.
However, if you take the time to learn the visual cues that the game gives you during the solo sections, you can craft some stand-out pieces that would be worthy of being played by the real band. There is an in-game tutorial that will teach you how to read and play through these sections, and I highly recommend that you take the time and play through it; your resulting solos will be a lot better sounding and the resulting points will be a ton higher and push you closer to that coveted 5-star rating.
While it may sound like I have a lot of criticisms for the game, I can assure you that all of them fade away once you get a full band together with your friends. The entire Rock Band concept is a decent game, but an incredible faux-music platform / experience. You get glimpses of what it has to offer when you play the game by yourself, but the moment that you bring friends into the picture, it becomes an entirely different experience. It is hard to describe the feeling and the amount of fun that can be found when a group of friends is railing away at the chorus of a classic song; everyone has smiles on their faces and the cheers of the digital-crowd provided by the game take to what is almost a euphoric place. There is simply no better party game available in the industry. Rock Band 4 completely embraces this idea and offers a no-frills platform to which Harmonix can build on over the next few years with new songs and digital content. If you were ever a fan of this genre in the past, then there should be little to no hesitation in regards to getting back into the world of Rock Band.
While the total package has been scaled back, Rock Band 4 still has what it takes to be the complete life of the party. There is simply no better game to be played with your friends.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).