Rock Band 4: Back to Basics with Added Improvisation

Rock Band 4 Review

For those who embraced the plastic instrument rhythm game genre in the past, rock band 4 offers tried-and-true polish and impressive backward compatibility. However, it also sacrifices some of the series’ most innovative ideas in favor of a pared-back experience.

The game retains a career mode and multi-song shows, but it streamlines the song selection process to mitigate the arguing over what to play next problem. Drummers get a new type of fill, and capable vocalists can improvise so long as they stay in key.

Career Mode

Rock Band 4 is the latest iteration of Harmonix’s venerable rhythm game franchise. This time around it’s backed by new instrument controllers from third-party peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz and a new mode called Rivals.

This premium expansion gives the player a story to go along with their music-making, with a mock documentary titled Beneath the Tuneage that cuts back and forth between the band on stage and talking heads in a VH1-style format. It’s a different spin on the career mode that shipped with the base game, but it fits well and is a lot of fun.

Like in the previous games, the band starts off as a small hometown act and the player decides how they want to build up their career. Some paths lead to more gigs, some lead to a change in venue or setlist restriction and others lead to various rewards and benefits (benefit shows, fans, sponsorships, movie/game studios wanting to use the band’s music in their projects). It’s a cool idea and a nice addition to the main mode that already had a good foundation.

Freestyle Solos

The biggest gameplay addition to Rock Band 4 is freestyle guitar solos. During these sections, the game will give you prompts and visual cues to guide you in playing an impressive-sounding guitar solo. If you hold a certain combination of buttons down and strum at the right time, the game will generate a guitar lick that fits the song.

The best part is that these solos can’t really fail. Whether you’re holding down five buttons and strumming or hammering in a bunch of quick stabs, the notes will segue pleasantly into each other and sound like they belong in the song.

There’s no other way to describe this new feature other than “rock band improvisation.” It’s an amazing thing and gives players the opportunity to create an actual guitar riff that matches the song. It also removes a lot of the frustration of old Rock Band where it was hard to hit every single note in a song perfectly.


The downloadable content for the music rhythm game Rock Band 4 continues to expand, with developer Harmonix adding songs each week. They’re available for $1.99 each, and most Rock Band Network song purchases (from RB3 or RB2) work in the latest entry in the series, as long as it’s on the same console family.

The first batch of DLC this week features two songs that should have fans of metal and hard rock salivating. Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness” arrives in the Rock Band Store, and Ghost’s Grammy-winning “Cirice” debuts.

Both are easy enough for the whole group to sing along, and both have iconic guitar solos and opportunities for harmonies on vocals. And if you’re looking for a drummer workout, all Boston tracks have insanely fun drum parts! For PlayStation users, songs download into your Rock Band library when you select them from your PSN Download List. They’re then installed and playable in the game when a pop-up window says they’re ready.


The original release of Rock Band included 58 songs on disk. The game also contains a number of bonus songs that can be unlocked through the game’s career mode. Song titles in bold utilize master recordings, while others are cover songs. Several songs are by bands that have worked with or are affiliated with Harmonix, including VAGIANT and Mother Hips.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game (and the Wii version released at a later date) include the ability to expand the music library by purchasing new songs offered on a weekly basis through their console’s store systems. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game also include the ability to export most songs purchased through these services into Rock Band 2.

The PS2 and Wii versions of the game feature a Track Packs series that contain supplemental media discs featuring songs not included in the base game. The Track Packs are developed by Harmonix and Demiurge Studios (earlier packs were developed by Pi Studio), and distributed by MTV Games and EA.

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