There comes a time where you have to accept that some of your favourite game series might be done for good. The years pass with no word of another installment, and the DLC well runs dry. But there are some game developers that will surprise you, that will hold you out for that cliffhanger finale only to grant you a breath of fresh air in the next episode…one that makes you jump for joy and fall to the floor weeping.
The good folks at Harmonix and Mad Catz are some of those developers, and that’s why I am able to review Rock Band 4 for you all today.
By winning one of the coveted spots in Harmonix’s Rock Band Road Crew competition, I was granted one of the Band-In-A-Box bundles of Rock Band 4 early, and subsequentially spent the first few days of October glued to my Xbox until my fingers locked up. The game itself was released one week ago, on October 6th, and so far the praise has been through the roof.
And though I want nothing more than to geek out about the fun that Rock Band 4 had to offer us, no game comes without its kinks. It’s time to discuss The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Rock Band 4.
With Rock Band 4 being released exclusively to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, fans are being treated to some gorgeous graphics. Not only does this enhance the gameplay in general, but it is a huge win for streamers who want to use the integrated Twitch apps on their consoles to broadcast their shows to the world.
The crowd is also far more interactive than in the past. Rather than just jumping in during the star-power activation sequences, the crowd will often sing–with feeling!–randomly throughout different parts of the song. Speaking of star-power, your star-power now carries over in-between songs when playing a setlist in Career Mode or Show Mode. Isn’t that nifty?!
When playing in Career Mode, the set-up is similar to that of Rock Band 2, where there are different branching paths for your band to take that affect the number of fans and amount of money you pull in from your shows. And instead of playing a pre-determined setlist, you will often be granted the ability to “vote on a setlist”. For single-players, this means you will be given a choice of five songs or genres, and you vote on which one to play. You continue doing this until you build your full setlist for that individual show. For players with multiple people completing Career Mode together as a band, you all individually vote on which song you want to play, and majority rules. There are also fun achievements available for failing out of a song for which you did not vote for, and for failing out of one for which you did vote.
Songs are now more interactive with the presence of “freestyle solos”. You will be prompted to complete a tutorial for this feature upon starting the game. During various songs where the solo would occur, you get the opportunity to play whatever you’d like, so long as it adheres to certain guidelines. Playing great solos garners you more points, more star-ratings, and allows you to keep your combo going! These freestyle solos also work with your DLC, even some from prior versions of the game!
But with the mention of DLC, it’s time to go into The Bad…
At the time that the Road Crew members received our bundles, there were some issues with the pre-purchased DLC. Several DLC came up incorrectly as saying they needed to be repurchased, pack purchases did not work, and Imports for Rock Band and Rock Band 2 were not yet available, and it was known that a Rock Band 3 import would not happen until Xbox One’s backwards-compatibility update later this Autumn. This all was fine; just because we received our games early doesn’t mean that everything would be perfected prior to the release date.
However, the release day came and went, and there still were no patches to fix the DLC or import issues. This is…confusing to say the least. Did I already buy this song, or did I not? Should I buy it again, or will it be working later?
On top of that, the DLC that was available had to be downloaded one-by-one. As in, scrolling through a catalogue and saying to yourself, “Oh, yeah. That song. I need that one.” As eager as I was for this game, I’m sure most fans would have been okay with a slight delay to accommodate the DLC import errors.
Users of Rock Band for the Wii are completely out of luck, as Rock Band 4 has not been released to the Wii as of this article’s penning. Hopefully, those users have upgraded to one of the other two next-generation consoles since the days of Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3.
But although slightly frustrating, most people have survived with the DLC and import issues. You can comb the catalogue a little bit every day and get whatever songs you are missing, and it has been confirmed that a patch will fix this all at a later date. But there is one other feature that Rock Band 4 is missing…proper character customization.
One of my favourite parts in any game is when there is character customization available, where I can craft my own personal character(s) from several body types and parts. Maybe it is my nature as an author, but it helps me to connect to the character in question. This is also true of the Rock Band series; the band that I created in Rock Band 2 was remade in even more mind-tingling glory for Rock Band 3, where they have been my beloved musical companions for many years.
That band died in Rock Band 4.
No, no, the game did not kill them off, although that would make for one heck of an interesting game. But the lack of proper character customization and the inability to use stand-in characters makes my old band nearly impossible to amass.
You have two body types for your character: masculine and feminine. From there, you have no control over height, weight, body type, tattoos, piercings, etc. There are more hair colours available than before, but fewer hairstyles. The clothing selection is also more limited. This was disappointing to say the least, and reminded me of the early days of The Sims.
The next issue comes in for assigning stand-in characters for your band members. These stand-ins typically allow your band to keep the same form even when playing with less than four people. For whatever reason, being able to assign your own characters as stand-ins has been removed, meaning that you can only assign generic characters for your band. As silly as it sounds, this lost feature crushed me…especially after I spent fifteen minutes trying to find the menu I was certainly missing, only to log into the Road Crew forum and realize that it was a non-existent menu. Numerous other Road Crew members, reviewers, and fans alike have all expressed their huge disappointment in not being able to piece together their normal band in Rock Band 4. For an otherwise phenomenal game, this creates a huge disconnect that I had yet to experience in this series.
Overall Rating: 9.0
Despite the dissolution of my band, Rock Band 4 features all of the fun and joy you’d expect from the game, and after getting into the songs you can easily block out what’s missing and focus on what’s there. Harmonix has also confirmed that there will be frequent patches and updates added to the game, meaning the issues with DLC, character customization, and stand-ins will hopefully be resolved soon. With the addition of the freestyle solos and the inclusion of any backwards compatible material, Rock Band 4 seems to have already beaten out its competition–Guitar Hero LIVE–for the 2015 musical game of the year title.
One of the most amazing things about Rock Band is its community, where not only the fans but the developers themselves are active on social media and quick to answer your any and every question. They encourage people to host parties, post footage, and reward those who do. How many other developers can you say that about?!
Bottom Line: If you’ve ever played any Rock Band or Guitar Hero title, you have to pick up a copy of Rock Band 4. If you have never played a game from either series, then that is all the more reason to pick up a copy of Rock Band 4. The ever-changing music library keeps the replay of this game high, and with the holidays right around the corner, this is the perfect party game to play with friends. Be smart, and choose the rock star life!