Rock Band 4 review: For Those About to Rock, We Salute You!

Rock Band 4 is ready to bring back the plastic instrument era, but has the magic already passed? Or is it time to grab a plastic guitar and rock out one more time? Our review.

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It's been years since the original plastic instrument era ended. Eventually, the games stopped coming and the DLC releases soon followed. Fast-forward to 2015, where Harmonix wasn't quite ready to hang up its instruments. And just months later, the comeback tour has begun with Rock Band 4.

1, 2, 3, 4!

The first thing to note about Rock Band 4 is that it goes back to the basic idea of just getting together with friends and having fun. In its later days, the series was more wrapped up with overly complicated mechanics or trying to create pro musicians. That's all well and good, but what made Rock Band so enjoyable was its pick-up-and-play element. That atmosphere returns fully intact, right down to the ability to drop in and out in mid-song.

On that note, one of the newest mechanics involves freestyle solos on guitar. On the surface, this looks fairly intimidating, since it introduces several new patterns to recognize. Fortunately, the game starts off with a detailed tutorial and it is highly recommended to guitar players of all skill levels. The tutorial explains the new system succinctly and in a straightforward manner, making it not only easy to pick up but also spelling it out in such a way that it's easy to communicate to a friend.

The one downside of freestyle solos is that it can be disruptive to score chasers. While solos encourage all-out freedom, the game does penalize users by breaking any streak for not following the freestyle patterns. To Rock Band 4's credit, however, this change is not forced on users at all. In fact, this feature can simply be turned off in favor of the old note-tracked solos.

Hitting "Shuffle"

Part of the joy of the previous Rock Band games was discovering new music, but even after a while, it was easy to just settle back into a pattern of just playing a handful of the same songs. Rock Band 4's new Shows mode changes the formula to include a degree of randomness. Players can start with a song selection of their choice, but as a show goes on, band members will be prompted to select from a multiple choice list of categories. They can include a song from a particular year, band, genre, or other random choices. After a selection is made, the game will pull up a random song from that category. It's a good way to throw more songs into a playlist and give bands a chance to discover music they might not have heard before.

Shows are also integrated into the standard Rock Band Tour mode, offering up the same voting system upon hitting various tour spots. The Tour mode also throws in another wrinkle, encouraging bands to change up their initial choices by taking fan requests. The option to walk away is also present, but the crowd will occasionally demand encores, offering up a chance to earn fans or cash good towards instruments or clothes. It's a fun way to mix up the old formula and keep sessions feeling fresh.

Dusting Off the Old Collection

Part of what's making Rock Band 4 such an appealing option for those that own previous games in the series is its support of legacy DLC. Unfortunately, the rollout of previous songs hasn't gone smoothly at all. As noted late last week, the process of recovering old songs is a cumbersome one, requiring users to access the first-party digital stores to download each track one at a time. There are some major issues to be found here, since there's no easy way to organize song searches or sort out which tracks have already been downloaded. While that's mainly a first-party issue, it doesn't help that the in-game shop isn't prepared to make this process easier, only pointing players to bundles that can't be re-downloaded, since old tracks must be pulled up individually. Worse yet, certain songs, even when already purchased for previous-generation Rock Band games, are still showing up as full priced items. This is something that is expected to be sorted out over time, but there's no ignoring that it is a huge launch day issue.

This also puts the kibosh on exporting on-disc tracks from previous Rock Band games to Rock Band 4 for the time being, but that's another conversation entirely.

So how about the DLC tracks that do work? Those actually do go a long way towards helping enhance the overall experience and fit into the interfaces seamlessly. All DLC tracks get integrated into the Shows and the voting system, offering immense variety. Other new mechanics, like the freestyle guitar and vocal solos, are also integrated into these old songs. As much fun as it was to play freestyle on an on-disc track like The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love," these solos have been implemented brilliantly into older tracks like The White Stripes' "Icky Thump."

Party Hard

Like any band's reunion tour, it's easy to get caught up in nostalgia. But Rock Band 4 proves to be far more than that. It's a return to form, putting the focus back on four-player fun without any overly-complicated mechanics. The new additions all focus on just letting loose and having a good time and even those mechanical additions aren't forced. The DLC situation is something of a mess, but those willing to bear through it will have a sure-fire party gem on their hands.


This review is based on an Xbox One retail copy provided by the publisher. Instrument hardware was also provided by the publisher. Rock Band 4 will be available in retail stores, the Xbox Store, and PlayStation Store on October 6 for $59.99. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
Rock Band 4
8
Pros
  • Focuses on fun, casual play
  • Freestyle solos are easy to grasp, but are also optional
  • Shows and their vote system offer replayability and shuffled tracks
  • Strong, eclectic on-disc soundtrack
  • Legacy DLC supported
Cons
  • Legacy DLC is not easy to get and has some major issues
  • Art style feels somewhat dated
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 5, 2015 7:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Rock Band 4 review: For Those About to Rock, We Salute You!

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 7:02 AM

      who's buying? Stand up and be counted

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 7:11 AM

      I really like the live crowd shot stuff the new guitar hero is going for. It'll probably get super repetitive but I like that better that the animated look. It just seems so dated.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 7:29 AM

        Maybe it'll actually be decent but the footage I've seen made me cringe.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 12:30 PM

        For better or worse, the animation style definitely looks like old Rock Band.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 7:27 AM

      I forget this is coming out tomorrow. I hope Amazon notifies it shops soon. My order page says doesn't know when it'll ship.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 8:07 AM

        I pre-ordered it 6 months ago, it shipped Saturday for me. Full band kit for PS4.

        • reply
          October 5, 2015 8:35 AM

          I only got the game plus the adapter for the XB1. Preordered that as soon as it was announced.

          • reply
            October 5, 2015 8:36 AM

            And really tomorrow is X-Wing Miniatures Coop campaign day so I'm not gonna be playing it until Wednesday at the earliest. Probably Thursday.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 8:07 AM

      In transit from Amazon now! Can't wait!

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 8:12 AM

      Yeah, ordered from amazon.ca beginning of August, no shipping estimate or anything. :( Found guitar and game in stock online at bestbuy for delivery Wednesday instead. Will give me a second guitar when the full band kit arrives at some point. Kinda disappointed in amazon on that front.

      Legacy DLC tip for Xbox.. don't browse, you will miss a TON of content. Search out each band you want and then view all their 'game' results (use the ellipses). Found all the tracks I wanted that way. Plug in a keyboard so you don't kill yourself typing names with gamepad.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 8:27 AM

        Dang I feel bad for you guys. Must be having a supply problem. I pre-ordered on day one when it was announced. June something. It shipped on Saturday and arrives today. Hope you guys get your kits soon and can start rocking out.

        • reply
          October 5, 2015 8:56 AM

          Yeah, it's 2007 and RB1 all over again.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 8:40 AM

      The DLC situation reads exactly how Dance Central was and it sucks a lot of your time to get all your old content downloaded.

      We haven't decided yet on what we will do, all our RB stuff is 360, but I might just do a cold swap to PS4.

      Do 360 instruments work with the PS4 via USB at least?
      Is there an instrument bundle without the game? I wanted to buy the game digitally.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 8:55 AM

        You can google search for the latest compatibility chart, not sure on cross platform instruments. No instruments without game until 2016.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 11:34 AM

        No cross platform instruments

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 8:40 AM

      Do my old Xbox 360 instruments work on Xbox One?
      Is the DLC import extra money?

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 8:56 AM

        Old WIRELESS 360 instruments will work WITH THE ADAPTER that comes with physical copies or can be bought alone if you want to do digital game (but it sounds like it's pretty backordered).

        No extra money. Legacy DLC that is licensed for RB4 that you bought on same console family previously is free to download.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 9:33 AM

        Yeah, unfortunately, the instrument compatibility is for wireless instruments with an adapter only.

        http://forums.harmonixmusic.com/discussion/258920/the-rock-band-4-instrument-compatibility-chart

        RIP my old GH2 X-Plorer.

        DLC imports do not cost extra money.....or at least they shouldn't. But as I pointed out, there's a bug where some songs are still showing up full price, even if you already own it. All you can do is bear with them right now, but that sucks hard to run into at launch.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 8:43 AM

      Where's the cheapest place to buy PS3 Rock Band equipment?

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 10:33 AM

      amazon shipped mine off early this morning. should be here tomorrow afternoon! I got the guitar bundle and another friend is getting the full band bundle.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 10:46 AM

        Keep checking! Suprisingly mine is waiting for when I get home from work today!

        • reply
          October 5, 2015 10:49 AM

          Dunno how things work in other areas, but around here, same day delivery just isnt possible. And a postal service or ups truck isnt gonna go back to the facilitiy to pick up my package even if it made it here this afternoon. They’ll just wait for tomrorow.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 10:51 AM

      DLC List sorted by Band name so you can search out your tracks.

      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wZLSlk44gAZT2XNpjFmIk2bM60xvpuzUOvyvl75FP4I/edit?usp=sharing

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 11:15 AM

        Should be open to view with just the link. Copy and paste it out if you want to resort. :D

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 2:13 PM

        I was taken aback by how much of this DLC I still do not own.

        • reply
          October 5, 2015 2:26 PM

          Remember that guy Deathlove that used to post here? I'm fairly certain he has literally all of the DLC ever released.

          • reply
            October 5, 2015 2:29 PM

            I have 1000+ songs but I think there is more than twice that many.

            • reply
              October 5, 2015 3:07 PM

              Same, I got to like 1100 and just stopped after realizing how many songs I had bought at that point. Its awesome to come back and see all the songs that have come out since then that I'm totally interested in playing.

              • reply
                October 5, 2015 3:35 PM

                At 2 bucks per song, you must really love some rock band!

                • reply
                  October 5, 2015 3:38 PM

                  Eh iirc I got a few that were on sale, and bought plenty of them that were in packs which were cheaper than buying all of the songs separately.

                  Still quite a bit of money though.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 2:32 PM

        I wasn't clear before, but this is everything including exported tracks. This is not a list of what's necessarily available in rock band four.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 3:06 PM

        Did they delete all that Rock Band Network stuff?

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 3:29 PM

        I have added a column for XB1 RB4 status. Y means it's in the store now, MIA is missing in action, others will be self explanatory.

        I have only gone through A for now, off to pick up the kids. I'm sure someone else will get it completed somewhere else long before me, but I'll be continuing my work. :)

        • reply
          October 5, 2015 3:50 PM

          Where are the exported songs like from lego rock band?

          • reply
            October 5, 2015 4:58 PM

            That and the various other RB games yea.. Source was the wikipedia list, i just wanted it easier to sort and edit.

            • reply
              October 5, 2015 4:59 PM

              Oh sorry, you said WHERE are they... Exported bundles from full games coming after launch.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 5:33 PM

        A and B have updated RB4 status.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 7:02 PM

        God so much PS4 is unobtainable right now, says Free (because I know I purchased it) then says not available when clicked. Seems anything that was originally in a pack is not available. Only singles purchase songs seem downloadable right now.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 10:16 PM

        A-J have a RB4 status column (xb1).

        Going to bed, will do more tomorrow night.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 2:51 PM

      Are the adapters for last-gen instruments shipping yet?

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 2:52 PM

        Your mileage may vary but various forums posters say yes. I only placed an order for one today as I may end up with a second disc of the game.

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 3:53 PM

      According to the chart the wired Rockband 3 microphone works. Confirm/deny?

    • reply
      October 5, 2015 9:38 PM

      Working MS purchase history link:

      https://live.xbox.com/en-CA/download/history

    • reply
      October 9, 2015 7:00 AM

      Cant rock, game freezes like crazy and the guitar misses notes for no apparent reason on the XBONE.
      also the features missing on this game is like playing RB1.
      WTF happened here!

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