GamingReview: Rock Band 4

Review: Rock Band 4


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The first time I played Guitar Hero, it was a revelation. The ability to become a rockstar in my own home while I played the greatest rock songs of all time was the stuff of dreams. Sure, I wasn’t playing to packed crowds every night, and I didn’t get any of the sex or the drugs that came with it, I did get that feeling of owning the stage; holding the crowd in the palm of my hand.


Harmonix, creator of the original Guitar Hero franchise, and later, Rock Band has talked about authenticity from the reveal of Rock Band 4, through to its release, and although the start of this sentence justifies that, it doesn’t go far enough. These guys and girls created a multi-billion-dollar genre, fuelled by plastic guitars and a song library that dwarfed the dancing genre. Although Harmonix created the incredibly successful Dance Central series, Rock Band is in its heart, and you can sense the love poured into the game at every stage.

Whether it’s drums, bass, guitar or vocals, there’s plenty of gameplay for you to get your teeth into, with an abundance of new features to keep hardcore fans happy. Three part harmonies from The Beatles: Rock Band are back, and they’re great fun, as are the new drum solos, where pre-determined fills are present, as is the ability to mess up the song for everyone if you’re rubbish at drumming! However, the biggest addition is guitar solos.

Guitar solos are the best single aspect of Rock Band 4, and although you can still choose the originally recorded solos for every track, solos is where you’ll really feel like a rock god. Nail one, and you’ll be hitting the roof with delight, but screw it up, and you’ll be leaving the gig faster than the audience.


You’re given visual cues on which end of the guitar to play, which notes, and the timing, ranging from freeform, eighth note and sixteenth note solos. Sixteenth note solos are hard, but as I’ve mentioned, if it comes off, there’s an enormous sense of satisfaction.

Solos work by pulling in thousands of pre-recorded riffs on-the-fly, and although it’s not quite freestyle fret-wanking, as you’re not initiating single notes, rather a riff that fits with the timing of the song, you are given license to really have fun, pulling off hammer-on/off, blending notes, and driving power chords with note combinations.

If you’re after a story mode, Rock Band 4 has one, and its more RPG-lite than story focused, as it allows you options as you progress which will either limit you availability of certain venues or gigs if you go too corporate, or leave you counting the pennies when all you’re interested in are the fans. It’s a tough balance to strike, but it’s certainly something that offers replay value.

But we need to talk about what doesn’t work in Rock Band 4. Where Guitar Hero has gone the route of live band footage which verges on the super cheesy, Rock Band sticks to the tried and tested formula of cartoon-like sets and characters. I’d like to think we would have moved on from that in the years since Rock Band 3. It seems not, and unfortunately, the game looks poor on today’s generation of consoles, jaded even.


Then there’s the music. It’s a bit of a let-down, and very American. And while that could be forgiven for the world’s largest videogames market, perhaps splitting the track lists and allowing each territory to download (at a price) the alternative track lists would have been the way to go. Of tracks included on-disc, I know 15 and I like eight. I enjoyed playing six of them.

In free-play, where you can select whichever songs you want, that’s fine – but you do find yourself picking the same songs over and over again. In Band Tour, where you’re given pre-determined set-lists, and you can only choose from those Harmonix deems suitable, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth. I’m all for letting the developer flex its imagination and songs like ‘Uptown Funk’ are an example of pushing in the right direction. However, it’s an exception, rather than sitting pretty in a majority of excellent tracks. They’re all a bit B-list, and even with U2, it’s the lesser known tracks that turn up, rather than stadium anthems you’ve come to expect.

What this leaves us with is a well-made game that falls short on its content. While you might hope for amps turned up to overdrive with a hint of feedback, we’re left with four iconic instruments that never really fulfil their potential. Without games, consoles are useless, and be default, without great songs, a band is just another garage band that never made it.

There is the access to over 1500 songs from the Rock Band library to counter this, and if you own any of the previous games on the same family of consoles, you can add another point to the score; the same if you’re American. However, as someone that loves rock music, I’m finding it hard to commend the track list for anything other than introducing me to music I wouldn’t have found.

While that’s laudable, that’s not why we play games like Rock Band. We want to be Thom Yorke, Liam Gallagher and Bono, and sadly, Rock Band doesn’t give us that. That said, it is a good start, and one that will repay its value if Harmonix sticks to the ‘There is no Rock Band 5’ message, and continues to update the game.

It did so in early December, with the addition of Brutal mode and other useful addition, including ‘No drum kick’ for the drummers, allowing them to focus on the snare, hi-hat etc. It’s not quite what drumming is about, but if it increases the enjoyment of music through games, I’m all for it.

If you’re looking for an evening of fun with friends, Rock Band 4 is perfect, if you’re American. If you aren’t playing with friends, you probably won’t stay for the encore. Everyone should  pick up a guitar, though, and if this is how you first do so, then jump right in and have a blast. It’s never like it was in the old days, but there’s still a glimmer of excitement that kicks in when you nail a solo, or pull of an incredible drum fill. I just wish there were more of those moments.


+ Great to have Rock Band back
+ Legacy hardware works
+ Your old songs will be playable
+ Xbox One version doesn't need any sort of hardware dongle to work
- Set up can be a bit fiddly
- Song selection is currently too American

Rock Band 4 is available now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. You can buy the game, band-in-a-box, the stratocaster or the legacy adapter.

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+ Great to have Rock Band back<br /> + Legacy hardware works<br /> + Your old songs will be playable<br /> + Xbox One version doesn't need any sort of hardware dongle to work<br /> - Set up can be a bit fiddly<br /> - Song selection is currently too American<br /> <br /> Rock Band 4 is available now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. You can buy the game, band-in-a-box, the stratocaster or the legacy adapter.Review: Rock Band 4