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Published on October 7th, 2015 | by Chris Scott

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One Hour In: Rock Band 4

I’ve played hundreds of hours of Rock Band with friends on my Xbox 360 and a new version on Xbox One was something I’ve been wishing for since the new systems launched nearly two years ago. So, when Rock Band 4 was announced back in March it quickly shot to the top of my most anticipated list. Well, it has arrived and I’ve spent a few hours with the game. These are my thoughts.

Despite having a full arsenal of plastic instruments polluting my living room (RB2 drum kit, four guitar controllers), I felt the need to get all new ones for this new Rock Band experience. After all, it is on a new system and I want everything to be new and spiffy. So, I got the Rock Band 4 Band-in-a-Box set (I should note that we have received a digital copy of Rock Band 4 for review and I am using that piece of software for the review) and set about getting it all set up. It’s quite easy with things sliding and snapping into place with little to no issues. The drum kit looks and feels a bit more solid than the last one, but my old one is six years old now. I’ve never been a fan of the Rock Band Stratocaster controller, preferring Guitar Hero III’s Les Paul or The Beatles Rock Band Gretsch, but it seems serviceable. Maybe (more on that soon).

As someone that has spent a lot of time playing Rock Band, I have also spent a lot of money playing Rock Band and own a hefty amount of DLC tracks (I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 songs in Rock Band 3). Rock Band 4 allows for owners within the same system family (so 360 to XB1 and PS3 to PS4) to upgrade their DLC to the new game and system, or at least the DLC that has made the move up. The good news is that the game launches with roughly 1700 songs in the store, a good chunk of which are of the old DLC. The bad news is, the way you access this content is the back end of a donkey.

The way Rock Band 4 is set up to recover legacy DLC purchases is quite simply a nightmarish mess. To get your content, you need to download each individual song by itself. And I hope you have a written list of what DLC you have previously purchased because the in-game store isn’t always quite sure if you own the songs or not. For instance I own all the Bon Jovi songs that are available in Rock Band 4 but only a select few of them show as me actually having purchased them. This doesn’t mean I can’t recover my content because if I click on a song with a price point that I’ve previously purchased the system recognizes that I’ve previously bought the content and allows me to download it but unless you know exactly what DLC you have, it’s going to be a long process.

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And I mean a really long process, I spent nearly four hours going through each piece of DLC one by one, with my 360 running RB3 as a reference, to try and get my (admittedly large) set of DLC songs back. Currently I’ve made it through M and have recovered about 210 of my songs. I still have the other half of the alphabet to get to. Fun times await me.

Additionally, as of right now the disc based transfers from Rock Band, Rock Band 2, AC/DC Rock Band, Green Day Rock Band, LEGO Rock Band, and Rock Band Blitz aren’t live so, I can see some of the songs from those games in the store but I can’t access them just yet. This aspect of the legacy update process was known ahead of time and Harmonix will be delivering these songs at some point after launch but, it is a bit disappointing nonetheless.

A lot of that sounds like a pain in the ass, and it is. But on the good side of things, during my three plus hours in the Rock Band store I did see that there is an awesome Wishlist feature now. This lets me tag songs I want to get in the future, which is great because I didn’t realize how many holes I had in my collection until I started scouring the store for my DLC.

Anyway, after growing tired of looking at song lists, I decided I wanted to play a little bit. I had to pair the guitar controller to the Xbox One and we were on our way. Sort of. The new Strat controller didn’t give me any functionality on the dashboard. I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that I am previewing the New Xbox One Experience or if it just doesn’t work on the dash. Regardless, it not working on the dash made it hard to get into the game. I had to turn on a regular controller, open up the game (Kinnect wouldn’t launch Rock Band 4 verbally either), and once loaded was able to navigate in the game using the guitar. This kicked me into the tutorial for the new freestyle guitar solos. Turns out, these are really cool.

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Freestyle solos give players some ownership over their performance. No longer do I just need to play the notes as originally arranged by the master recording, I can make my own riffs up on the fly. The basics of freestyle solos are that there are long notes, half notes, and quarter notes. Long notes are just what you’d expect, hold down a fret and let it ride. Half notes and quarter notes are played faster than the beat and give that sense that you are playing fast and loose. You can do whatever you want in these sections and the game makes it sound like it belongs. And the better you are at playing it, the better it sounds and the better your score will be. It’s a really cool feature that I immediately think enhances the guitar playing in the game.

After the tutorial, I created a character and I got sad again. The creator is a bit bare bones but I can get past that, even if the hair choices for dudes are terrible. I also created my “band mates” which I have done in the past with RB2 and RB3. But none of that matters in 4 because you can’t put in custom bandmates, and instead have to use pre-set stand ins. So… my band isn’t really “my band” it’s me (with a terrible haircut) and three barely acceptable band mate stand-ins. So while the game offers great authorship and creativity on the playing side, the cosmetic side is startlingly sparse.

And then the game crashed and after nearly four hours of not really playing, I decided to just call it a night.

So, my Rock Band 4 experience has not been all that I wanted it to be just yet. And it doesn’t look to improve much in the next session as I attempt to complete my DLC reclamation so that when my friends come over on Friday for Rock Band night, the game is set and ready to go.

Review coming soon.

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