Rock Band 4 Review: Still Into You

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Harmonix having fun with umlauts!

Start A Band

Let’s shift back to basics; hitting the road. The Rock Band 4 career mode introduces some new elements into play, providing the player(s) involved more agency and control of their rock destiny. The money and fans balancing system remains, plus you get to name your band and tour from mostly the same starting cities, however, it’s the journey you take that has changed.

…For that Dream Theater song I was left sitting around for a 144 bar break!

Bands go on Rock Tours that take them to small sets of venues in a local area. What kinds of shows you play are up to the group, as they are often broken down into two different categories. For example, early on you can choose whether or not to hire a manager or ride in a sweet tour van. The Van makes you look more real, netting you more fans along the way. A manager, however, will get you more money on pre-set lists where everything is set up for you. Each path will help you net band customizables, as money can lead to getting all those cool hairdos, clothes options and in-game instruments that bring flair to your band. Whether it’s done by earning money to pay for them or winning them after tours are complete is down to your “choice.”

Harmonix isn’t reinventing the wheel, here. No matter how your career path goes down, you’re mostly just playing through progressively difficult challenges and setlists. However, something new added to Rock Band 4 gameplay is the addition of doing “shows.” Band members get to vote among a list of variable songs with vague descriptions. Sometimes you’ll get the name of a song, other times you’ll get descriptors like “An Alternative Song,” or “Something From 1999.” Your stage presence is measured by how well your perform as a band and how well you know how to play to your crowd’s interests (what encores to play, etc.), netting bonus cash or fans.

However, because the “show” aspect is so random, especially during career mode it can effectively tank the vibe of your Rock Band 4 experience. During my playthrough, when going through vocals I picked a song for a setlist that was “Something Alternative.” Little did I know that the game picked the song “Metropolis – Part 1” by Dream Theater in a set halfway through the game. Not only was it the first in a set of four songs that were at the top two tiers of difficulty, but for that Dream Theater song I was left sitting around for a 144 bar break! The game set up a vocal-only-controlled band to sit around for 4-5 minutes, twiddling my thumbs. The current algorithm needs some improvement, even if it does add a neat band dynamic to choosing what to play.

The One I Love

Rock Band 4 is in its infancy stages in the lead-up to launch. Right now, players are still awaiting features that Harmonix want to support, including the use of Ion Drum kits and some of its hundreds of downloadable tracks. However, that didn’t stop me from playing through the dozens of tracks currently listed on disc, and I came to find some interesting Rock Band 4 gameplay takeaways.

First, Expert difficulty has never been so true a phrase in a Rock Band game. You’re not going to get Guitar Hero levels of required mastery, but I’ve noticed the grouping of notes is made to be more difficult to expert players. You see a lot less hammer-ons and pull-offs, but sliding notes that require input each time. Chords are grouped together in such a way that you are constantly jumping between hand registries like you’re actually playing chords. Furthermore, green and orange chords make a more prevalent appearance, stretching out the smallest of hands.

Despite all the other series staples that have gone to the wayside, [the lack of online multiplayer] hurts the most.

This has been balanced out by a more dynamic group rock band style of play. Unison bonuses can be earned by individual players or by just two band members nailing such segments. It allows for a more balanced gameplay experience that isn’t necessarily dragged down by one player. Furthermore, you can make progress in Rock Band 4 with No Fail Mode on, allowing for those in the beginner stages of hard-to-beat difficulties the opportunity to learn through practice. Gating career progress in such a way, previously, inhibited player growth, and now supports a better alternative.

Unfortunately, as this is Rock Band 4 we’re talking about here, things were bound to get stale when it comes to vanilla track offerings. Thankfully hundreds of songs are on their way Day 1 (I hope; more on that later), because the basic soundtrack to this game is the most pop-centric, Top 40-esque list of songs possible. Sure, “Uptown Funk,” “I Bet My Life,” “Centuries” and “Birth in Reverse” may bring in a wider audience to the game, but they seem way more market-centric than “songs that are fun to play as a group.” Hello, even Slydigs are debuting a song in the game! How sellout can you get? It’s a far cry from Rock Band discs of the past.

Another feature so direly missed at launch is online multiplayer. It would be grand to get old friends together once again to play some classics like we used to play in high school. Unfortunately, we live in separate cities, living friendships tied together purely through online interaction and occasional visitation. Playing online together would be a perfect way to catch up. Except, for the first time in series history, Rock Band 4 won’t launch with online multiplayer. Hopefully, as Rock Band 4 is intended to launch as an ongoing service, this issue is addressed sooner rather than later. Despite all the other series staples that have gone to the wayside, this one hurts the most.


More from Reviews

Recognize Rock Band 4 for what it is; the most concise version of the series so far. Tight on its mechanics, tweaks to gameplay may mean the removal of online play and the removal of instrument support to the point of fair disappointment. However, due to how a band plays, collaborates, innovates and creates music through cover songs, Harmonix is afforded the opportunity to strike out in a virtual space for themselves and hone their present and future content at their own pace. Rock Band 4, just like how any band starts out, is a work in progress. Whether you want to get in now before it becomes popular (again) is up to you.

A copy of this game (including Band-in-a-Box and an additional wireless guitar) was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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