Finally returning after a five year hiatus, Harmonix’s once huge Rock Band franchise has returned to its roots on modern consoles with Rock Band IV.
Though the gameplay as a whole is what one would come to expect from the series, the developers have added smart new changes that allow for a level of self expression never before seen in past iterations of the franchise.
The most notable new improvement is the addition of the new freestyle modes applicable to guitar solos and vocals. With freestyle guitar solos, the player can opt out of playing an authored chart for a song’s normal solo and instead choose to create their own solo by following a series of vague on-screen cues. These segments make full use of the guitar peripheral, allowing the player to alter the sound of their solo by using a combination of the high and low notes along with up and down strums.
The variety of sounds at the player’s disposal ensure that every solo sounds unique, and those who master this feature will be able to concoct solos worthy of the original artists.
Freestyle vocals similarly allow for the player to get creative with how they play. In prior Rock Band titles, vocalists were scored based on how well they matched the pitch of the original singer’s voice, and any singing done out of pitch would not be scored.
Now, with freestyle vocals, however, vocalists will continue to be scored as long as they sing in key with the song. This makes singing less like singing along with a radio and more like singing with a real band at a show. Taking artistic liberties on a whim for the sake of style and not being punished for it makes for a much deeper and rewarding system for singers.
The game’s soundtrack features 65 songs on disc that range from classic rock icons Elvis Presley and Van Halen to more modern bands like Gouplove and The Killers, with over half of the set being fresh songs from the last five years. There’s something for everybody in Rock Band IV’s selection, and those looking for more have access to over 1700 tracks on the online store available for purchase.
The best part is that any songs the player has bought for previous games in the past eight years will all transfer to the new game free of charge, meaning that veterans of the series will never have to let go of their large downloadable catalog. These old songs have also all been updated with vocals harmonies and freestyle modes where applicable, adding even more worth to the ever-growing library of songs.
There are three main modes that each offer unique ways of framing the experience. Quickplay mode returns from past titles, allowing for players to simply choose which songs they want to play for as long as they please. Tour Mode also returns and has been vastly improved compared to past entries, acting as a choose-your-own-adventure story with branching pathways based on choices the band makes.
The player can choose to maintain the right to choose what songs are played at the expense of being a poor indie artist sleeping on the couches of fans, or sell out and get rich, at the expense of having to play “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy just a few too many times.
The last mode is the new Shows mode, which prompts players between songs to vote on which category of song they’d like to see next. The categories range from the incredibly vague like ‘something alternative’ to incredibly specific like ‘Short Skirt/Long Jacket by Cake’ and take all the pressure off of having to scroll through the list of songs searching for what to play next. This mode is perfect for parties and ensures there is never a lull in the action, and works especially well for those who may have hundreds of songs built up from over the years.
Rock Band IV is a lot more of what made the series such a cultural phenomenon in the past, with new reasons to try old songs and a fresh varied soundtrack. For those who haven’t tried Rock Band before, there’s never been a better time to jump in and see the craze that took the world by storm back in 2007, and for those who have played before and have memories of rocking out with friends, then it might be time to dust off those plastic instruments for an encore.