Rock Band 4 offers the same party-focused, addictive experience as its predecessors, but potential song limitations and price point will hold it back for some.
By the time the Rock Band franchise reached its third mainline iteration, most would agree developer Harmonix had the rhythm genre cornered. No longer were they competing against the likes of Guitar Hero or (a little later) Rocksmith; Rock Band was in a league of its own. It’s true that, by and large, what Rock Band 3 offered was near perfect, but eventually the series ran its course. Ps3 and Xbox 360 gamers packed up their plastic instruments, and before too long Rock Band was gone.
Even then, there was the assumption that, although Rock Band was going away for now, it would soon return. And once Sony and Microsoft unveiled their current-gen platforms, most knew it was only a matter of time before Rock Band 4 appeared.
However, now that Rock Band 4 is here, it’s time to face the music, quite literally. Could a franchise that lost its luster not because of poor quality, but because of diminishing returns, find new life on new platforms? The answer is yes and no.
For the most part, Harmonix have done a splendid job of ushering Rock Band 4 into the current generation. The game looks sharper, its gameplay is as tight as ever, and the party atmosphere Rock Band fosters is alive and well. Yes, the game still leans into its stylized visual nature once more, but the presentation is no less sharp. Everything is clean and well laid out, and the only major flaw is the occasional long load time.
There are some noteworthy features, like freestyle guitar solos, where players can create their own solos without having to follow specific notes. Similarly, singers aren’t bound by the lyrics any longer, but can instead belt out any rhythmic words they want, provided they keep the same tune. And the game has enough modes to satisfy those players who want a complete band experience, not just to pick songs a la carte.
Even with those features, though, this is the same game fans remember, through and through, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be for everyone. To start, Rock Band 4 can be an expensive endeavor, depending on gamer’s prior history with the franchise. Any who held on to their legacy Rock Band instruments will be happy to discover their microphones, guitars, and drums (sorry keyboard fans) work perfectly with the PS4 version, and all Xbox gamers need is a relatively cheap adapter.
Similarly, Rock Band 4 can tap into the vast RB library to offer gamers all of their previously owned songs, or the opportunity to purchase new ones. Not all of the songs will be fully compatible with Rock Band 4 – some don’t support the game’s freestyle guitar solos – but that’s hardly a negative. Having thousands of songs at your fingertips helps make Rock Band 4 the ultimate music rhythm game, and the more songs players already own the greater the value.
That being said, what’s included on the Rock Band 4 disc is somewhat disappointing. There’s a solid variety of rock, pop, and folk, from a wide gap of decades, but the catalog as a whole doesn’t offer many of those must-play songs. That’s likely because all of the songs worth adding to Rock Band are already in the legacy library, but still, the on-disc song list could have been better. Even the new U2 songs are mid-tier at best.
It’s also worth mentioning that any who don’t own legacy hardware will face a hefty price tag if they want the complete band experience. At $250 retail, Rock Band 4 won’t come cheap, although there are cheaper options for players who just want a guitar or the disc. That’s not to say the instruments aren’t worth the price tag – they are high quality and durable – but it’s important to point out pricing for a game like this.
And that is the major question that faces anyone interested in Rock Band 4: how much value do you see in the franchise? If you’re the type of fanatic who owned all iterations, bought every DLC song on Tuesday, and still has a set of guitars, a mic, and a drum kit, then Rock Band 4 is an easy recommendation, a must-play even. The shear amount of content available to someone like that is staggering, and getting back into the game is a lot of fun. Similarly, those eager gamers who pick up the title brand new may not be as satisfied with the on-disc song options, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They will have to pay extra obviously, but there is a massive and diverse library available on day one, and more songs coming in the future.
However, any who expected Rock Band to change its identity in the leap from one generation to the next are likely to come away disappointed. For better or worse, this is the Rock Band we all know, and many love, with some small changes to gameplay here and there. Truthfully, Rock Band 4’s biggest selling point is that it’s Rock Band on the new consoles with new instruments. And if that sounds appealing, then you’re bound to be very happy with Harmonix’s sequel.
Rock Band 4 is available now for PS4 and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 copy for this review.