After a five-year hiatus, Rock Band 4 hits stores tomorrow, reviving the gaming sensation for a long-awaited reunion run. It’s been streamlined from the huge, fantastic Rock Band 3 that launched to diminished music game interest in 2010: Gone are the keyboard parts and online multiplayer, along with any intention of actually teaching you an instrument.
Instead, Rock Band 4 — out solely on Xbox One and Playstation 4 — refocuses on raucous living room fun as you rip through loads of beloved songs with friends. We’ve spent the last week reliving the glory days with Harmonix’s new game — here’s why you should too.
1. Your old songs still work. This might be the biggest selling point of all: If you bought loads of extra songs in earlier versions, you’ll be able to grab them again in Rock Band 4 free of charge (from Xbox 360 to Xbox One and PS3 to PS4). The Rock Band Network songs contributed by indie artists and labels aren’t available — yet, at least — but 1,500-plus playable tracks authored by Harmonix are ready to go in Rock Band 4, plus older songs have new vocal harmony parts and drum fills.
2. It has new songs too. Naturally, Rock Band 4 comes with its own diverse on-disc selection of 60-plus songs. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is a natural crowd-pleaser, while “Birth in Reverse” turns St. Vincent’s frenetic riffs into an entertaining guitar challenge, and the relentless drumming of Mumford & Sons’ “The Wolf” makes for rousing fun.
Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors, and 4 Non Blondes are tapped for ’90 gems, meanwhile, and U2 makes its music-game debut with the 1980 classic “I Will Follow” and the recent (and significantly less classic) “Cedarwood Road.” Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is sure to light any room up. The selection will expand in wonderfully odd ways, too, with add-on tracks from “Weird Al” Yankovic, Babymetal, and others on the way.
3. It’s your time to shine. Rock Band 4‘s plastic-instrument-based play hasn’t changed much, but there is one big addition: freestyle guitar solos. Rather than simply nail the prescribed note charts on the fretboard, you’ll be able to shred wild original streaks, albeit with a little bit of guidance.
The game will indicate the pace to hit in each segment — a held note or rapid quarter notes, for example — and whether to use high or low buttons, so there’s still a gameplay and scoring element to it. It’s easy to adapt to and more satisfying than the old design, and a naturally twisty song like Jack White’s “Lazaretto” is well-suited to a freeform solo substitution. But if you can’t imagine Van Halen’s “Panama” with anyone playing lead other than Eddie, you can turn on the old note-matching approach.
4. You can dust off your old gear. If you still have Rock Band instruments sitting in a closet, you’re in luck: most of them work with the new systems within the same console family. You’ll need an adapter to use Xbox 360 wireless instruments on Xbox One, but PS2 and PS3 peripherals should work just fine on PS4. It’s the classic Rock Band experience you remember, so why not use the classic controllers?
That last point is crucial in Rock Band 4‘s value proposition. The game itself is just $60, so if you can supply the instrument controllers, then you can get the band back together without huge expense. But the new full-band bundle (with a guitar, drums, and microphone) is a steep $250, which is tougher to stomach unless you’re sure you’ll play a ton — or can split the cost with roommates. At least the sturdier new controllers are better built to survive unruly bashes.
Anyone seeking a big shift away from the past format won’t find it here: this is tried-and-true Rock Band fun (upcoming rival Guitar Hero Live is more daring in its axe-centric rebirth). Still, the return of the franchise is incredibly welcome, and here’s to many drunken, slurred renditions of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” in the months ahead.