Rock Band 4 seems like it was a really tricky needle for Harmonix to try to thread. The game, which launches tomorrow on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, isn't just trying to revive the franchise — it's trying to revive the whole peripheral-based rhythm genre, potentially building a home for the Rock Band platform on current-gen consoles. That's a whole cargo plane's worth of baggage for just one game to haul.
Our full review of Rock Band 4 is going to go up later this week, as we still need to spend some time testing out legacy Rock Band instrument support on both consoles. But our initial impressions are positive; for the most part, it's a smart, streamlined adaptation of the franchise's last-gen career, with lots of room to grow on Xbox One and PS4. Some cut features from Rock Band 3 — namely keyboard support — are occasionally missed, but without them, the game's setlist (both on-disc tracks and legacy DLC, which carries over across generations) is far less fractured and more party-ready.
Rock Band 4 isn't just a straight port, though. There are some neat new additions, most of which are based around giving players more creative control over the music they're playing. Guitarists can noodle out Freestyle Solos, which are a blast, even when you're a new player with no idea what you're doing. Vocalists can make up their own melodies, so long as they're on-key with the song. Drummers can elect to drop the freestyle fills from past games in exchange for premade fills, which don't have the distracting lag they've suffered from in the past.
One word of warning: Our experience with the new instruments on PS4 didn't leave a great first impression. The new controllers pair to the PS4 via Bluetooth, which disconnected on us a few times during our first night with the game. Remedying those disconnects required dropping back to the PS4's device manager, forgetting that device and waiting for the console to find it again, which was a pain.
Another, smaller annoyance can be attributed to the PS4 architecture: Each controller, when turned on, must be assigned to a logged-in user or a guest account before you can continue, and keeping track of who's signed in as who can be a bit of a challenge. To wit: The USB mic, when plugged in, needs to be assigned to a user — specifically, the user attached to the DualShock 4 controller designating them the singer for the band. None of this is game-breaking, of course, but issues like these can really take the wind out of a party's sails.
Songs you've purchased as DLC for past Rock Band games — save those on the now-defunct Rock Band Network — should work in Rock Band 4, though those marketplaces are still in the process of being populated, which makes that process difficult to evaluate. It's impossible to automatically download every song you've purchased; you have to manually go through either the in-game store or your respective platform's marketplace to grab your songs.
We'll have our full evaluation of Rock Band 4 up later this week; for now, hear more about our impressions in the Overview video posted above.