Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rock Band 4 Review

In 2005, Guitar Hero opened up the gateway to an idea many only thought was just a myth that concept being one in which we could be a professional guitarist and play our favorite songs through the power of a plastic guitar and a television screen.  Soon, the rhythm-music genre surged in popularity, with Guitar Hero and its competitor Rock Band ruling as the kings of the genre.  Yet, like most successful musicians, the genre experienced a fall from grace as a result of over-saturation, which led to diminishing sales and interest.  After five years of silence, the two iconic franchises returned in 2015, looking to reignite people's interests.

Even though there is a career mode and an additional story option available, plot is fairly slim in both modes; instead the focus shall be on the guitar bundled with this title.  As someone who has only been familiar with the Guitar Hero guitars, using Rock Band's version was both equally familiar but polarizing at the same time.  Though well-designed and sturdily built, the strummer used for playing notes felt unusual due to the lack of audio feedback every time it was flicked. It makes you fell like you're floating on air, which was frustrating at first, but the nuisance quickly diminished the more I spent time with the instrument.

Rock Band 4 does not deviate heavily from its core concept, so in spite of some new additions and tweaks, this is still the Rock Band we know and love.  Regardless of whether you're playing solo or with friends, the gameplay involves playing or singing music in time with the notes that come scrolling down or across the screen.  The selection of instruments includes the guitar, bass, drums, and microphone; playing well means a high score and star rating, but missing notes and failing to keep in tune with the song ensures that the odds will be against you.  There are five difficulty modes to choose from, easy and medium are best recommended for novices unfamiliar with playing the instruments, but for those looking for a challenge and a way to strain your fingers or vocal chords, hard, expert, and the added brutal mode will test your skills.  If the situation starts to look dire if you are playing "Halls of Valhalla" on expert guitar, deploying overdrive, which is acquired by playing highlighted sections of a track, can be used to keep yourself and other players in the game, so long as everybody plays well.

There are a multitude of modes available to choose from, including career, Rockudrama, quick-play, and many more.  Career sees gamers taking their custom band across different venues in order to build up their success and reach the big time.  Progression is based off of the number of stars that are accumulated in each venue, and when enough are earned, you can progress onward to the next act of the campaign.  An alteration made from prior entries is that one can decide which path the band takes at certain intervals in this mode.  The end choice affects what cities can be played at, the rewards earned, and whether additional cash or fans are earned for each performance.  While minimal in the grand scheme of things, this option means that no career play-through shall be the same. This notion also applies to the new option of being able to take requests from the audience or vote on the songs that shall be played at the venue.

In addition to career, there's a brand new story mode, added via the Rivals expansion, called Rockudrama.  It follows the same structure of career, except your band's history is now presented in the form of a documentary showcasing their rise to fame and fall from glory.  While similar in design to career, the major difference is that before each performance, gamers can wager stars to determine whether they will receive bonus experience, or lose some if they fail to meet or surpass the required number of stars.  It's a fun selection, with most of the entertainment stemmed from the interviews of people associated with the band, as many of them are very humorous.

Performing well in career earns the player cash and fans, the former of which is used to buy items including clothing and instruments for your characters.  Unfortunately, Rock Band 4 is slim on options in regards to designing the perfect rocker.  With no height and body options to choose from, it means all characters, whether created or not, look like late 20's,early 30's people who don't eat enough and are rather slim.  Regardless, the game's visuals are solid and stylized enough that the graphics aren't too cartoonish.  Although the animations for your bandmates as they play a song often look like they are not matching up to the rhythm of the tune, and the crowds that are present in each performance lack in activity and are barely animated.

However, the soundtrack of this fourth installment is a mixed bag.  Though the selection of songs is varied, encompassing a wide selection of decades and artists, including the Who, Rush, the Protomen, the Outfield, and Van Morrison, the problem isn't necessarily the quality, but the fun factor, as some selections are chore to play on certain instruments.  Think of it this way, what would you rather do, sing Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," or play the barely prevalent guitar?  Luckily, for those who have issues with the main set-list of this game, the extensive library of downloadable songs offers plenty of choices to pick from to satisfy one's musical needs, provided you have the money to buy them.

Rock Band 4 is both a welcome return and a good starting point for newcomers to the series.  While it doesn't break new ground for the genre as Rock Band 3 did, what the game does offer is fun and entertainment through its well-polished gameplay and selection of songs.  With simple-to-learn but difficult-to-master mechanics and a variety of modes, this new installment in the venerable series is a great time.

Final Score: 8/10

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