Review: Rock Band 4 (PS4)

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Title: Rock Band 4
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (5.91GB)
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Harmonix
Developer: Harmonix
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $129.99 (Guitar Bundle) / $249.99 (Band In A Box Edition)
ESRB Rating: T
Rock Band 4 is also available on Xbox One.
The PlayStation 4 Band In A Box version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

DLC Review(s) For This Game:

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 443 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
For those that may not have ever played a Rock Band game before, here’s an overview. Like many other rhythm games in the past (and don’t forget that Harmonix developed the first two Guitar Hero games, so they kinda know what they’re doing here), basically, a bunch of notes scroll from top to bottom on your screen over five tracks.

These tracks, or “lanes on a highway” as many call them, coincide with the five colored buttons on the fret of the guitar, or the drum pads on the drum kit. You’ll also be able to use up to three USB microphones for main vocals and harmony. If that’s your intention, buy a nice, powered USB hub since the PS4 only has two USB ports for whatever reason.

So, if you have a full band available, up to seven people can participate, quickly making this an unforgettable party experience. The one instrument that didn’t make the trip though is the Keyboard controller that was introduced with Rock Band 3.

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As soon as I got the game installed, my buddy and I synced the guitars (we received an extra Guitar with our review unit) and started straight-away. Something the PS4 now offers over the previous generation is the ability to log into each player’s PSN account, up to four unique accounts, so that trophies can be earned separately, which I’m sure will be a popular option.

For the most part the interface will feel very familiar, and you’ll of course want to calibrate your TV, which is quite simple since the Guitar controller does all of the work. Simply hold the guitar up to the TV twice during the process and everything is set.

They’ve really done a great job at making this process, which used to be a difficult experience in the older games, quite simple and worry-free. Navigation also, is very straightforward and easy since they know that you’re most likely using a guitar or drumkit to do so.

… all of those songs I loved playing …
You can jump right into playing one of the sixty-five songs included on the disc without needing to unlock any of them, and for me at least, I really like the initial selection. The “big surprise” pre-launch was that U2 was finally in the Rock Band library, but for me, I’ve never been a fan.

Along with the songs on the disc however, you’ll also be able to download almost all of the songs in your PS3 library to Rock Band 4. Harmonix lost the license for a small handful of songs, so those won’t be available unfortunately.

As of right now, it sounds like the only other group of songs that won’t be available at launch are the tracks from the Rock Band 3 disc. But if you did the import to Rock Band 3 from the previous two games, those should be available since they were made available digitally when you performed the initial import on PS3.

To me, and I assume everybody else, the availability of your past library is key to Rock Band 4 being a viable platform, and it’s exciting to be able to come back to all of those songs I loved playing so much in the past.

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Another ingenious move that Harmonix made was to start the game immediately with an easy to understand tutorial showing how the new options like Freestyle Mode work.

Basically, it’s an expanded version of how you ended certain songs in Rock Band 3, with certain sections requiring you to strum at four or eight beats, or you can go full freestyle as well.

What’s different is that you don’t have to hit any specified notes, so you can just wail on the buttons and if you use the buttons closer to the guitar body, you’ll generate higher notes. Just like on a real guitar, the farther from the body, the lower the notes.

… a new voting system …
Honestly, when I went through the tutorial initially, I wasn’t too keen on performing these freestyle sections, but in the songs themselves, it’s actually really fun. Never fear, if you don’t like them, you can turn them off with a simple press on the D-pad.

They’ve also improved the mechanics behind drum fills and vocal recognition to stimulate more creativity on both fronts, which is good for me since I’m usually the one with the microphone.

Harmonix has also added a new “Play a Show” mode which knocked my socks off. Aimed squarely at parties, instead of simply playing a single song then going back to the list, or setting-up a song list in the menus, they’ve streamlined the experience with a new voting system which also pops-up in the Tour Mode as well.

So now instead of going back to the song list every time, the game will suggest four or five songs and allow everyone playing a vote. It’s a brilliant addition, and should actually allow for some songs to be discovered which is something I love about rhythm games like this. You can still play with your friends like you did in previous games in the series, but seriously, give this one a try.

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Tour mode has seen some welcome additions as well, and it’s nice to see that Harmonix made a concerted effort to make it even more compelling. When you get started it’ll definitely feel familiar, as you create your band and name it appropriately. My first band was called ‘Buttered Bacon’ by the way.

Next you’ll be taken to the band members creation tool, allowing you to make choices like gender, physique, hair, skin color, clothing, and accessories. Your instrument and wardrobe choices will be limited at first since you need to earn money on the road so you can purchase (or earn) more items during your tour.

Here is where the new features come into play and put simply, it’s all about choice. Instead of just starting small and working your way up to arena shows, you’ll now be presented with choices at specific points through your tour to stardom.

… everyone in the band had to shave their heads because they got lice …
One choice may be to buy a “suspiciously cheap” van, or to ask your drummer’s Uncle to manage you. One choice may offer the chance at acquiring more fans where the other choice will garner you more money up-front. Surprisingly, the writing associated with these choices has been great so far.

You may even see consequences/rewards when you go on stage. For example, one choice I was given was to “crash on fans’ couches” to show a connection with the fanbase.

Toward the end of that leg of the tour though, everyone in the band had to shave their heads because they got lice, and when we hit the stage, everyone was bald. In the grand scheme it’s a small addition, but seeing the results in-game adds a ton to the experience.

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As I said above, the voting mechanic in the “Play a Show” mode has also been added to the tour mode in a couple of cool instances. First, since Harmonix has also added a push for your band to have a “Stage Presence”, you’ll sometimes get a choice to play the last song in your set as intended, or to play a “fan favorite”.

If you change the song to what the crowd wants to hear you can potentially gain even more fans and/or earn more cash with a “Stage Presence” multiplier. Also, voting has been added to when your audience cries-out for an encore, which again includes your entire band into the choice. I gotta say, it’s a small addition but it really adds something to the party atmosphere.

… improved the tracking of your pitch …
Vocals are handled a bit better now. The game has always registered the pitch and cadence of your voice, instead of somehow knowing if you’re actually singing the proper words.

Now, they’ve improved the tracking of your pitch to allow you to freestyle even more, and so far it seems to be working quite well. Just keep in mind that you need to hit the notes, not get every word right.

Drums feel very similar as well, with improved “dynamic” fills that you’ll definitely appreciate. If you want to use the older fills though you definitely can with a quick push of the D-pad. I did see some out there asking why cymbals weren’t supported, but the good news is that they actually are.

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I’m not sure if you’ve picked-up the pattern here yet so I’ll boil it down for you. Everything you loved about Rock Band is still here and they’ve also added a lot of new features and methods. It’s up to you if you want to mess with any of the new stuff or not though and it’s good that this was recognized by the crew at Harmonix.

Peripherals:
I’ve already discussed the fact that you can use most of the instruments from the PS3 but for those that decide to buy either the pack with the new guitar, or the Band in a Box, I wanted to give some impressions of the new instruments.

First, the new microphone has a couple of noticeable improvements including a larger housing, which definitely feels better in your hand. Also, the internals have been improved to support full 48 kHz and with added distortion protection.

… no more dongles …
For the new guitar and drums, the first thing I noticed was that there weren’t any wireless dongles in the box and until I looked through the manual I was afraid they forgot to include them.

For some reason the fact they wouldn’t be needed completely escaped me, because now they support Bluetooth connectivity. So on the PS4, they’ll simply register as a Bluetooth controller and they can even turn on the system with a press of the PlayStation button.

To sync to the system, simply go to the Settings menu, Devices, Bluetooth Devices and hit the ‘Sync’ button on the instrument. After a few seconds, it should appear on the screen where you can add it as a device. It’s really quite easy and hey, no more dongles!

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The changes to the guitar and drums haven’t affected their looks much and instead focus on the overall build quality and feel. Both now include a “Share” button but cosmetically there’s little difference when compared to the instruments from Rock Band 3.

The new drum pads actually feel more “solid” but at the same time feel like they have more give when you hit them. Also, the question I hear the most is about the build quality and perceived toughness of the bass pedal.

I don’t use the drums much personally, but I was one of the people that modified the pedal for the Rock Band drums. The new pedal included in the package is very nice, with a textured metal plate where your foot presses, and the plastic that comprises most of the housing is quite strong.

… an apparent Bluetooth connectivity issue …
I’m loving the feel from the spring, which also seems like it will last a really long time. I think the spring has a larger diameter too, but I don’t have the old one here to compare.

The new version of the guitar feels great so far. Buttons on the fret are solid and have just enough tension, but what really stands out is the strum bar which feels squishy but solid at the same time.

Responsiveness is always excellent and the guitar controller itself seems a bit lighter than the previous iterations. Other than that though, both simply feel like they’re built better which I like.

There is one feature that I really wish they’d added to the new instruments though and that is a headphone jack (like there is on the DualShock 4). When playing Solo, that would be absolutely perfect for those that maybe can’t play the game very loud for whatever reason.

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But there does seem to be one problem and I’ve been able to test this with two separate guitar controllers so far. There is an apparent Bluetooth connectivity issue.

This doesn’t happen all the time and it doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason for it to occur. At random times the PS4 will tell me that the controller has been disconnected and I have to hit the Blue button to get back into the game.

If you’re in the middle of a song, it will pause but a note or two will already roll by before it does. There’s nothing you can do to stop that from happening and that can throw a huge note streak right off.

It’s an annoyance at best, which needs to be addressed for sure, and I can imagine the groans when a full party is playing the game. Obviously, who knows if this is an issue with the Bluetooth radio in the instruments or if it’s an issue with how Bluetooth is implemented in the PS4. All I know is that I’ve never had this issue with any of my DualShock 4 controllers.

… whole new array of crazy outfits …
Visuals:
On the surface, Rock Band 4’s visuals will look very familiar. Obviously everything is running at a higher resolution and it all looks noticeably better, but where the biggest differences lie are in the cinematography and stage lighting.

When one of your band is playing a solo, the lights will drop and a spotlight will bathe that player, letting him/her stand out on stage. We also get some new animations for each band member, and obviously a whole new array of crazy outfits, hairstyles, and accessories to help personalize them.

There’s a new collection of cool and unique instruments to buy and attain and all have been modeled to a nice amount of detail. Like I said, at first (and maybe even second) blush, it will look very similar to Rock Band 3, but the additions to the overall presentation during songs is appreciated.

Audio:
Obviously, audio is very strong in the game in every situation. The music itself is running a high bitrate and sounds great both in surround and in your favorite headphones.

The sounds coming from the crowd add a cool layer of interactivity that really makes you feel like you’re actually playing for them from the stage. As before, you can adjust the levels of each part of the audio to your liking and it’s all very easy to do.

… your existing library of songs …
Online/Multiplayer:
Harmonix posted a survey before anyone knew that Rock Band 4 was a thing and with over 100,000 responses, online multiplayer was only requested by a minority. Therefore, one of my favorite features hasn’t made the transition.

There are online leaderboards for each song and for different difficulty levels as we had in the past. It’s still fun to see how your skills fare against others and you’ll have them for motivation to try to attain perfection in your favorite songs.

I’m disappointed that I can’t play online with others. Even if I didn’t do it on regular basis, I did still use that feature occasionally. I mean come on, I don’t want to be around other people!

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Bringing your existing library of songs into Rock Band 4 is easy but not convenient. This is all based on my pre-release experience. Since the PlayStation Store hasn’t been fully updated yet I can only get to a limited amount of the songs that will be available.

So far, I’ve had to go into the store in Rock Band 4 and basically go through the entire list to find the songs I own, then select them individually. Harmonix is saying that once the Store update is live on Tuesday you’ll be able to go to the Rock Band 4 section in the store, choose Add-on’s, and find all of your owned songs/packs there.

… still a great game …
But even if you had to go through the entire list in the Rock Band 4 store, I still say that it’s all worth it to retain all of that music. It’s great to be able to get into a new game with that much music to choose from on day one and I couldn’t be happier that Harmonix was able to pull that off.

Also, I haven’t seen an official list, but it sounds like only a handful of songs from past games didn’t make the transition. There are a couple of exceptions though too. Songs from the Rock Band 3 disc will not be available but Harmonix is saying it could possibly happen in the future.

I’m also still skeptical that the tracks from the AC/DC add-on will be available. I hope they are though because I love that package. Even so, over 1,600 tracks will be available for Rock Band 4 at launch with sixty-five on the PS4 disc.

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Conclusion:
Fans of the series should be happy with this new version. Cosmetically it’s seen few changes but under the hood many things have been tweaked and a lot of the features that fans have been asking for have been added.

I’ve gleefully announced numerous times how happy I am that there are no more dongles so I really hope that someone can figure a solution to the random disconnections of the controllers. If you do want the new instruments though rest assured that they’re the best they’ve ever offered.

Honestly, if Harmonix couldn’t find a way to bring our previous music purchases to the PS4 it would be very difficult to get excited for the new game, no matter how much I like the series. Also, taking that extra step to get so many legacy instruments working with the PS4 is admirable, and to see how many actually do really work is impressive to say the least.

It’s still a great game whether you’re playing on your own or with six others and now we don’t have to break the PS3 out of the box to play it at our next party.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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