Rock Band 4 Review: Getting The Band Back Together

There was a time just a few short years ago that Rock Band was the absolute pinnacle of the party game. Building on the popular single guitar music/rhythm game genre, Rock Band introduced drum kits and vocals, and for the first time, four people could play together. I couldn’t go to any function at a friends house without it evolving into a jam session. Fantasy football drafts would become rock shows. Baby showers turned into three city tours. Holiday parties became rock festivals. We all had copies of the game, and we all had delusions of grandeur that we were rock gods.

But then the series — all of the music/rhythm games really — became saturated, and these little plastic instruments began taking over our homes and apartments. Soon, the dust would cover them all as the faint sounds of rock and roll slowly dissipated into the ether. The band had decided to go in different directions. It wasn’t creative difference, or the desire to go solo. The party had officially ended on the genre and like all good rock shows, the lights came up and the crowd went home.

Rock Band 4 Review

Now, Harmonix has blown the dust off the Rock Band series and has brought it to the new generation of consoles with Rock Band 4. It’s time to make amends with your bandmates; it’s time to get the band back together; it’s time to rock the world.

Rock Band 4 doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, nor the franchise. In fact, it feels like the series never left. The instruments are more solidly built — with the drum kit controller getting some major love in new gen. My band’s history is littered with broken or dead drum heads — because no matter who sat behind the kit, they thought they were Neil Peart and pounded the ever-loving crap out of it. The new kit is quieter and each head feels more solid.

Rock Band 4 Review

On the guitar side, the strum bar is not as spongy as I remember from the previous generations. The five colored fret buttons are the same, with a second set of buttons on the lower fret for some serious wailing on freestyle solos (we’ll get to that in a bit). In fact, strapping on the licensed replica Fender strat felt almost the same as it did years ago. And it is amazing how quickly it all came back to me. Within a few songs, I was jamming as I had in 2007 and it was so nice to revisit that rock star life.

But no matter how good the instrument controllers are, what really matters in a music/rhythm game is the music. Rock Band 4 comes with over 60 songs on disc, and of course, Harmonix has brought back the full music store, along with weekly updates. The songs on disc are a mix of old and new, hits and deep cuts from popular acts. Unfortunately, this is also one of Rock Band 4‘s biggest drawbacks. The songs on the disc aren’t all that great, and amount to the weakest in the series’ history.

Rock Band 4 Review

Suspicious Minds, by Elvis Presley, is one of the on-disc songs in Rock Band 4.

Luckily, Harmonix has our backs and have made available any and all previously purchased songs to be re-downloaded to our new gen system — provided that you are still playing in the same family (Xbox 360 to Xbox One; PS3 to PS4). And the interface to do this is pretty simple, as there is a menu option to restore your songs. It may take a bit of time to download them all, depending on how many songs you’ve previously purchased, but they are there. And, again, Harmonix is releasing a handful of brand new songs each week, so the weak on-disc playlist is already a non-factor to some, and will be to new players as time goes on.

As for the gameplay, Rock Band 4 has added a few new features, including the freestyle solo. In the middle of certain songs, there comes a spot on the note highway that allows for the player to be creative. Pressing the buttons and strumming — seemingly in any combination — results in an epic solo. These solos are completely independent of the original tracks, giving the player some measure of autonomy. And personally, when it comes time to solo, I turn into Ace Frehley, dancing around, making faces, and strumming wildly. In short, I feel even more like a rock legend.

Rock Band 4 Review

The note highway on the far left is in freestyle solo mode. Wail on!

The classic Rock Band game modes return, like quick play, and a revamped Tour mode has been added. This mode recreates the rock ‘n roll lifestyle from playing small clubs in big cities, to eventually rocking huge arenas in front of thousands of people. The in-game writing in Tour mode is pretty funny — which matches the cartoonish character models. Certain choices come up as your band plays through its career, including buying a beat-up van vs. hiring a manager, or crashing on someone’s couch vs. upgrading equipment. Each choice has pros and cons, which gives the player some control in their band’s future. And if you’re playing with a full group of friends, you actually have to have a band vote, which adds a layer of realism to the whole ordeal.

Rock Band 4 works splendidly in reuniting the band for one more go at the rock ‘n roll universe. The new instrument controllers and new features, like freestyle solos, lower fret buttons, and a revamped Tour mode make the experience new enough, and the ability to restore older purchased songs — or buy new songs from the extensive Harmonix catalog helps to overcome a very weak on-disc song collection. The ultimate party game is back and get togethers are sure to be loud jam sessions once again.

It sure is nice to get the band back together and play some shows. Nothing big, mostly covers. I’ve missed playing with these guys and the fans were ready for us to come back. Thanks to Harmonix and Mad Catz, the Fugitive Ballerinas live again, baby! Be sure to visit the merch booth on your way out, and drive safely.

Rock Band 4 Review

The Band-in-a-Box comes with all you need, but the older instruments still work with a USB adapter.

Rock Band 4 is available now for Xbox One and Playstation 4. This review is based on a Band-in-a-Box version of the game for Xbox One, provided by Harmonix.

Rock Band 4 Review
out of 5

TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.