Rock Band 4 takes on Guitar Hero

Rock Band 4 has been designed for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and features a new line-up of guitar, drums and microphone co­­ntrollers from Mad Catz.

John Gaudiosiby John Gaudiosi

It turns out video games didn’t permanently kill the radio star. After taking a four-year hiatus, Harmonix is resurrecting Rock Band and Activision is bringing back Guitar Hero. Harmonix’ Rock Band 4 has been designed for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and features a new line-up of guitar, drums and microphone co­­ntrollers from Mad Catz, which is also publishing the Oct. 6 game.

Greg LoPiccolo, vice president of product development at Harmonix and creative lead on Rock Band 4, said the new game retains all of the classic band party gameplay, but it lets players express themselves physically in a way that they could never do before. The game simulates all the aspects of a live performance where players can interact with the crowd and their band mates. It’s no longer about just playing beat match music. Gamers are going through the entire spectrum of performance. 

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What this means for singers is the game no longer requires you to exactly match the pitch of the original performance in Expert mode. LoPiccolo said if you’re singing in tune to the song, you can improvise your own melodies and the game will give you credit for it.

“For the drummer we have a system where the game will insert random fills that match the kind of tempo and style of the song, so that you can basically have the same experience as a real drummer where you’re inserting these little improvised bits into the song but it all stays in sync and it always sounds good,” said LoPiccolo. “It will be random every time you play just like a real drummer.  Real drummers don’t play the same fill every time they play, and this emulates that experience.”

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There’s also more interactivity among the band members and the music they play. Harmonix has a set of tools to stitch multiple songs together into a show. All of your Overdrive and Streaks carry over between songs and band members can vote for what songs they want to play between songs. The crowd shouts out requests and the band can decide whether to play it. You can do an encore. But if you do poorly, the crowd gets hostile. LoPiccolo said it’s more like playing in front of a live audience.

Next gen has opened up better graphics and characters and the ability to rendition the concert experience at a different level of fidelity, according to LoPiccolo. But the new game has been built backwards-compatible to work with all 2,000-plus songs that were released for previous consoles. The new game will come with over 60 new songs on the disc like Benjamin Booker’s “Violent Shiver,” Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” Queens of the Stone Age’s “My God Is The Sun,” and Scandal’s “The Warrior.”

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Mad Catz has designed a completely different microphone for the game that has a much higher performance with greater fidelity. While the guitars and drums look pretty similar to previou controllers, LoPiccolo said there’s a lot of subtle engineering enhancements that result in a better gameplay experience.

One of the key differentiators for the franchise is the new Freestyle Guitar Solo gameplay, which allows players to create their own amazing guitar solos for their favorite songs. LoPiccolo said this new gameplay takes the fantasy of being a guitar god to the next level, giving players the tools to string together amazing licks with completely new mechanics. Freestyle Guitar Solo gameplay occurs during the key guitar solo moments in songs, giving players a set of cues and prompts in order to guide them. These cues provide a framework for scoring, but are also helpful suggestions for what to do in order to make the solo sound its best.

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“We also give the player the freedom to ignore the cues and use all of the tools at their disposal to shred how they want at the expense of score,” LoPiccolo said. “Different types of players will make different choices; it’s up to them how they want to play.”

Holding a single fret button down and strumming a single note or strumming repeatedly will play a single and sustained note, or a series of repeating single notes, respectively. While playing a single note, you can tilt the neck to engage feedback. From there, pressing different buttons will actually change the tone of the feedback. Players can “bend” notes by strumming up and holding.

Holding down multiple fret buttons and strumming will give you different licks. Each fret combination will play a different lick; you can hold up to four buttons down at once to get different licks. LoPiccolo said there are a lot of different combinations, and players can experiment to find out which licks they think sound best at various moments in songs.

LoPiccolo said this new mode will give fans a lot to work with when they pick up the plastic guitar and play solo or join up with friends for the full Rock Band experience.