Rock Band 4 Review
Long Live the Band
It has been a while since Rock Band 3 in 2010, and although Harmonix slowly added tracks for their flag ship title for years following, Rock Band, and largely the music game genre as well, fell away into obscurity. When Rock Band 4 was announced, I could not make myself get excited. Sure, a new Rock Band sounded nice, but lets face it, it is just Rock Band. We have been give the standard formula from Harmonix many, many times! How different could Rock Band 4 really be? After playing over 100 hours of Rock Band 4, I can say that jumping on this new title is a definite must, especially for those who live in a permanent ‘party zone.’
Like almost everyone else, I was done with Rock Band. The game had its heyday during the Rock Band 1 and 2 days, and then slowly died over the life cycle of 3. The glut of good – and very, very bad – music games on the market heading into 2010 probably did not help with consumer fatigue. The question really becomes then, how was Rock Band able to generate so much hype for yet another music game in 2015?
A New Generation
It has been nearly eight years since Rock Band originally launched. 8 years ago, I was starting university, and like all college aged kid, I played a lot more video games then I studied. Rock Band was huge on my University campus in Windsor, Ontario. Almost every dorm had multiple kits just waiting to be played. Dorm room common areas became great party areas and Rock Band was often at the front. I have a brother 11 years my junior. He was 7 or 8 then, and had absolutely zero interest in Rock Band. Harmonix rang off 3 games in 4 years between 2007 and 2010, all geared towards my generation and older. The mid 90s, 80s and 70s kids. This latest rock band is coming forward to a whole new generation of gamers, and will probably scratch that nostalgic itch of the rest of us.
It’s not All Good
I would be lying if I said Rock Band 4 was a perfect game. To fully enjoy it, my wife and I had to spend a LOT of money. To be fair, the kit and extra guitar was provided to us by Harmonix for the purpose of this review, so really, I shouldn’t complain. However, had I paid full price for Rock Band 4 – which in Canada is 349.99 for a guitar, drums, microphone and game – I would have felt a tad let down. The tracks included on the disc were not that appealing to my wife or I, and those that came over to participate and help with the review were also often equally disappointed, although there were exceptions. Fortunately, I had some prior DLC which I was able to re-download into Rock Band 4, so the party really never stopped. Out of all the tracks on the disc, perhaps 15-20 were songs my wife and I really wanted to play.
The wide variety of tracks included with the game, however, will make Rock Band 4 more approachable for a wider audience. There is new rock, indie rock, old rock, punk, country and more. Perhaps this is why my wife and I were disappointed. The most dedicated music listeners in my group of friends actually found Rock Band 4’s soundtrack refreshing. “It’s not just what you would expect” they often said. “There is variety here.” Be aware going in: if you hate country, punk, and indie rock – for example – you probably won’t enjoy half the songs included with the game. Don’t fret, however, as the Rock Band store offers thousands – yes thousands! – of songs ready for you to download for the modest price of 1.99 each.
My previous gripe is more of an FYI than an actual problem. Understand that even before the Rock Band store was made available to reviewers this past Friday, my wife and I still managed over fifty hours of play time. We even were surprised to enjoy some songs we might not have ever tried before when playing the Go On Tour mode. When the store did open up, we made the most of our Xbox Live credit and went on a spending spree. Anyone who hasn’t looked in the Rock Band store for a number of years are in for a shock. It took my wife almost 2 hours to scan through every available song. Rock Band 4 has a very neat feature that allows you to add Rock Band Store songs to your wishlist for purchasing later. My wife and I made the most of this feature by selecting all our favorites as we initially went through the list, revisiting them later to pick our favorites.
If you like music in any way, you are guaranteed to find the songs you really want to play. Most surprising for my family was the wealth of Christian Rock songs available on the marketplace, from Thousand Foot Krutch, POD, and Relient K to Owl City, Family Force Five and DC Talk. We also spent many a dollar on songs from our high school days, including Green Day, Blink 182, The All American Rejects, to name a few. My brother came and bought a few country songs he enjoyed. My father-in-law came and picked up a few old rock songs he sang to as a teenager. Shoot, there was even a few Sponge Bob Squarepants songs for my son. There is absolutely everything, and if you have a modestly deep pocket, you can quickly – and I mean quickly – rack of 50-60 dollars in Rock Band music. Fortunately, a lot of the popular bands – Coldplay, Greed Day for example – have special packs that will save you a little bit of money.
Same Old? Not Quite
All of the hardware has seen minor improvements over Rock Band 3. The guitars are a bit ‘beefier’ and feel like the will last a lot longer than my Xbox 360 peripherals ever did. The Drum Kit is very similar to what we had before, although each drum seems much sturdier and more accepting when the drum sticks hit their mark. On my previous drum kit, I often winced as the sticks hit the drum, waiting for the inevitable breaking of the kit. While it never happened, the sound was never comforting. The drum petal has the reinforced steel plate on the top to provide extra stability to the constant stopping it receives. Mad Catz – the company behind all of these peripherals – has also said on record that the included microphone is much better than previous microphones, giving players a near-studio sound. You can use your old peripherals, although the following note from Harmonix should be taken into consideration for Xbox One owners,
The Legacy Game Controller Adapter enables you to use most of your Xbox 360 Rock Band wireless guitar and drum controllers, and most third party wireless instrument controllers with Rock Band 4 for the Xbox One. The adapter plugs into your Xbox One via USB and wirelessly supports up to four controllers simultaneously. With the Legacy Game Controller Adapter, players are able to use most of their existing wireless Xbox 360 guitar and drum controllers from Rock Band 3, Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero titles on Xbox 360.
One very nice, new addition is Freestyle Solos on guitar. Creating your own solos is enhanced in Rock Band 4, giving you more creativity in certain areas of certain songs – songs will Solo options are noted on the song select screen. Harmonix has created a great and comprehensive tutorial on how to make the most out of your solos, but the only real goal is to keep your multiplier up and make what ever you are playing, sound great. If you want to play the original solos as they were created by the artist, a simple tap of the D button will bring that up as well.
Rock Band 4 comes with all the modes you would expect. You can quickly get into a song with quick play, play shows of varying lengths, or Go on Tour. When playing extended playlists, it is worth noting that special / mojo that you earn in one song will carry over into the next. You are playing a concert after all. While the general modes being offered have not changed much, what you will find within each mode has seen a modest, and sometimes dramatic, overhaul. Career Mode has also been overhauled from previous iterations of the game. When you Go On Tour, you legitametly go on tour. You begin playing those home town shows for only a few fans, but as your fame grows, you will have to make more important decisions using what money is available to you. Here is what Harmonix has to say about the new mode,
Will you follow the money? Trust your gut? Listen to your dumb drummer Chaz (who invited that guy, anyway?). You’ll encounter unusual characters and circumstances – all drawn from the actual real life experiences of the touring musicians who work here. (And seriously, some of this stuff was so weird in real-life we actually had to tone it down for the game).
There is a lot to digest in this mode, more than we can put here. However, we strongly recommend taking the Go On Tour mode for a spin. You definitely won’t be disappointed. You can surf over to the Harmonix website to get more information on this mode and what to expect here.
Harmonix has also brought a new artist into the music genre, and surprisingly this is their first appearance in ANY music rhythm game. Included on the disc are “Cedarwood Road” and “I Will Follow” from 22 time Grammy winners, U2. Harmonix announced that more U2 songs would be available to download in the Rock Band store after launch.
Rock Band 4 scratches my rhythm game itch perfectly. It is really hard to find any major problems with this release. Don’t be fooled: this is still largely a rock band game. Playing with friends is always more fun than playing alone, and will definitely prolong how long you will continue to bust out all your instruments. Be warned, it is very possible that the included tracks leave you wanting more, and without previously purchased DLC and imported tracks from other games, you might spend a decent amount of money getting the songs you actually want. Video games desperately needs Rock Band. Not because we’ve been starved of a quality band music rhythm game, but because we are starved for local, dedicated party games. Rock Band 4 is one of the few games on current generation consoles that wants you to invite your friends over. Take advantage of it while its hear.