While the idea of a new Rock Band on current-gen has been high on gamers’ request lists, few could pin down what the franchise would need to do to replicate its success. At the top, one would think that a Rock Band 4 would presumably need to have something unique about it in order to make a profit. After all, if the games’ change-very-little-except-the-songs approach was still working, then there would have already been a Rock Band 4.
However, maybe it was just a little time that the franchise needed. Time has certainly afforded that sense of nostalgia Harmonix is looking to capitalize on with their version of Rock Band 4, a version that bears a striking resemblance to the Rock Bands of old.
See, even though Rock Band 4 has a few new features and smart tweaks, playing it first-hand is like reacquainting with an old friend. The sensation of quickly sliding between the various colored buttons on the guitar or hitting the drums’ bass pedal in tune with the beat is not just familiar it’s practically ingrained.
That’s all to say that Rock Band 4 plays, looks, and sounds a lot like Rock Band 1 or 2, and by no means is that a slight against the game. Bolstered by a goal of about 50 new songs, and a back catalog of hundreds of DLC songs, Harmonix wants the solid gameplay of old to carry Rock Band 4 into the current-gen. That being said, they clearly didn’t want to change the formula too much and risk alienating their core fan base. Those people who own the hundreds of DLC songs have certain expectations, and for them it’s hard to deny Rock Band 4 won’t deliver.
To be fair, Harmonix has not simply copy and pasted Rock Band 3 over to current-gen and removed the keyboard and pro guitar. Chiefly, they’ve added a unique solo feature that lets players interact with specific sections of the song in a way that’s dynamic and supports player creativity. Solos in prior Rock Band games have been rigid, but those in Rock Band 4 make the player feel like a genuine rock star, while still having them enact some specific actions.
Rock Band 4 also tries to give players a more involved gameplay experience as they react to AI crowd feedback. After finishing a song, the band will be given some choices of songs (genre, band, decade, etc.) and if they choose the right one and preform well, the crowd will react accordingly. Subtle details like that give greater immersion to the experience and enhance the communal vibe. But even players who want to fly solo will find their distinct style shines through when preforming solos.
Outside of that, though, playing Rock Band 4 feels like hardcore fans would want it to feel – i.e. no sweeping changes have been made to that core formula. Players are still frantically hitting notes to try to keep in tune, and only the bravest in the group want to be vocals. And considering the reception to Rock Band 4’s reveal, it’s hard to fault Harmonix for going that route. Sometimes it’s better to simply let the fans have some time to realize they miss a franchise, then come back and deliver exactly what they remembered.
Rock Band 4 releases October 6, 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One.