I’ve spent a lot of time with the latest entry in the Rock Band series this week. Played dozens of tracks, played with friends, did the Career Mode. It’s more Rock Band, and that’s a good thing. Rock Band 4 is the latest entry in the Rock Band series, after a near five year hiatus. Now you can play it on your Xbox One or PS4. They’ve added some things, taken out some things, switched a few things up. And it’s all… fine. Everything is… well, fine.
Your Career Mode is the standard set of, play a few songs in a “location” that the game determines. Get cash to buy guitars and hair cuts, get fans and stars to go to new places, and now you’re a wicked famous rock band. I find it a little lack-luster in the character creation department, but I’ve noticed this get less and less important as the series aged. I’ve used the same avatar, a nice man named Motambo Abraham, since Rock Band first debuted. He was a tall, bulky in the shoulders black man with sick dreads and cool pants. As Rock Band came out with more sequels, Mr. Abraham has gotten less interesting. In Rock Band 4, there are two body types; masculine and feminine. You can select skin tone, and you start off with a few haircuts. But that’s it. A small complaint, but I miss the Motambo of my memories.
The Play a Show mode is a great party feature. After you select an opener for your show, you get to vote on a set list with you and everyone you’re playing with. It gives you four to five options that you can vote on such as, “Play a song from 1987” or, “A song with a female vocalist.” and then after a vote, do it a couple more times and then you’re playing a few songs. It’s a great feature, and allows you to be able to play some songs that you might never really play.
There are some interface and actual play changes in Rock Band 4, mainly in the form of Guitar Solos and Drum Fills. In older Rock Bands, to activate Overdrive on the drums you hit the drum a bunch and made something that might have sounded like a drum fill, and then you had to hit the green to execute. In Rock Band 4, there are note tracks for drum fills that you do, and then hitting the final note activates Overdrive. This in and of itself is a fine change. There have been many times when people I would play with would always say, “I don’t really play drums and I’m bad at making up drum fills.” This solves one problem, however the synth drums that they have for the fill sections just don’t really fit with the songs. They sound very out of place, and this goes for the new Guitar Solos as well. New for Rock Band 4, there are these Freestyle Solos. Instead of playing the note track solos of the Rock Bands of Yore, you now can do… whatever you want. The game puts a new solo track in the field, and then a few guide lines like, how fast you should strum, or which part of the neck you should use. However, I don’t find the freestyle solos very responsive and they really do sound like an algorithm. The system doesn’t play a note for every time you strum, instead opting to play what it feels is appropriate based on how much you’re strumming. At least I think this is how it works. The Freestyle solos also just never sound right to me, and there is no way to play the actual solo that is in a song, no matter how good you are. The worst part about it is that they always feel really good to play.
In a freestyle solo, it would be great if the original note track for the solo were just present on the freestyle track. So if you wanted to, you could play the original solo. Then if you wanted to go off a bit, play some of your own freestyle nonsense. Maybe it’s asking too much, but for the drum fills that are present in the game, this is already a reality. So I don’t see it as a stretch to try and make this happen. I’m going to personally just leave the freestyle solos off. But you do you.
The Vocals got some love in Rock Band 4. The ability to sing (in key) whatever you want, is a pretty nice feature. A track will pop up with a bunch of lines representing notes, and then as long as you can hit notes on the line, you’re good and your streak keeps up. It’s a cool feature, executed well, and is a welcome addition to Rock Band 4.
So a good thing: The Majority of your old DLC that you bought on your Xbox 360 or PS3 copy of Rock Bands 1-3 will be able to be re-downloaded onto your new Rock Band 4 game as long as you’re sticking with the same maker of console. Now a bad thing: the way to actually do this sucks. It sucks hard. I’m playing on an Xbox One, and the best way I’ve found to locate what DLC you already have is to go into the store in-game, go to Browse by Track. After you wait for all of the pricing on the right of the tracks to update, you scroll through each song and see if it says “Purchased”. and then select that song and hit download. And you have to do this for every song that you have purchased. As well as, Rock Band 4 might not realize all of the songs you own. Several times I would select a song that I was sure I owned, and only then would the server update it to say that it was already purchased. Usually requiring me to back out of that menu, and then re-select to the go through this process again. The DLC migration process is a nightmare. And the fact that none of the Rock Band 1 or 2 on-disc tracks are available yet is a big bummer, as the on-disc tracks for Rock Band 4 are very lack luster. As well as I imagine a lot of people are like me, and the majority of their Rock Band library was made up of exported Rock Band tracks from other games.
If what you want is a way to play a basic form of Rock Band on a modern console, Rock Band 4 is the game for you. But this experience is thin. Very thin, even. If you’re looking to make a cool looking band to go on tour with you’re not going to find it here. The freestyle solos on guitar leave a lot to be desired in terms of their sound and in execution. The drum fills really need a way to have their sound blend better with the song you’re playing. The character creation stuff is very bare bones. Any DLC you have is going to be a pain to re-download onto your console. They aren’t selling instruments in a separate pieces yet, so if you’re starting from nothing there’s no way to get two guitars without buying two copies of the game. The launch of Rock Band 4 could be called “klunky”. I’ve had a few troubles with framerate and hitching as well on the Xbox one, which isn’t good when you’re playing a rhythm game. I’m hoping for some updates in the future. Harmonix have said that they’re not planning on annualizing Rock Band, so if this version is to be the version for at least a few years to come, I hope they add some things that bring it up to the point where Rock Band 3 was. Rock Band 4 is a great starting point, though. If you’re aim is to play Rock Band on your new console, definitely pick this up. However if the DLC stuff sounds like a pain, and the instrument stuff will give you any headaches, maybe hold off until some of this stuff gets addressed a little better, because you’re version of Rock Band probably still plays okay.