You’re hitting the high notes. You’re getting there, to that crucial, victorious crescendo that ties the entire song together. You pause. The instruments stop. The crowd looks on, wild with expectation. And then, it begins – the pulse-pounding guitar solo that elevates the song to another level. The audience loses their collective minds. You’ve got them in the palm of your hand. Damn, it feels good to be a rock star. Rock Band, at its core, is born out of this need for wish-fulfilment. It immerses you into the joy of creating and performing music. The act of riding the energy of the crowd and the event as you nail song after song in front of a legion of your die-hard fans. It’s a difficult thing to pull off, and the fact that the Rock Band franchise has been doing it consistently is commendable. This pure joy, the spirit of music is still strong in Rock Band 4.
What History has taught Us:
In this newest instalment, Rock Band 3’s iffy keyboard and Pro Guitar are ditched in favor of a five-button guitar, stage-grade USB mic and plastic drum kit. It is with these tools that you will recreate legendary rock numbers from superstars like Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne. If you miss a note, your device loses audio. But if you’re on a hot streak, you can rack up combo points, Overdrive and stars. It’s basically the Rock Band of yore, only better. But this similarity is a little bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll be able to pick up and play if you’ve played any of the previous games. On the other hand, Rock Band 4 doesn’t do anything really different than the previous entries in the franchise. The few new ideas it does float aren’t anything to get too excited about. You’ve still got the generic music game campaign – select a show, rack up stars and fans and unlock new shows.
Rock Band 2 had a smart take on this campaign style. The interludes and loading screens showed your band hanging out together or traveling to locations with their gear. Even though these were small asides, they lent a lot of credibility to the idea of a real band. Here, the story is just delivered through textual exposition, which creates a disconnect. The previous games in the series opened with a bang, with an elaborate cutscene that showed the rock-and-roll lifestyle at its finest. Here, you get a few seconds of your characters tuning their instruments. This monotony creeps into the character customization screen too. You can’t choose a body type for your character any more. You’re stuck with the generic options. To lend your band any real personality, you’ll have to unlock outfits which need you to progress through the campaign.
In addition, the game gives you some default add-on characters who replace your friends in your band whenever they aren’t around. Depending on which of your friends are available, you might have a different looking band for each session, making it almost impossible to think of your virtual band as a cohesive unit. The game features a reworked Quickplay mode which is called “Play A Show”. The Play A Show mode allows players to vote on a selection of songs to play next. This feature is useless if you’re playing with people in the same room because you can just ask them what they want to play next.
Rock Band 4 is a little light in the content department. There’s no practice mode or mini-games. There is however, a tutorial available for Freestyle Solos, which is the best new idea in the game. The visual cues on-screen have been refined, and now, your screen won’t be cluttered with colorful notes. You might be asked to do things like hold high notes or strum notes on the lower buttons to improve your combo multiplier. Whether you stick to the program or go off on your own, the game will produce a guitar solo according to your inputs. The game also includes simulations of several advanced guitar techniques like feedback and finger tapping to create wildly divergent soundscapes. If you get the hang of all of the elements of the music system, you can create some fantastic music. It’s not the same high you’ll get when you’re rocking out to one pitch-perfect song after another, but it’s rewarding nonetheless. Head over to the Endless Solo mode whenever you’re in the mood for some experimentation. Singers and drummers can create improvised soundscapes of their own too.
Unfortunately, the track list in this outing of Rock Band is the weakest it has ever been in the history of the franchise. There are several lesser-known songs from independent artists and even established ones. It’s a little lacking on the hits. Some of the songs will grow on you eventually, but it will require some patience. Developers Harmonix have promised gamers that they’ll eventually be able to add every song they’ve previously purchased to their library. As of right now, there are 900 of these tracks available, and 800 more are on the way. If you own a song, Rock Band 4 will allow you to download it to your library. The new hardware is almost identical to the ones available with previous versions, so you don’t need to shell out the extra money if you’ve already got Rock Band gear.
Rock Band 4 revisits the joy and glee of creating music that has made the franchise such a bedrock of music games. Unfortunately, there’s nothing really new in this package that would absolutely warrant an upgrade. It’s a little low on content, but with the Freestyle Solos and other little touches, Rock Band 4 is still a great game for music lovers and parties.
Game Review Score: 7.5 Out of 10