It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years since the last Rock Band. At one point the genre was one of the biggest. Rock Band 4 is Harmonix attempt to try and revitalize the series and get people playing plastic instruments again. Is Rock Band 4 reinventing the music genre? No. But the thing is it’s not trying to. In some ways it is actually a step backwards. In this game, Harmonix have stripped back a lot of elements, such as the keyboard and pro-guitar, bringing it back to the core of the series: the drums, guitar, and microphone.
If you are unfamiliar with Rock Band, the premise is simple. Using the instruments, players must hit the corresponding colors as they scroll on screen with the ones on the instruments. To boost your score, you can activate overdrive, which will give you more points for each note. When playing in a band with other people you can greatly increase your score if you all use overdrive at the right moment. The overall gameplay of Rock Band 4 is pretty much identical to past entries in the series.
Rock Band works best when you and a group of friends are all working together in a trance-like state to complete a song. That has always been what is at the center of Rock Band’s success, having fun playing with other people, and that aspect is very much present here.
One thing that can extend enjoyment of playing in a band together is a great set-list. Sadly, the Rock Band 4 set-list is without a doubt one of the series’ weakest. Perhaps the series has suffered with already using bands’ heavy hitters and has had to settle for their B tier. Whatever the case, it makes for a disappointing selection. That isn’t to say there is not a few solid picks in there—Van Halen’s Panama being one of them.
The Campaign, “Go On Tour,” has a loose story, which is disappointingly only told through menus and text as you tour around different cities. In this mode you get to name your band and choose the city they are from. As you make your way through, you will be given choices to make. These are normally things like, one option will get you more fans and the other option will get you more money. You can use this money to buy new clothes and hair styles for your character. Sometimes the choice will let you unlock costumes of instruments without paying for it. The main problem, though, with this mode is due to the 65 song set-list. Repetition with songs becomes very prevalent.
This leads to one of Rock Band 4’s main features. You can bring over all the previous DLC you bought onto this new generation of consoles. So if you want to avoid some of this game’s weak selections and repetition, you have to have DLC. If you are starting fresh, be ready to hear the same songs a few times.
Sometimes it feels Rock Band 4 is a home for DLC rather than the next installment in the series. This time around there is no online play or practice mode, which leaves the options for play pretty bare.
Some of the other features they have added are often hit or miss, such as voting on a song from a small selection after playing a show seems pointless when you can just return to the music library.
The new solos, however, are very fun. During a song you will sometimes get the chance to make your on solos on the fly. The screen gives you some indications on what you could do, but you can play it how you want and most of the times it actually sounds really good. It is also easier than ever now to have players drop in and out and change the difficulty mid song.
Harmonix partnered with Mad Catz to make the official instruments for the game. They all work well and the pedal on the drum kit seems very sturdy. The only problem for me is the “share button” on the PS4 guitar is right bellow your hand when strumming, which led to a brief pause as I would accidentally hit it and try to get back to the song. Apart from that, the instruments are all solid.
It is a shame that the set-list isn’t as strong as it should be, but the foundation of what has always made these games fun is still there. Ultimately it;s a good thing that Rock Band 4 has got rid of some of the unnecessary things that have been added to the series and has stripped it back to its core.
This is not the birth of a new generation of music games, but it is still a very good Rock Band game.
This game and instruments were provided for review and reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
While it is not a reinvention of the genre, it is still a solid Rock Band game.