Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution – Rock Band 4 Impressions

Rock Band 4

Rock Band 4 is awesome. It’s everything that I wanted from the return of my favorite music game. It’s the core features of what made Rock Band great, honed and updated to current-gen standards. In fact, my only gripes are super minimal. I wish that they carried over All Instruments Mode, that way I could see the vocal line while playing Guitar. And I would have loved a way to just import my whole DLC library in one fell swoop, but it looks like that’s a technical impossibility; as well as make sure that all owned DLC is clearly noted (currently there’s a weird glitch where owned songs are shown as not owned, but still can be installed for free). Beyond that, Rock Band 4 is exactly what I wanted it to be.

With rhythm games like this, there are two things that are the determining factor in whether they’ll be great or just okay. First is the note recognition. In the hours I played yesterday, I didn’t notice any sort of note dropping on my new Stratocaster guitar controller. In the past, I clung to my Gibson Explorer controller from Guitar Hero 2. I don’t need that anymore – I have a wireless guitar that works, and works great. Even with tremolo picking sections, the strum bar kept up and I didn’t see any misses that were because of hardware. That’s a good thing and I actually think upgrading instrument controllers isn’t a terrible idea.

Rock Band 4 Setlist

The other super important part is the actual set-list. If the songs are stinkers, what’s the point of playing them? Luckily, Harmonix has a great ear for picking both huge hits, and deep cuts. I played through the first few tours in career mode, so the easier tier songs and found a couple songs I’ve never heard that I immediately wanted to go buy; while also playing some songs that are in regular rotation on my iPod. That’s perhaps the most important thing that a game like this can do. Just like a Let’s Play can show you a game you might never have seen before, rhythm games like this can teach you all kinds of awesome new music. You just have to take the plunge and play them.

In addition to playing a few career shows, I had to try playing one of the harder songs in Quickplay mode, if for no reason other than to test my skills to make sure I haven’t gotten too rusty. I went with “Hail to the King” by Avenged Sevenfold – it’s marked as a “Devil Tier” song on Guitar and I actually think it’s one of the easier A7X songs. The charting on it made me really happy though – it’s a good split between playing the lead lick and the rhythm guitar line, with the solo feeling really well charted. If future DLC keeps that in mind, I think I’ll be putting plenty more money into the Music Store.

One new feature on guitars that’s worth mentioning is the Freestyle Solo. It lets you put in your own little touches through pre-programmed solo licks that you play during the guitar solos. It seems kinda weird at first, but it actually works really well – you have a little bit of leeway with note streaks when you’re hopping between low and high frets, and even if you decide to just ignore their prompts and go wild, you’ll only count as missing one note, not failing out. My biggest issue with them is just that I’m not used to them – sometimes they’ll have you end on the high frets and I lose my fingers when the chart begins again. That’s something that will come with play though.

All in all, Rock Band 4 is absolutely a return to form for the series. With Guitar Hero Live coming soon too, I do think that we might see a resurgence with the rhythm games. They’ve always been a great party game, and the current-gen consoles were missing something like this. If you like music games, or really if you like finding new music in general, I think this is a definite purchase.

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Weekly News Recap – Week of February 16, 2015

There were a couple interesting bits of news that I saw floating around this week. Here’s a couple of the more intriguing ones.

The Order: 1886

GAME LENGTH IS ALL THE RAGE
Talk about game length has been all over the blogs this week – every sight has been talking about it thanks to the reviews of The Order: 1886. Since it’s apparently really short, it’s been provoking a lot of thought about the length of games and the value of games. I wrote a post this week with my thoughts on game length – short version is that I don’t necessarily think it’s the be-all and end-all determining factor for value.

Rock Band 3 Cover

BLOOMBERG POTENTIALLY BREAKS BIG GAME NEWS
This week there was also a report over on Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, so take that for what its worth, saying that Harmonix is planning on bringing Rock Band up to current-gen. I think we were all thinking that when they announced the return of DLC back in January, that it was a way to test the waters – and the survey they sent out in their newsletter definitely got me thinking we will see something big Rock Band related this year. Harmonix has also been really pushing their presence at PAX East, which has me thinking that we might not have to wait till E3 to see what they have in store.

Destiny

ULTIMATE GAME SALE IS STILL GOING ON
This week has also been the Ultimate Game Sale over on the Xbox Live Marketplace. There’s some pretty good deals on big games if you haven’t picked them up yet – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, and Shadow of Mordor are all marked down pretty substantially. There are also some special weekend only sales that just went live today. Generally these Ultimate Game Sales tend to be pretty awesome – I’ve picked up a fair share of my digital games through them over the years, so I really recommend looking at the deals this weekend. You never know what might pique your interest.

Rock and Roll Ain’t Dead After All

Rock Band 3 CoverIn a surprising move yesterday, Harmonix announced a brand new three-pack of songs for Rock Band 3. This new set of DLC is the first new content for the game since April of 2013. Whether this means that consistent DLC is back for the game remains to be seen. My personal thought is that seems unlikely, but this is encouraging that there might be some more coming along the way. So to celebrate the release today of the three songs, let’s take a look at them.

ARCTIC MONKEYS – ” R U MINE?”
The indie choice of the three-pack, this is a pretty solid rocker on all fronts. It’s definitely got a great guitar riff that repeats through the song, with some really solid drum work to go with it. That said though I think the “instrument” that really shines on this track from the English rockers is the vocals. Alex Turner has a really strong voice that carries weight with the song – it’s got a smokey feeling to it, kind of like some of the rock singers of old. I’m not the worlds biggest Arctic Monkeys fan – I think I just missed their radio play when they got big, but this song is definitely a strong opener to the return of DLC.

FOO FIGHTERS – “SOMETHING FROM NOTHING”
It wouldn’t be a DLC pack for Rock Band if there wasn’t a song from the Foos. A band that is featured incredibly prominently in the existing DLC for the series, this song is off of their most recent album, Sonic Highways. Like a bunch of the newer Foo Fighters songs, this is a bit of a slow burner – it starts with a nice low-key verse or two, before the guitars really start to pick up the pace. It’s got a pretty nice riff, that’s pretty reminiscent of Dio’s “Holy Diver” – different for sure, but it echoes it. It’s a pretty standard Foos song, solid on all instruments, with a great use of dynamics; and complete with a hell of a solo out of nowhere in the final minute or so. If you’re burnt out on Foo Fighters, I can understand skipping it, but I think it’s a pretty damn solid song.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – “SHEPHERD OF FIRE”
Rounding out the new three pack, we get another old favorite band, Avenged Sevenfold. While the band might get a bunch of flak from the metal know-it-alls, I think they’re a really great modern metal band, and the new album, Hail to the King has a few really good choices that I think would translate well to the game. They picked the more recent single, “Shepherd of Fire” which is pretty typical of the band’s sound, but definitely works well. Great guitar riffs through the song, strong drums, and great vocals – M. Shadows’ voice is so unique and sounds great on this song. Add in a killer solo from Synyster Gates at the bridge section and you have a winner for the final song in the new three-pack of songs.

Hopefully this new pack of DLC can revitalize the game a bit – even though it’s a last-gen game. I would really love to see there be a bunch more packs, especially since there’s no word on a new full game release. Rock Band 3 is one of the few games that I still play consistently on the 360, and I’m super, super happy to see more come out.

Top Ten Week 2014 – Top Ten Songs, Artists or Albums That Should Be In Rock Band

Rock Band 3 CoverOn the opposite spectrum from yesterday’s list, today I want to point out a few artists, songs or albums that I really feel should have made an appearance in the Rock Band series. Some of these may have shown up in the competing Guitar Hero franchise, but never in Harmonix’s Rock Band, which I felt ended up being the superior product. I tried to not have any repeats, as well as hitting a few different genres and tones. Otherwise it would just be the list of metal acts that needed to be in Rock Band.

10. GALLOWS – GREY BRITAIN
Starting off with a killer hardcore punk band out of England, Gallows is one of those bands that appeared on Guitar Hero 3, with their hit In the Belly of a Shark. Despite that game’s success, Gallows never appeared on another rhythm game. Instead of sticking with Shark’s album, Orchestra of Wolves, I went instead with the follow up concept album Grey Britain. Dark, really heavy at times, and full of intense riffing, it’s an album that would have translated perfect to the Rock Band formula. It would have had to be censored pretty heavily – which is one point I hope Harmonix can work around with the updated parental controls – but I still think it would have been really fun to play through.

9. JETHRO TULL – TEACHER/LOCOMOTIVE BREATH/BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Aqualung and Hymn 43 both showed up on the setlist during Rock Band 2‘s lifespan, but there are a few other tracks from the English band that I would have liked to play. A little heavier than most other rock choices from that time, Teacher and Bungle in the Jungle both feature some really solid guitar work, as well as killer vocals; while Locomotive Breath would take great advantage of Rock Band 3‘s keyboards to set the stage for the song. Based on how Harmonix used to release tracks each week in 3-packs, this would be a great 3-pack of Jethro Tull songs.

8. ELTON JOHN – BENNIE AND THE JETS/GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD/CROCODILE ROCK
There were a couple songs by the flamboyant piano player that came out, including one on the downloadable game Rock Band Blitz, but three of his biggest hits never materialized. Each is a classic rock staple in their own right, and thanks to Rock Band 3 adding in a keyboard, playing his music would have been a no-brainer. Each song’s tone is different enough to appeal to a pretty wide audience, not just Elton John fans. Guitar players might not be shredding as much as usual, but keyboardists and singers could really shine with these three tunes.

7.BAD BRAINS OR BLACK FLAG
It’s a little hard to pick one of these seminal hardcore punk bands to point out as needing to be on the game. Either choice would be perfect – Bad Brains gives you a little more variety in their music as they feature a strong reggae influence; while Black Flag provides nothing but punk, played at top speed. There’s nothing super complicated musically going on – just riffing at mach speed, which challenges each instrument. Beyond that, it’s always good to expose a new audience to the bands that really formed their genres, and Bad Brains and Black Flag are two of the most important punk bands ever.

6. SHADOWS FALL – THE ART OF BALANCE/THE WAR WITHIN
Shadows Fall is one of the better metalcore bands to emerge from that genre’s explosion back in the mid-to-early 2000s. Either of these classic albums would have fit perfectly on the game, each filled with superior riffs, solos and drum work. The War Within’s The Light that Blinds actually appeared on Guitar Hero 2 as a bonus track, and was one of my favorite tracks to play on the game. Seeing Harmonix take a full Shadows Fall album and give it the treatment would have been really awesome.

5. DETHKLOK
It’s really hard to specifically point to one or two songs that really shine and deserved to be on the game – instead I would have loved to see a bigger sampler pack. With three full albums of songs to pick from, there are a number of potential winners. Thunderhorse was also a bonus track on Guitar Hero 2, but was only the promotional single version – the actual album cut is longer and has more guitar work going on. Add in songs like Murmaider, Crush the Industry, Murmaider II: The Water God, and Skyhunter, and I think you’ve got a pretty solid DLC pack right there.

4. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
The Boss has never really appeared too much on rhythm games – only a few songs on Guitar Hero World Tour as DLC if memory serves – and never on Rock Band. With a career as long as Bruce’s there’s plenty of classic songs to choose from, any of which would fit superbly in the Rock Band formula. From guitar rockers like Born to Run or Born in the USA, to more synth songs like Dancing in the Dark – to even softer songs like The Ghost of Tom Joad – there’s really no end of songs that could be picked.

3. ERIC CLAPTON/CREAM/DEREK AND THE DOMINOES
Another guitar god that never showed up on the Rock Band setlist, despite being in a number of classic bands, Clapton has a huge discography of songs that would translate perfect. From his time in Cream we would be able to rock through Sunshine of Your Love or White Room, each classic rock staples that still get plenty of air time. Derek and the Dominoes gave us one of the greatest guitar riffs ever in Layla – and the full song, complete with its somewhat over the top outro, would be perfect for the Rock Band 3 full band. Clapton’s solo work could have given us songs like Cocaine or Crossroads to play through – each fantastic examples of his guitar work.

2. METALLICA – MASTER OF PUPPETS/RIDE THE LIGHTNING/KILL ‘EM ALL/…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
This pick is more of acknowledging what could have been, based around what actually was. Metallica signed a deal with Activision back while Guitar Hero was still going strong and released a full game based entirely around their career. As such, we never really got the chance to see Metallica songs show up on Rock Band after that point – the most we got was five songs total – Enter Sandman and Battery were on discs, and a three pack that launched the weekly DLC. Each of their first four albums are guitar masterpieces, with tons of riffs that would be a blast. In particular, if I had to pick only one, I would go with what I think is the best heavy metal album ever – Master of Puppets. I say that because it’s really a perfect album – there isn’t a weak song on there. We already had Battery after all – playing the whole album would have been so killer – tons of hard riffs to learn, solos that would shred your fingers, drums that would give you the fittest legs in the land and bass lines from one of the best bassists ever.

1. LED ZEPPELIN
What should really come as no surprise, since fans have been clamoring for it since Guitar Hero, seeing Led Zeppelin make an appearance of any sort in Rock Band would have been perfection. There’s the obvious choices like Stairway to Heaven, Rock ‘N Roll, Immigrant Song and Kashmir, but the list really could go on for ages. Houses of the Holy, Ramble On, Communication Breakdown, Moby Dick…it just doesn’t end. Each song is tailor made for guitar, drums, bass and vocals – the meat and potatoes of hard rock. Every instrument would be challenged, thanks to the incredible musicianship of the four members. Singers would be trying to keep pace with Robert Plant, bassists with John Paul Jones, guitarists with the legendary Jimmy Page and drummers with the unbelievable John Bonham. It’s a no-brainer that just never panned out.

This is another list, much like yesterday that really could keep going. I could point to songs like Monochrome by Helmet, albums like Appetite for Destruction by Guns ‘N Roses or artists like Pink Floyd and still miss perfect choices for the game. It’s reasons like this that really make me think that there’s going to be a Rock Band 4 eventually. Hopefully Harmonix can take advantage of the new generations parental controls to allow for full, uncut versions of songs as well. It’s something we have to wait and see happen, but I hate that part.