Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4

Ahhh…  2010. The year Inception and The Social Network hit theaters. The year Kanye West released his best album (don’t debate me on this!). And the year Rock Band 3 was released, the last full game of the series, and the year everyone was probably sick of music rhythm games. Although Rock Band 3 was arguably the best music rhythm game to date, sales for the game were lower than expected, most likely due to franchise fatigue, or in this case music rhythm game fatigue. Between 2005 and 2010, there were almost 20 games released between Rock Band and Guitar Hero, sometimes three games in a year from a franchise that was either the latest sequel, a spin-off, or a band-focused version.

Now it’s five years later and apparently we’re ready for the music rhythm games to make a comeback. First up is Rock Band 4.

Same feel, same look

One of the first things I noticed when popping in Rock Band 4 is how it felt like a return to the tried and true formula. The game looks the same, sounds the same, and for the most part plays the same. Rock Band 4 doesn’t look like it made much of a jump graphically from the last generation of consoles to the current generation but it does feel a lot cleaner and smoothed out a bit. In the grand scheme of the game, I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I was half-expecting something to at least look more like a new gen game. The old adage goes “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s pretty much what Rock Band 4 looks like.

You begin the game with character and band creation. There’s a variety of choices for your character ranging from male and female body, face type, hair color, and of course, band name. Once I created my band (you can create multiple characters and multiple bands to play as), I decided to go on tour. Going on tour is Rock Band 4’s story/career mode where you and your band start humbly in your local music scene trying to break through. Throughout the mode you’re presented with options on where to take your band career-wise and it usually comes down to either wanting more fans or wanting more money. I chose to keep my integrity and do the music for the art and for the fans. Okay, I admit, I sold out a little when I did a tour promoting the Zombie Camp TV show, but that’s it!

In the story mode you earn money, fans, and stars based on how well your performances go. With the money, fans and stars you’re able to buy clothes and gear, and earn more shows and tour opportunities. The game has 65 songs, which is a pretty good amount, but going through the Tour mode, you go through all of them pretty quickly and you’ll end up replaying the songs multiple times. So it’s a good thing that Harmonix is allowing players to download past purchased DLC from previous versions of Rock Band, and in the near future, the exporting of disc music from Lego Rock Band, Rock Band, Rock Band 2, or Green Day: Rock Band (Rock Band 3 is still being negotiated). I was already able to download songs from Dio, Coheed and Cambria, and My Chemical Romance that I purchased for previous Rock Band games. Regardless, on launch day, the Rock Band music store is open for business with tons of music available for purchase.

There’s also the quickplay mode, which we’re familiar with when we want to play one or two songs real quick and the new Show Mode, which is ideal for full bands. In Show Mode, the band members get to vote individually on what songs to play next. This should help stop a lot of the hemming and hawing over song choice among friends from past Rock Band games.

Rhythmic nation 

The game doesn’t look new gen-ish, but so what, it’s the gameplay that matters right? Rock Band 4 plays exactly how you remember. On guitar and bass you strum and press the colored buttons to match the beats and sounds on screen, on drums you try to keep in rhythm on pads and pedal, and on vocals you’re tasked with matching the pitch. Even if you haven’t played in five years, don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike. Some of the coworkers I played with, who admitted they hadn’t played in years, were surprised at how easily they were able to pick up and play again.

Despite the familiar gameplay feel of Rock Band 4, it’s not the “same ole, same ole.” One of the biggest features added to the franchise is the Freestyle solo. On songs that have guitar solos, players are now able to create their own guitar solos with pre-made tones and squeals. Rock Band 4’s new guitar peripheral has an additional five buttons just for this feature. While some might give this idea a side-eye because a lot of us don’t really know how to play guitar, most of the time the Freestyle solo sounds and tones sound pretty good as long as you stay in rhythm with the song. The top five buttons of the new guitar peripheral emit more of the mid-range guitar sounds while the lower five buttons are mapped with higher pitched guitar sounds (Freestyle solos can also be played with legacy 5-button controllers). I enjoy the new feature because it allows me to continue to live out that rock star fantasy without having to worry about beat matching during the most improvisational parts of the music. At the same time, Harmonix also added a switch on the D-pad where you can easily turn off the Freestyle mode if you rather play the song’s original solo performance. This is great because, seriously, what’s better than an Eddie Van Halen solo or Zakk Wylde’s shredding on Ozzy’s “Miracle Man”? But there’s also a basic and advanced tutorial for the Freestyle solo that has different tips to make your solos sound as close to Eddie as possible.

Freestyle solos aren’t the only new feature with Rock Band 4. There’s also Freestyle Vocals where if players choose to play vocals in Hard or Expert mode, you’ll also be able to improvise. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds. No matter what you sing or how you sing, it all has to stay in key and pitch, and it’s tough. Well, at least for me who can’t sing a lick! On the drumming side, Rock Band 4 adds in Dynamic Drum Fills so that the drummer can easily go into overdrive to rack up points.

Remembering your past 

As mentioned above, Rock Band 4 comes packed with 65 songs and as always it’s a diverse playlist featuring current and classic songs. I personally enjoy my rock on the heavier side so it was good to see some Ozzy Osbourne, Avenged Sevenfold, System of Down, and Judas Preist on the playlist. There’s a bit of country (Brad Paisley, Brandi Carlile), a dash of funk (Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson), and its fair share of alternative rock (Foo Fighters, Black Keys) too. You can check out the full playlist here. As previously mentioned, you will be able to play the songs you’ve purchased previously for other Rock Band games. This pushes the possible Rock Band 4 library to more than 1,500 songs. In addition to the old songs, you’ll be able to use old peripherals as well. However, we didn’t have any old peripherals to test the capability (or the legacy adapter for Xbox 360 peripherals to work on Xbox One). But the effort by Harmonix to include the older songs and the older peripherals shows how much the developer wants to the player to not only have a new experience but the all-around experience that made us Rock Band fanatics in the first place. And we’re here for it!