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Rock Band 4 Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Proving that even the most disappointing Rock Band sequel is still a lot of fun, Harmonix has brought the band back together with mixed results. Rock Band 4 offers the same gameplay you know and love, but many of the modes and options have not made the leap to modern consoles. With no online play, a lackluster soundtrack and too many bugs to mention here, Rock Band 4 feels unfinished. Rating: 78%
Rock Band 4
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  • Review Score:

  • B+
A few years ago, I went to see the Pavement reunion tour that was snaking its way across the United States. This was one of my favorite bands as a teenager in the 1990s, and I had high hopes for their Seattle stop. They were fine, but ultimately underwhelming. They played the same songs and had the same moves, but it all felt different. The band didn't have the same energy and the whole experience left me with mixed emotions.

This is how I feel about Rock Band 4. As somebody who already owns more than a thousand songs, a pile of old equipment and still has an unquenchable desire to be a rock star, I know for a fact that I'm going to spend a lot of hours playing this sequel. But as a long-time fan of the series, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed by the missing features, lackluster soundtrack and unpolished presentation.

In case you've never played Rock Band before, this is a game about using fake plastic instruments to recreate some of the greatest rock songs of all time. You do this by hitting different colored gems that speed towards you on a note highway. Wannabe rock stars can choose from guitar, bass and drums, or go a completely different direction and sing. Everybody plays an important role, which is why Rock Band has remained one of the greatest multiplayer games of all time.

Not much has changed to the formula in this fourth installment. Players have a brand new set of songs to choose from, including Rock Band newcomers U2, Van Halen and Elvis Presley. The 62 song soundtrack also features fan favorites like Foo Fighters, The Cure, Bruno Mars, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith and dozens more. It's a wildly varied mix of rock, classics, country, and pop.

Best of all, gamers who bought the older games and downloadable content will be able to carry most of it over to Rock Band 4. The same can be said about most of the legacy controllers, including a number of guitars, drums and microphones that were created for competing rhythm games. Unfortunately, Xbox One owners will need to buy a special adaptor to use the legacy controllers and there are some huge caveats involved with older DLC, but we'll get into that in a minute.

With more than 1,700 songs available for download, it's a good thing Rock Band gives us something to do with all this music. Beyond a couple of quick play modes, the core of this game involves the tour mode. This sees players taking gigs all around the world, each with a different objective. Some gigs only involve music from the 1980s, while others are designed to test your guitar chops. You'll open up new cities and events as the band gains fans and notoriety. If all goes well, you'll complete the world tour with millions of adoring fans and more money than you know what to do with.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Although the core mechanics remain unchanged, there are a number of additions to the formula that make Rock Band 4 stand out. The biggest change comes in the form of freestyle solos, a new mode that puts the song in the player's hands like never before. When a solo comes up, the game switches over to a series of color-coded sections that alter everything from the strum pattern to the buttons you press. Players will need to quickly switch between the higher and lower sets of buttons, as well as speeding up and slowing down the strumming. It sounds a little complicated, but the tutorial does a great job of laying out the rules.

Unfortunately, this was the moment where Rock Band 4 started to lose me. As interesting as the freestyle solos are in theory, I was left cold by the execution. Simply put, the solos never sound natural, even when played perfectly. At their worst, they can sound like a first time guitar player slamming his axe against a wall. Worst of all, they remove what is often the most memorable parts of these rock songs. It just didn't click for me, though I may be in the minority on this point. Thankfully, players can switch back to the standard solos at just about any time.

But when it really came down to it, it wasn't the new additions that left a bad taste in my mouth. This sequel's real problem is that it feels like a giant step backwards in nearly every way. For starters, Harmonix has ditched the Rock Band 3 keyboard and pro instruments. They've also shipped the game without online multiplayer support, a feature they've been coy about supporting in the future.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Beyond the missing instruments and modes, there are a lot of smaller elements that have been curiously removed. Players are no longer able to create custom playlists, assign user-designed characters as stand-ins or even rate songs. Gone are the days when you would waste too much time turning out a band logo, because there's none of that here. Hell, Rock Band 4 doesn't even support proper 5.1 surround sound audio like past games.

It doesn't help that this fourth iteration has the weakest soundtrack of the bunch. While there are certainly great songs, it feels too skewed towards newer bands. More than half of the songs were released in the last five years, with only 38% coming before the year 2000. Obviously taste in music varies, but the selection feels horribly lopsided and left me with only a handful of songs I truly loved.

On a more positive note, Harmonix was able to get most of the downloadable content working, though not always in the way people would like. Their vague promise of supporting legacy music has a few caveats. For one thing, there is no way to grab the songs that have been delisted since the release of Rock Band 3, including huge releases from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC. There is also no way to export your songs from Rock Band 1 and 2, LEGO Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band, the various track packs and Rock Band Blitz. Harmonix says all of these songs will eventually be supported, but not at launch.

Sadly, that's the phrase you keep hearing. Online play and disc exports? Not at launch. Rock Band Network support? Not at launch. The ability to customize your band and make your own setlists? Not at launch. Harmonix keeps comparing Rock Band to a console, and like all modern consoles, this game feels woefully incomplete at launch.

But here's the thing: I can't help but have a great time playing it. Rock Band 4 is far from the home run, but it still does the one thing I want it to do. Even with missing modes and no online play, this is still Rock Band, and I have yet to grow tired of the core mechanics. The fact that I'm going in with a library of more than a thousand songs means that I'll be at this game for a while, and I will have no complaints about sinking hundreds of hours into this iteration.

This is one of those reviews that will no doubt be outdated in only a matter of months. Harmonix will eventually address these issues and Rock Band 4 will be a complete package. Unfortunately, as of its launch, the game is unfinished. That certainly won't keep me and many other fans of the series from enjoying what it does offer, but it's hard not to be a little disappointed by the long-awaited comeback.
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