Rock Band 4 review

When I was a bit younger, I had aspirations. There were times when I thought I could be the best rock singer in the land. Then reality hit and what is arguably the country’s greatest undiscovered vocal talent had to get a proper job. From my point of view the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises reignited that inner rock star. It gave me the opportunity to be the Trent Reznor I always wanted to be.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a new Rock Band release. Indeed we’re talking back in October 2010. Taken into context, the Xbox One is very nearly two years old at the time of writing this review. Despite the longevity and endurance of music the game was starting to feel tired. Imagine my surprise and delight then, when Harmonix revealed a whole new Rock Band experience for the current generation of consoles. What can we add to a game that despite its quirkyness and niggly little issues, I kept coming back to?

Despite reported stock shortages, I managed to get my hands on the base game with legacy adapter. With my wife and I still clinging desperately to our Xbox 360 instruments, it simply made more sense. We’ll more than likely invest in new instruments at a later date though. What struck me initially with the adapter was the size. It’s an odd size. Not as big as I was expecting, yet at the same time, bigger than it needs to be. It’s obvious that a little design effort has gone into it. It all feels like an afterthought though. It’s very light, almost cheap feeling, but it does the job of connecting up to four legacy controllers so I can’t grumble too much.

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I have to admit to a certain amount of excitement on throwing the game disc into the console for the first time. Rock Band was really the only game I’d clung on to my 360 for. We’d drag it down from upstairs every now and again for a drunken weekend of living the life of Dave Grohl. The game installs in a remarkably short amount of time and its not long before you’re ready to rock out. It’s at this point that I’d recommend the calibration. It makes sense not to have note-lag during the game and its really quite quick & easy to set up even if it does seem like it makes little sense while you do it.

Once calibration is out of the way it’s time to start rocking out. There’s the life on the road as a rock star to be had in the campaign or you could do as I did and get back to grips with the game by launching into one of the game’s on disc catalogue. While the on disc playlist has an impressive 65 tracks, its the availability of the near 1500 strong downloadable tracks from all except the Beatles version that sets this apart. The only tracks you’ll notice are absent are the old Pro Mode tracks. Pro Mode is happily gone. I hated it in truth and did my best to ignore it in previous versions of the game. The other thing you’ll notice is that all of your previously purchased content is available for you in Rock Band 4. This is a great feature and allows you much greater scope in the campaign as well as free play.

The campaign has also had a few tweaks. Gone are the single options on your road to fame and fortune. There are choices to be made and those choices will determine your rewards on your path. Some choices will gain you more followers while others will line your band’s coffers with cold hard cash. The aim is the nail as many songs in the set as you can and to earn the stars to allow you to progress in your career. Will you burst onto the scene and fade away to soon, or can you sustain your momentum and become a legend?

The big question here then, is have the gameplay mechanics changed significantly from what was frankly a pretty winning formula? The answer is happily, no. No it hasn’t. The basic premise of the game is the same as the previous three titles. You use the controller to time a strum as you match the colours on the screen with the corresponding colour on the controller fretboard. Pretty simple, right?

Not as simple as you might think.

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The colours fly at you with the same gusto as the previous titles and with there being five coloured buttons, it can get pretty hairy and I lose count of the amount of ‘good guess, little finger’ moments that the game produces. There are some changes to the game though. My guess is that this is to counter the removal of the Pro Mode options present in Rock Band 3.

There is a new freestyle solo feature for the guitar players. This doesn’t so much throw notes at you as it allows you to let your inner Clapton loose. The playing board becomes a single colour. The actual colour determines which end of the fretboard you should be aiming for and solid lines denote the speed of your frantic soloist action. There is a freestyle vocal option too. This allows you to harmonise a lot more than the previous games. Indeed, if you play the vocals on the harder difficulties you can even change pitch without the game punishing you as you go along.

There are a few nice incidental audio touches that I noticed, particularly when I played through a headset. When you nail a chorus and your playing stock is high, the audience sings along with you. This feature is a little lost in the background when playing on a normal TV though and I feel that more could have been made of it.

Visually, the game has had more of a facelift than your average 80s ageing rock star. The crowd are quite a bit more realistic than the previous titles but the band themselves still appear to be styled on something from a Gorillaz video. Again, this feels like more of a missed opportunity.

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It’s the gameplay that should get you hooked though. Fans of the previous incarnations should be lapping this up, even if the only official way to get a proper mic is to shell out on the full band set up. This won’t appeal to many however as it’ll either be a solo play through the rags to riches campaign or a full on party experience with your friends and copious amounts of alcohol.

Let’s face it, the Rock Band title has oodles of playability. Even if you’ve got the rhythm of the average X-Factor contestant, you’ll find picking up a guitar and following the colours a pretty simple affair, especially with the initial difficulty levels beings so simple. The vocal pickup is more forgiving and the introduction of the freestyle modes adds that little bit of personalisation to your favourite songs. You could do worse than picking up Rock Band 4 and if its that comforting hug of familiarity you need from your music game, this will be the title for you.

We bought our own copy of the game to bring you this review.

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