It’s been a long time coming, but Rock Band is back. After years of battling it out with Guitar Hero and bringing in some impressive bands and franchises including The Beatles and Lego, Rock Band went on a bit of a holiday; in fact the holiday lasted several years, only interrupted briefly by the excellent Rock Band Blitz which dropped the plastic instruments in favour of a more controller-based rhythmic challenge. But with the new consoles came with a new desire for people to grab their mimic guitar and start rocking out with friends, and sure enough Harmonix obliged, sparking off a whole new Rock Band vs Guitar Hero battle.
Available in a pack with the instruments or by itself (with, brilliantly, full support for legacy instruments from the PS2 and PS3 days) Rock Band 4 boasts a great lineup of songs, all playable from the start if you want to give them a try, or unlocked bit by bit when you’re doing the tour mode. Setup is quick and straightforward, with some instruments allowing automatic calibration by holding them against the TV and older versions giving the usual metronome-based setup, and it’s only a minute or two before you’re up and running and ready to nail the tutorial.
It’s here, at this moment you’d be tempted to skip, where you learn about the new freestyle solo option, giving you the chance to make up your own solos with the only requisite being that you stick to the rhythm requested and not go completely off on one. Doing this means your solos go the way you want them to – do you keep it simple and focus on the rhythm, or go for something a bit more adventurous, fly up the neck of the guitar and hit a complex wailing solo to get the crowd up and jumping around? It’s a very nice addition, and makes a genuine difference to certain songs instead of having to follow insanely complex sequences of button presses.
As you’d probably expect from the series by now up to four people can join the band, with two guitars, drums and a microphone making up the numbers. Each offer their own challenges, with some deviously tough drum lines to learn and surprisingly awkward bass riffs available alongside the more commonly played guitar and vocal lines. You can design your band character for the tour too, picking your clothing and body appearance from a limited, but useful set of options, but this is really used for the main event – the tour mode.
After choosing to start up a band and go touring, you’re given a few options to name your band and the musicians with some brilliantly bizarre suggestions for what your band could be called. After clicking on the “random” button a few times I eventually settled on Stone Cold Quiche, and hit the road with my mop-haired (and surprisingly feminine looking) guitarist leading the way. A couple of gigs in and the money was starting to trickle into the band’s bank account, allowing me to splash out and buy my guitarist a new pair of trousers. I fancied one of the fancy new guitars, but until I hit some bigger stages that wasn’t going to happen.
But then, a decision… do I pay extra get a decent tour organiser and get some better gigs nearby, or buy a clapped out camper van to travel further afield and get more fame in other towns? This was the first of many choices I had to make, leaning my band towards making more money from a smaller audience, or expanding my audience for a bigger long term gain. It started to feel a little RPG-like, which for a Rock Band game was pretty cool, and as the money pot went up, so did the amount of new gear I could afford to buy. I started to gather more fame, meaning bigger audiences and more earnings. I started to travel abroad, taking in whole new locations and venues to play at. My set lists grew and became more complex, harder songs got added to my repertoire, and the bonuses for playing a perfect song started to rise. It started to become very addictive, replaying gigs until I’d hit a perfect score, and while it won’t rival the career mode in your average sport game it certainly gives you targets to work towards.
One thing is for sure though, while the core gameplay remains the same there’s enough in Rock band 4 to make the experience feel fresh. Maybe it’s because it’s been so long since the last round of Rock Band titles, but taking the instruments back to the basic 5-note models brings the simplicity back to the game and somehow, more impressively, makes you feel closer to the music itself. There’s a fantastic collection of music on the disk, and with the massive collection of DLC on offer it’s almost impossible to run out of new music to play along to. Whether you’re on your own or rocking out with a full band there’s a whole load of enjoyment to be had; it’s time to dust off those old instruments, gather some mates and hit the stage… We’re putting the band back together.
Reviewed on PS4