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Rock Band 4 (PlayStation 4) artwork

Rock Band 4 (PlayStation 4) review


"Shine on, you crazy diamond."


A few years ago, you couldn't navigate a video game store without weaving through a maze of boxes full of tiny plastic instruments. Music games in the style of Guitar Hero and Rock Band were all the rage, with multiple new releases arriving every year, until everyone just kind of got sick of drowning in them and moved on to other things.

Sometimes you just need a bit of space, even in otherwise happy relationships. That's why Harmonix is back with Rock Band 4 on current gen consoles. Things haven't changed much. The standard Rock Band gameplay is mostly the same as it ever was. Colour coded markers still fly towards your face as you strum your guitar or smack your drum pads in time with the music. There's no need to fix what isn't broken, after all, but props to Guitar Hero Live for mixing things up a bit in that other franchise's newest entry.

If you're a returning fan of the genre, your old guitars, microphones, and drums will probably work. The Xbox One version requires a special accessory for last gen instruments, but the PlayStation 4 version does not. Sadly, support for the pro guitar and keytar are gone, even when you're playing songs that supported them previously.

That's right: most of your old songs still work in Rock Band 4. Much of the series' massive DLC library is already available in the new game. Good luck browsing that in-game DLC store without it timing out and booting you back to the main menu, though. At least DLC you already own will show up in your game library in your PS4's OS. You'll have a much easier time downloading it that way. Songs exported from previous Rock Band games will also be available in time (supposedly), including exports from Rock Band 3.

That's good, because the included tracks in Rock Band 4 leave something to be desired. It's a decent list of 65 songs, but disappointing compared to the libraries of previous games. Even big name artists are represented by lesser tracks. Some song choices are particularly surprising, such as "Light up the Night," a song from one of The Protomen's Mega Man-inspired rock operas, and a song from the upcoming Amplitude reboot. Both of these are pretty great. Usually, even if a song isn't something you'd normally listen to, it should at least be fun to play. That usually holds true here, with a few exceptions. A few songs seem to be specifically chosen to cater to one specific instrument. Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" is great for players on vocals, for example, but it's a huge drag on guitar, going on forever with the same few repetitive notes over and over again.

Bass hasn't changed much at all, and drums have new fills for activating Overdrive. It's a small change, but instead of just flailing around wildly like in previous games, you'll be shown a deliberately designed section (pulled from a large pull of possible sections, so it's not the same every time you play) that will activate Overdrive if performed correctly, or even if not performed 100% correctly. There's still room to customize it a bit. Vocals and guitar each have a new mechanic to freshen things up, as well. On higher difficulties, singers can use the new “freeform melodies” mechanic to customise their performance a little, as long as they stay in key (that's easier said than done in a game where people only really sing if they're already drunk).

The big change comes to the guitar gameplay, in the form of custom solos. These can be enabled or disabled at any time during play by simply tapping the dpad on the guitar controller. When enabled, regular solos will be replaced with custom solo markers that allow you to play whatever notes and cords you want as long as they follow specific rhythms and use either the high or low set of fret buttons, depending on what's indicated. These can be a mixed bag. There's a good chance that your custom solo will sound like a hot mess compared to the authored solo it replaces, especially if it's a good solo to begin with. Solos that were always clearly just some guy freaking out on a guitar don't really lose anything, though. A talented player could conceivably create something impressive with this new set of tools, and even if you can't, it's still pretty fun to just let loose for a while. The downside is that transitioning back to regular play can be tricky, especially if your solo ends using the high note fret keys that are lower on the guitar neck.

There are a few missing features, though, and that's certainly a drag. On top of the secondary instruments that are no longer supported, there's no online play in Rock Band 4. The tired old career mode returns, but with a nerfed character creator and far fewer options than in previous games (each sex only has one body type, so I hope you like skinny people). The game doesn't even have a Practice mode or a proper basic tutorial, except for the new custom solos. Even the ridiculous opening cutscenes featured in previous games have been replaced with a boring video of one of your custom bands screwing around on stage.

Despite the above issues, I had way too much fun with Rock Band 4 to award it a lower score. The core gameplay is intact, and it has been long enough since the last Rock Band release that any Rock Band is welcome as long as it gets the basics right. The general design is still great, especially with friends. There's not much reason to upgrade to Rock Band 4 if you're content to keep playing Rock Band 3 on your last generation hardware, but Rock Band 4 is worthwhile otherwise.

4/5

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (October 25, 2015)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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