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.


Top Ten Week 2014 – Top 10 Rock Band Songs

Rock Band 3 CoverContinuing the theme for this week of doing countdowns each day, today I want to look at one of my all time favorite series – the Rock Band games. While the series may currently be dormant, I hold on to hope that Harmonix will bring back the games on the Current-gen platforms within the next couple years. Until then, we still have the huge music library, with tons of super fun songs to play around with. I thought I’d offer up my ten favorite songs to play. I’m looking at them mainly from a guitar/bass perspective, but a lot of these are good full band songs still.

Starting off with one of the oldest downloadable songs in the series, becoming available November 20, 2007. Ride the Lightning is off of the 1984 album of the same name. It’s a song from when Metallica played fast, complex thrash metal songs – this is no different. There are a couple distinct riffs that rotate throughout the arrangement, each of which plays really well with the chart Harmonix went with. And of course, smack in the middle is a kick ass Kirk Hammett solo. It’s a difficult solo to nail, thanks to the intro tapping section, but does have sections that feel super awesome to hit. The only problem at this point is that the license has run out for this track pack, meaning if you don’t already have it downloaded, you’re out of luck.

Really cheating with this pick, but honestly, any song off of the first Boston album is a ton of fun to play. Foreplay/Long Time is an on-disc song from Rock Band, so it’s pretty easy to come across, while Peace of Mind and More Than a Feeling are still available to download. Each are classic rock standouts, with different feels to each. More Than a Feeling has a bit softer feel to it, with a good guitar lick; Peace of Mind is a bit more of a rocker, with a killer lead line; and Foreplay/Long Time is the proggiest of the bunch, with a solid bass line, tough drumming and a nice solo in it. Each song is also a challenge for singers, thanks to Brad Delp’s unmistakeable voice.

Going back to my bread and butter of Metal, this offering off of the album The Fall of Ideals is a pretty damn solid metalcore offering. With a really heavy triplet riff for the verses, contrasted with a more melodic chorus, along with a truly kickass solo, this song is pretty much a total winner for guitar players. Drummers also will be challenged, thanks to double bass drum sections – bassists and vocalists, not so much. Even still, shredding the solo is always a super awesome feeling, plus it’s still available on the marketplace.

There are a couple Coheed songs on the setlist for the game, but in my opinion, there isn’t a more fun game than Welcome Home, which appears on the first game in the franchise. Coming from 2005’s Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV: Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness; this is a great example of modern prog rock. The intro acoustic guitar riff is a really memorable one, and the song weaves it’s way through a few different riffs on it’s way to an epic final minute or so. The dual guitar solo at the climax of the song has some somewhat difficult licks, but when you nail them, it’s really satisfying; not to mention it’s a really awesome sounding song.

This classic from Ronnie James Dio’s classic album Holy Diver appears on Rock Band 3 – and doesn’t pull any punches. It’s got a classic main riff, solid keyboards, and one of the hardest solos on the disc. This song was in fact the last solo I needed to get to 85% for the achievement, which I finally got around doing within the last year. It’s a challenging song from start to finish – every player has a few tough spots to navigate, but guitar and vocals definitely are the stars of this song. It’s truly a fantastic song, a classic metal tune by one of the best singers ever. And since it’s on disc, it’s easy to get hold of.

Another cop-out here, it’s hard to point to one Megadeth song and say it’s the best one to play. So I picked three. Peace Sells is off of the album Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, and appears on Rock Band 2 – it’s a really well known song, thanks to the intro bass line being the theme for MTV News back in the 90s. As is the case with any Megadeth song, it’s fast, has a crazy solo, and requires a lot of precision to nail. My other two picks, Hangar 18 and Holy Wars…The Punishment Due both appear on Rust in Peace, and are also classic thrash metal tunes. Hangar 18 also appeared on Guitar Hero 2, and is loaded with solos, especially in the second half of the song. Holy Wars really features two distinct sections – each with a different feel – and a crazy technical solo.

Maybe not an obvious pick, but this song off of the album of the same name really has all the parts that makes for a great Rock Band song. The verse riff is a heavy hitter that translates really well to the buttons on the controller. Drumming has a great chart, that keeps you pounding the bass pedal, while also moving all over the drum heads. And to top it off, there’s a killer solo in the middle of the song. Disturbed might not be the most obvious choice for a technical song, but the solo will quickly change your mind.

One of Iron Maiden’s longest songs, and also one of the most recent additions to the downloadable library, this 13 minute epic is exactly what you want in a Rock Band song. It’s got a really solid guitar line throughout, killer drumming, soaring vocals and Steve Harris on bass. Each player has moments throughout the song where they can really shine, and since it’s so long, scores can shoot up above 7 figures in no time. Plus in terms of bang for your buck – it’s a 13 minute song you can grab for $2.

Another twofer, in this case both are actually songs that come from the player curated Rock Band Network. Both are prog metal masterpieces, with guitar work that is relentless, bass lines that challenge you throughout and drumming that might be the hardest around. Selkies is off of the album Alaska, and features one of the band’s best guitar solos in their catalog – super technical, but also full of emotion, it’s a ton of fun to play. And Obfuscation, off of The Great Misdirect, has the same qualities that makes any song fun. Guitar work that moves all over the neck, bass lines that follow the guitar, drumming that’s relentless and a blistering solo. Even non-metal fans can respect the musical mastery of Between the Buried and Me.

The only cover song on the list, and perhaps the only one that is worth playing (that isn’t a cover by another professional band) this song from Rock Band has long been one of my very favorites to play on guitar. It’s very similar in arrangement to another classic – Free Bird – but to me, it’s a more engaging song. The softer intro section is more up-tempo than Free Bird’s which translates to a more engaging guitar line to play in the game. Plus I think the solo sections measure up with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic just fine. Even though it’s a cover version, they actually do a very good job – it sounds very close to the Outlaws version.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our list. This isn’t even close to scratching the surface on the setlist of awesome songs available for the Rock Band series. There are tons of awesome songs – some incredible guitar songs, other killer bass tracks, some thunderous drum songs and others that put the spotlight on the ivory keys. Even though the franchise is dormant right now, there’s no reason to not hop online and grab a few songs to jam to. I will also post a list soon on my picks for songs that really should have appeared on the series – and who knows, they might some day.