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.
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.