Early this morning we got to sit down with some of the fine folks from Harmonix and Mad Catz to talk about – and play- the upcoming Rock Band 4. For those who haven’t heard, Rock Band 4 is coming at the end of the year and not only will it work with your old wired peripherals but it will also carry over all your DLC within the same console family (360 to Xbox One or PS3 to PS4). The game builds on the core structure of Rock Band with co-operative takes on the rhythm genre, letting you play guitar, bass, drums and vocals in a bid to feel like a real rock star. In some ways this is an edition to bring the series to the current generation, but make no mistake, they haven’t rested on their laurels and there’s plenty new to see here.
The most striking thing is the instruments themselves. An expensive investment (around £220 for the full band set) they are the hardest thing to justify when considering this game, but these are the same ones you shelled out for last generation. The guitar’s buttons are much firmer with a surprising amount of travel and slightly firmer response. The drumkit in particular is much improved with stronger pads that not only lack that horrible plastic ‘clack’ sound the old ones made but are also (apparently) designed to avoid pitting. They want these to last as they see Rock Band 4 as a platform to build on for the future so it’s nice to see some thought gone into problems with the old instruments. The microphone is where the biggest changes have arrived, even though you wouldn’t know to look at it. N0w much more sensitive and picking up more information about your voice, the microphone allows for a more refined vocal performance and whispering to hit the higher pitches won’t cut it anymore.
In terms of gameplay the big headline is the new freeform solo mechanic. At times throughout the song where a solo would come you have a choice whether to play the original solo or to go into a freeform mode. This turns each button (all ten, there are five low and five high) into a small midi sample button, playing notes or even little riffs which you can combine into some breathtaking solos. By only producing sounds in the right scale and with the right tone, it’s impossible to sound bad, but there’s definitely enough control to pull off something really cool and feel some ownership of it. To keep your score going you need to follow prompts on screen. The notes you play are up to you but the structure might involve a tapping section, or long sustained notes, or perhaps a fast rhythm. Holding down combinations of buttons and strumming with play a variety of riffs and single notes can be strummed up to make a bend. You can even create feedback using the whammy bar.
When we saw this feature on a video we weren’t overly impressed, but getting to do it in real life is something else entirely. We had a load of fun playing along to Hysteria by Muse and add some riffs that sounded distinctly Bellamy-esque even though we had no idea what we were doing and kept messing up the rhythm. Some will be annoyed with the hand-holding but Rock Band isn’t competitive (yet!) and sounding like a rock star is your only goal, so why not make that easier?
We were thoroughly impressed with the demo and can’t wait to play more when the game is finally released. Look out for the full review then!