A fun back to basics reboot for one of the best rhythm action games available
Game review: Rock Band 4
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4
THE spate of peripheral-based games during the last console generation meant that Rock Band and Guitar Hero have been on hiatus for a few years. But with both franchises rebooting this autumn, two of gaming’s most successful social series are aiming to win over a new generation of music fans. While Guitar Hero is tinkering with the time honoured formula, Rock Band has stuck with its winning set up - get a crowd of friends round, fire up a set list, and try and play as wow a virtual crowd.
Load up Rock Band 4 and the set up will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the game before. Songs are broken up into various rhythm tracks which invite one to four players to master them using a range of instruments: guitar, bass, drums and microphone. Depending on the difficulty tier you plump for, this takes the form of leisurely one note strums to a furious paced flurry of notes that require you to bend your fingers around a plastic fretboard in an act of contortion.
The updated instruments are more responsive and durable
The instruments that come in the band in a box bundle - a Stratocaster, a drumkit and a microphone - may look nearly identical to previous peripherals in the series, but they are much more responsive and durable. The drumkit in particular feels solid compared to the previous plasticky incarnations and you no longer need feel anxious about delivering some hard hitting beats for fear of the unit falling apart. All the instruments, meanwhile, are wireless, which makes setting up a game and changing position considerable easier than it used to be.
As with previous games, the instrument that is most likely to curry favour is the guitar, and in Rock Band 4 there is extra reason to shred some chords. Along with the usual cascading tumble of notes, many of the songs included at launch invite you improvise thanks to freestyle solo sections. It may sound trite, but these sections break up lengthier numbers and allow you to showcase your skills like never before. Given the rhythm action genre has always faced down criticisms over its lack of genuine musical creativity, it is a fine innovation and one that adds to its social pedigree.
Quickplay does not overcomplicate things, allowing players to join in a party
Cleverly, this feature has also been rolled out for the drum and vocal tracks, where you can play your own fills or - ingeniously - choose to sing your own lyrics. As long as they are in the same key as the original vocal track, you will not be penalised. Some might say this does a disservice to the artists in the game, but given not everyone will be familiar with the exact lyrics of every song includes, it allows less experienced players to join in the fun.
The main mode, other than the quickplay option, is a career offering. As before, this allows you to customise your band’s appearance and choose different routes on (hopefully) your ascent to rock stardom. It is fairly frills free affair, but as with much in Rock Band 4, it does not seek to overcomplicate things, instead putting the emphasis firmly on playing the music. For anyone who remembers playing Rock Band 3 and its simulation-style approach to guitar playing, this should be seen as a very welcome development.
Redownloading legacy songs is a time consuming process
The 65 song strong track listing spans the usual mix of classic rock, metal and pop and contains more than enough variety to keep the average household happy. The one problem, however, is in using legacy songs you may have previously purchased for older versions of the game. At the moment, finding and downloading tracks is an onerous, time-consuming process, but hopefully once the game has been out for a few weeks, Harmonix will hit upon an easier way of bolstering your back catalogue.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Some songs have lengthy interludes where your instrument will not be required for up to 20 seconds, so memorise the various sections and don’t waste your overdrive during them.
The basic tutorial is worth playing, but if you really want to master techniques like finger tapping - essential to racking up really high scores - try the advanced version.
When behind the drums, experiment with the heel up / heel down technique when striking the bass pedal. Most players find one easier than the other.