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Game Review

The Rock Band franchise started way back in 2007. And while that might not make this an ancient series—say, the equivalent of a long-in-the-tooth group of rockers like The Rolling Stones—it certainly makes it a graying-a-bit-behind-the-ears endeavor in video game years. (Think Bon Jovi or U2.) So it’s a pretty big deal for fans of the franchise that Rock Band 4 has signed up for another get-the-plastic-band-back-together tour of your family room amphitheater.

Of course, one of the first things you'll want to know is: "Will my old equipment work?" Let's face it, since the new game is only released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, it could get rather pricey to have to go out and pick up a whole new roomful of plastic axes and drums. And the answer to that query is a rousing and robust … "Well, maybe."

PlayStation users will be able to whale away on their old instruments with the purchase of a special adapter. The Xbox One, however, accepts just the microphone from the 360, not the wired instruments. In this case, only the wireless versions of those old dusty basement-stacked accessories can be used once again.

Another change in Rock Band 4 is the fact that there are no songs here for Pro Guitars or keyboards—stuff introduced in Rock Band 3. Things have been pruned back to just a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and up to three vocalists. On the plus side, though, most of the last-gen games' DLC tunes can be migrated over to this new system, giving you access to some pretty serious set lists.

Jamming Old School and Shredding Freestyle

OK. Now that we've dealt with all of those necessary last-gen-meets-this-gen details, what's the new game like? Well, it feels very familiar in some ways and sort of future-forward in others. All of the old karaoke flavoring is the same. You know, the singing along with the onscreen lyrics, and the process of following a cascade of scrolling blips while pushing the corresponding colored buttons, flipping the game-controller strum bar and thumping the right color-code drum pad.

The new fun is the game's occasional focus on freestyle play. A bunch of the songs—including some of the existing downloadable content—feature segments that allow players to find their inner Jimi Hendrix and noodle away on high and low guitar controller fret boards. The onscreen scroll simply lets you know how fast or slow you should be playing and whether or not you should tip your controller for a bit of feedback pizzazz. And once you get into the rhythm of things, that sense of a self-created solo can be invigorating … er, I mean, it's crazy cool, dude!

Feedback Squawks

As far as Rock Band 4's out-of-the-box 65-strong track list is concerned, well, there are plusses and minuses in this all-important category. A few classics from the likes of Fleetwood Mac ("You Make Lovin' Fun"), Rush (“A Passage to Bangkok”), U2 ("I Will Follow") and even Elvis ("Suspicious Minds") show up, but a lot of these tunes are from more modern rockers (from Dream Theater to Imagine Dragons, Paramore to Queens of the Stone Age), some of which proffer questionable lyrics. (And that actually holds true for a few of the classic tracks, too.) "A--" and "d--n" sometimes show up. Halestorm's "I Miss the Misery" laments the loss of a lover's painful torments and "rough sex," for instance. The Lynyrd Skynyrd southern rock tune "That Smell" talks of the "smell of death" that swirls around a party, scented with "too much coke and too much smoke." And Avenged Sevenfold's "Hail to the King" talks of cutting a guy's tongue off. We get doses of Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Disturbed, Fall Out Boy, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and System of a Down.

The character creation side of things has been toned down and made a little more cartoonish than some past music-rhythm installments you may have encountered. You can't adjust a figure's physical proportions, for instance. But some of the purchasable outfits can still reveal a bit of extra virtual skin.

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Xbox One, PlayStation 4




October 6, 2015

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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