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Rock Band 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Mad Catz Interactive
Developer: Harmonix
Release Date: Oct. 2015

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Xbox One Review - 'Rock Band 4'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 5, 2015 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Rock Band 4 is the latest installment in the music/rhythm franchise, not only bringing over 2000+ songs from past iterations, but all new tracks, features & modes.

It's been five years since Rock Band 3 debuted to near-universal acclaim on the last generation of consoles. For players on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Rock Band 3 was the definitive band game that justified DLC purchases that easily ran into the hundreds of dollars as fans built their ultimate set lists. With Rock Band 4, Harmonix has attempted to transplant that experience to the current generation of consoles. While it has mostly succeeded, Rock Band 4 doesn't quite reach the highs of its predecessor.

In case you missed the music game explosion on the last generation of consoles, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward. Players use custom plastic drums and guitars and "play" these virtual instruments by matching button presses to a scrolling note chart on-screen. Vocals are handled by a USB mic and scored based on pitch and tone.


Rock Band 4 supports normal and bass guitars, drums, pro drums, single vocalists and vocal harmonies. Support for pro guitars and the keyboard controller from Rock Band 3 has been dropped, with the game focusing on the remaining core instruments.

Actual gameplay is split between tour mode, playing a show and quick play. Tour mode is Rock Band 4's campaign. Here is where you'll create a custom band, hit the road and attempt to gain fans and money by performing well. Funds that you earn can be used to purchase new costumes and instruments, further customizing your band. Character creation allows for a decent amount of variety, but it isn't nearly as flexible as other games. Rock Band 4 also appears to only let you use your custom characters for the position you are playing. Other band members are filled by default characters. Even though I created more than one custom character, I was unable to assign them to the other band positions.

While on tour, you'll be faced with some branching decisions that can impact your rewards. Certain paths make it easier to gain fans, while others make it easier to gain money. Depending on which track you take, you may be forced to play pre-selected set lists, you may get to choose your own or you may get to vote on a limited selection. Sometimes the votes listed the name of the songs, and other times, they were more opaque, such as "A song from 1976."


The new freestyle guitar option is an intriguing addition, as it allows advanced players to freely explore their own style during solos, but at the same time, it can be a bit intimidating to new players. If you have someone who doesn't know what they are doing, the freestyle solo is just going to sound like a whole lot of noise rather than an experimental solo. Interestingly enough, drums now appear to have charts throughout instead of solos, though a final green note in a highlighted section still triggers overdrive.

Playing a show is the replacement for playing a set list. This feels similar to quick play, with the main difference that it allows you to keep playing by voting after each song. Like tour mode, both your multiplier and overdrive carries over from one song to the next, so long as you keep playing. This is in contrast to quick play, where every song is an individual experience. The other difference is loading times. Since you're picking a few songs when you vote, there is no real wait between songs when playing a show. In quick play, there is a noticeable loading time between every song. It is much longer than it was in Rock Band 3.

Speaking of Rock Band 3, losing online play for Rock Band 4 doesn't seem like that big of a deal, as Rock Band is best enjoyed with a group of local friends, but the parts that are missed are the full tutorials. Rock Band 4 has tutorials for freestyle guitar, but that's it. There is no practice mode, no option for learning individual songs and no way to rock out on the drums without a song playing, like you could in the previous game. These may seem like insignificant bits to experienced players, but they were invaluable for a newbie. Rock Band 4 doesn't have much of a learning curve if you're familiar with the franchise, but for someone new, there will be a few hurdles to overcome.


Another issue has to do with the in-game store. While Rock Band 4 promises support for all previously purchased DLC, having it all available at launch is spotty at best. It could be an issue with how Rock Band 4 is handling the tracks, or it could be an issue with the Xbox Marketplace, but either way, finding previously purchased music hasn't been smooth sailing. The in-game store has a category for "Your Friends Own" but doesn't have the ability to show you the DLC that you own but haven't yet downloaded. Oddly enough, the only things in "Your Friends Own" are the DLC songs that I downloaded to my Xbox One.

Going through the store song by song is really your only choice, but even then, there are issues. A mere day before launch, and I was still finding some songs that showed up as owned on the Xbox 360 but wanted me to purchase them on the Xbox One. Most of these were just falsely labeled in the store (clicking on them would tell me I owned them, and the label would change to purchased), but a few still demanded payment. Adding to the confusion, song packs don't recognize previous purchases, but you can claim the individual tracks within the packs. Finally, none of the previous game exports are currently available in the store. These are supposed to be coming soon, but it leads to some oddities, such as owning all the songs in Green Day Rock Band but not being able to download them (without paying for them again) in the Rock Band 4 store.

Given that forward-compatible DLC has always been a major selling point for the Rock Band franchise (and with Rock Band 4, previous DLC purchases dictated the system of purchase for many fans), it is mildly disappointing that Harmonix didn't have all the DLC issues locked down before launch. It doesn't help that the on-disc soundtrack for Rock Band 4 is also the weakest of all the mainline entries.


As far as the hardware is concerned, you basically have three options: use old hardware with the legacy adapter, buy the complete band-in-a-box bundle, or buy the game-plus-guitar bundle. We weren't able to get our hands on a legacy adapter, but we did get a band-in-a-box bundle for review. Comparing the Rock Band 4 hardware side by side with Rock Band 2 hardware, it was nearly impossible to notice a difference.

There were some minor coloring issues (the Rock Band 2 strat has a woodgrain top, while the Rock Band 4 strat is just plain beige), but otherwise, the guitar molds were identical. If it weren't for the Xbox One logo on the front, you wouldn't know the difference if the two were set side by side. The same is true of the Rock Band 4 drum kit. It is the Rock Band 2 drum kit that's been updated for the new system. One nice change is that the internal hardware seems to be more efficient, so the Rock Band 4 drums and guitar run off two AA batteries as opposed to the three AA batteries required by the older versions.

The Rock Band 4 microphone, on the other hand, seems like a step back. It features a nice long 15-foot USB cable and is comfortable to hold in your hand, but when it comes to singing, the new mic appears to muffle your voice. Swapping out to the Rock Band 2 mic made it very easy to hear the singer's voice out of the TV speakers, so it was obviously an issue with the new mic and not the Rock Band 4 software. I also noticed that using the new mic for "cowbell" hits during vocal tracks that required them made it oddly difficult to register the hits.


Basically, the decision to invest in new hardware should come down to whether or not you currently have working Rock Band hardware at home. If you do, and assuming the legacy adapter works as advertised, then there is no real reason to invest in the full band kit. If you don't have any old hardware or are new to Rock Band 4, then consider the kit. If you just need a second guitar, then the game-plus-guitar bundle works. There's no good reason to purchase duplicate hardware if you don't need it, though.

In the end, Rock Band 4 offers up plenty of fun, especially if you can regularly gather a group of friends. It's an excellent party game and an enjoyable way to pass the time solo. However, it isn't really an upgrade from Rock Band 3. Rather, Rock Band 4 is more like a straightforward HD update for the current generation of systems.

Score: 8.0/10



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