Rock Band 4 Impressions: Getting the Band Back Together To Play Solos

Shacknews goes hands-on with Rock Band 4 and tests our creative guitar solo skills. There's no way to fail, but that doesn't mean we can't try.


We get the band back to together with Nick Chester, PR and Communications Lead at Harmonix, and bring the noise onto a new generation of consoles with Rock Band 4.

Freestyle Guitar Solos

Generally speaking, Rock Band 4 doesn't feature a ton of changes from Rock Band 3. It's still a color gem matching game where up to four players can come together to use three instruments (guitar, bass, drums) and put on their best karaoke performance with the microphone. Meanwhile, animated characters put on a show in the background, which changes dynamically according to how well the band performs. However, the familiarity is a big part of the charm. The new instruments might have a slightly different feel from the classic versions, but it's ultimately the same game thousands of fans have fallen in love with.

That's not to say that there aren't any differences, because the one feature that helps the game stand out is the freestyling guitar solo sequences. Midway through a song, there are parts when the lead guitarist can rock out with any button combination they please. The game is designed so that every combination will produce an nice accompanying melody, even if you're just holding three or four buttons down at a time and randomly strumming.

If No Fail mode was one step toward more casual gameplay, guitar solos are the next logical step, and it happens to be fantastically fun. Players are free to experiment with different button combinations, including the lower chords near the base of the guitar, for different sounds. Given a little time and practice, it's possible to create all-original guitar solos for a song. The demo version we played could enable freestyle mode for an entire song - a feature that might end up in the final release, since it's so enjoyable.

There's no way to fail out of a guitar solo, and there's no wrong way to play one, but there is a scoring element involved. The music highway will be decorated with special fields to denote a solo moment, but the type of freestyle you should perform is denoted by the highway pattern. For example, diamonds mean you can do whatever you want, diagonal boxes indicate an Eddie Van Halen style finger tapping on the keys, and so on. Blue and orange colors correspond with using the upper or lower frets, so the solo mode will make use of all ten buttons, although the main sections won't. Players won't be penalized for ignoring the patterns, but not following them will break the score streak.

I didn't do very well with scoring, but I did manage to put together some pretty nice sounding solos by fooling around with the keys and settling into ones that seemed to work best. I got so into the mode that switching back to regular gameplay took some getting used to. It took me a moment to realize that I couldn't do whatever I wanted anymore and had play normally again.

Classic Rock Outs

Harmonix is being kind of secretive about its post release song plans, other than the fact that the game will be constantly developing and growing in accordance to community feedback. We don't know if the developer will return to its prolific practice or releasing new DLC every week. However, we are told that there aren't plans for annual game releases. Instead, the Rock Band 4 experience will grow better over time through updates and improvements.

Furthermore, music designed for Rock Band 3 will be compatible with the new game. Since purchased music is linked to an account, players will be able to download purchased songs to their Xbox One and PS4 to play on Rock Band 4. Old instruments will also be compatible, although a specially designed dongle may be required.

Those that want to update their equipment will have good reason to do so. Although little has changed with the guitar's overall design, the Mad Catz version feels a bit sturdier. It also has an accelerometer built-in, for a more reliable Overdrive mode, and they can play longer using two AA batteries instead of three. The drums are more durable and include a reinforced foot pedal for heavy steppers, and the microphone will let singers really step up close and scream into it without cutting out. I can say first-hand that the guitar and drums withstood the antics I put it through. However, the drum pads are still relatively small for my barely coordinated arms, and I often ended up hitting their edges while playing.

Encores and Finales

Rock Band 4's greatest strength might also be its biggest weakness, in that it's not all too different from Rock Band 3. It's great that the game is compatible with all the old songs and instruments, but those who are looking for some sort of huge gameplay leap might be disappointed. However, it retains everything that fans love about the previous game, and it's really easy to get into, even if you haven't picked up a toy guitar in years. If nothing else, Rock Band is still the ultimate music party game.

Guitar solos might take a bit of time to become accustomed to, since it's an additional consideration added on top of normal gameplay, but it doesn't take long to fully accept it as part of the gameplay. They're also a big chance for fake guitar players to exercise a real sense of musical creativity by coming up with original accompaniments. I would love to see this mode expanded in the future. Perhaps with drum solos?

Rock Band 4 will release on October 6th for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 8, 2015 8:00 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Rock Band 4 Impressions: Getting the Band Back Together To Play Solos

    • reply
      July 8, 2015 8:12 AM

      First sentence of the last section reads "Guitar Hero 4" when it should be "Rock Band 4."

    • reply
      July 8, 2015 9:38 AM

      Have they revealed how the old instruments will work on the Xbox One exactly? I see you mention a dongle, is that part of the game or sold separately?

      • reply
        July 8, 2015 9:43 AM

        Pretty sure they'll have to sell it with the game since why sell a copy of the game without it? Who's going to buy one without it for the first game on a new generation of consoles? Maybe someone who wants a second copy? But then they're only going to have one dongle.

        It'll be cheaper to make one packaged good than many. There may be a bundle with a new guitar and game but lots of old instruments are still out there. If you don't need it and are new to the series you can be fine with the newer controllers, but you might have friends with old instruments who can bring it over but now can't use it on the new system which they don't have yet.

        The benefits of bundling them all in the game will help sell copies to those who want to bring their old instruments in.

      • reply
        July 8, 2015 9:44 AM

        You'll need the matching dongle of your old instrument.

      • reply
        July 8, 2015 10:35 AM

        I'm also curious if this dongle will make Xbox 360 fight sticks work on the Xbox One.

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