2015 saw the return of two previously beloved music game franchises that had lied dormant for quite some time. Guitar Hero saw an untimely end back in April 2011 when their final DLC pack for Warriors Of Rock released, while Rock Band 3 saw their DLC shut down in the same month two years later. It’s no easy feat to bring back a franchise that’s been asleep for so long, but with Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live, both developers are proving that time away from a series can be a great thing. Both franchises are attempting new content and gameplay not seen before in either franchise and, for the most part, this is making both games feel incredibly fresh. For once, both feel like two entirely different offerings, rather than the same game in a different skin. Which one deserves your attention?

Back to Basics

For this iteration of Rock Band, the studio has decided to scale back from the previous release of Rock Band 3 and lead from the original core concept. Four band members try to rock the world. Same as before but this time around, instead of trying to innovate the band set up and push for a more realistic play style, the team has focused on what made Rock Band a fun experience in the first place, the actual gameplay. The career mode has changed to what some are calling an RPG of sorts, where choices you make can affect the kind of band you turn out to be. Instead of the “List style” career mode of Rock Band 3 which was devoid of a soul or any kind of real purpose, this career mode focuses more on the gig style set up of Rock Band 2 while incorporating more control on how your gigs actually play out. The vocalist gets the crowd hyped before songs, the drummer can count you in, and each band member can vote on which song gets played next during pauses. While there hasn’t been much else revealed at this time in terms of visuals or more detailed mechanics, Harmonix is obviously trying to bring the gameplay back to where it should be, which is a great move.

Drums, guitar, and vocals are also getting some fairly important improvements too (sorry bass players) which remedy some of the issues this franchise’s previous instalments suffered with. Vocals not only retain harmonies, but are also getting the ability to freestyle. One of the snags of being a vocalist in Rock Band is that your performance hinges on how well you can sing, which can be difficult when you’re tasked with imitating the more insane vocal ranges on higher difficulties. In Rock Band 4, so long as you’re essentially harmonising the vocals, you’ll be scored for it rather than miss the phrase which is a godsend for those who can’t sing. And harmonies is now being introduced for most, if not all, of the games back catalogue. Pro drums are receiving a new drum fill feature as well. While both original fill options are returning, a new fill feature, where instead of free-styling the game gives you pre-determined fills, is also being implemented. It’s a little restricting in terms of freedom, but also combats the lag issue faced in the previous console generation and it’s completely optional.

The guitarist, however, gets a new updated feature that, while a little complex to start, really gives a massive sense of expression and freedom. Freestyle guitar solo’s not only give you the opportunity to create solos, they give you a chance to let go and express yourself, one of the core principles of music in general. You can follow cues, or go off chart and the game still rewards you with something incredibly satisfying which can be played on any of your old guitars too. In fact, Harmonix is developing an adaptor for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 that allows you to use any of your old instruments, Rock Band or Guitar Hero, to jam. 

Not to mention, the entire back catalogue of DLC, track packs, and exports are also transferring to current consoles which includes over 1,500 songs. This is a huge feat which should be applauded and a great nod to the fans that have a large amount of DLC.

The Soundtrack

As with any music game, the soundtrack can make or break it, and ultimately push someone who’s on the fence about buying into making that purchase. And with previous games, Harmonix has done a great job in building a soundtrack that anyone can enjoy. This time round is no exception, with a range of new and old hits, the relatively unheard of or the heavy hitters. Some songs may make a potential buyer scratch their heads, but this is in balance with the amount that can get an entire crowd singing along.

Not to mention, there are a few artists that have never featured in a music game before or have been locked as an exclusive artist to a different game and can be considered a major get for Harmonix, who are slowly making the list of seemingly unobtainable artists smaller and smaller. Acts like Elvis Presley, Van Morrison, and the addition of Guitar Hero exclusive band Van Halen,  are a great gain for Rock Band 4 and help build on what’s shaping up to be a great setlist.

It’s still not a great time to be a hardcore Harmonix fan

With the current direction of Rock Band 4, those of Rock Band’s fans that are used to the vast amount of gameplay content of Rock Band 3 may feel hard pressed by their current offering, namely because there are a sizeable number of features that have been scrapped for the next entry. Pro mode has been removed, including the standalone keys instrument. While most songs released after Rock Band 3’s release didn’t or simply couldn’t make the keys player feel like an important or notable band member, there were plenty of songs that gave an incredible sense of overwhelming achievement. Mastering Rock Band 3’s Pro Keys mode is a massive challenge in itself. With the loss of key support in future content too, some players may feel a little disheartened to say the least.

While the adaptor is a great addition, it’s only compatible with wireless instruments. Your stage kit is safe wired instruments, Midi adaptors and e-drum kits won’t be compatible at launch, and it’s unlikely to be made compatible in the future.

One of the great things about the community is how far it spreads. There are players all over the world, still jamming to this day online. Some have become good friends, some have been supporting the game with online content and videos for years. Unfortunately, this is somewhat in jeopardy; online play isn’t going to be available at launch and the current state of online play is somewhat foggy to say the least. While a form of online play has been confirmed to an extent, details of this have been incredibly thin. Whether it’ll be synchronous or asynchronous remains to be seen, as does when it’ll be made available. It’s understandable that this got scaled back due to the amount it was actually used, quoted at less than 10% of the community on their recent FAQ, but roughly 10% is still a fairly sizeable amount of the community. Not to mention, those figures are based on the online community for Rock Band 3, which may not accurately reflect the number of people willing to play Rock Band 4 online. There will be more information on this mode in September, but based on the information currently provided, it doesn’t look too promising.

Given the news we have so far, the support given to the community in terms of DLC and the features, Rock Band 4 is shaping up, but more information is really needed.  It’s a perfect set-up for those new to the franchise or those looking to start fresh, but to the community, and those hardcore fans, the omission of a lot of those “Loved by a few/neglected by the many” stings to say the least. Understandable, but until more information is released on those features that haven’t fully been discussed, it may be difficult to convince some to drop money on this title.


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Tags : HarmonixMad CatzRock Band 4
Craig Munn

The author Craig Munn