Susan and Phil had the opportunity to preview Rock Band 4, in a basement bar where the game was on a stage. Here’s what they thought.
Phil: We looked at the new software of the game, although it was a bit difficult to tell exactly how good it was partly because of the stage it’s at in development, and partly because they didn’t have any new hardware for us to try out.
Susan: Yeah, I found that quite disappointing because much has been said about the new hardware and the new features that hardware brings, but we were using Rock Band 3 controllers. Which at least points to everyone being able to use their old controllers, which is a good thing. But we didn’t get a true representation of what the game could do, which is fair for a preview.
Phil: It’s a big thing that you can use Rock Band 3 controllers from the previous console generation with Rock Band 4. How did you think the old hardware worked?
You can use Rock Band 3 controllers from the previous console generation with Rock Band 4.
Susan: I didn’t experience any real problems with playing guitar, bass or drums other than my own poor skillset having been many years out of practice. But vocals were difficult to judge, partly because of the venue we were in. I don’t know how I feel about vocals because when I was singing, I found it quite difficult whereas previously I had never had a problem. But on this occasion, there was a lot of background noise, the music was playing over my vocals which was distracting and at times it felt like I was out of sync when I wasn’t necessarily… How did you find the vocals?
Phil: Honestly, I agree with you. Personally the rest of the hardware seemed to play along just fine. My problem was that we were in that condensed club with all the people watching us and singing along, it wasn’t the best place in terms of dynamics or volume where we could really gauge the value of the singing. Though to me it seemed very clear that the volume of the singer and their ability to sing with the rhythm of the song really did affect the game quite a lot. It seemed that as long as you kept in time, the game wouldn’t go over you, which was similar to the guitar except the vocals are more important for the song overall to keep people going. In Rock Band, the lyrics and overall rhythm are what make people want to choose the songs, so if you were playing something and suddenly there weren’t any lyrics, you might not feel like playing it anymore.
Susan: Yeah I suppose so. But also I feel like the game playing vocals over you isn’t really too much of a problem because my vocals were really not up to scratch for the venue we were in! You know, it’s bad enough when you get terrible guitar playing and the music cuts and you know you’re doing badly because you get that kind of feedback, and the vocals covered you up so you could at least pretend you were doing ok! But you can turn off the vocal track on the higher difficulty settings, can’t you?
Phil: Yeah, you can.
Susan: I thought it was quite interesting was that you could almost ad lib if you wanted to on the higher difficulty settings and you weren’t restricted the whole time to a Disney singalong.
Phil: And you could also speak to the audience, in-between the parts where you’re supposed to be singing you can speak to the audience in order to get a reaction from them and keep the excitement going.
Susan: Although we didn’t get to see too much of that because the version we were playing only really had quickplay mode only as opposed to the shows mode… Actually, do you want to talk a little bit about shows mode?
Phil: The Show mode was up to 4 people playing a single song, not being able to choose anything with regards to the band apart from what instruments they’re playing and just doing the traditional rock band thing aside from a few new individual parts that the singer could do in order to keep the crowd going
Susan: But there was also the seamless transition between songs that made it feel like you’re actually playing through a set-list. There was a voting system that looked pretty cool, with each player being able to hold down a button to vote for a song or a genre that they wanted to play next. That would cut down a lot of time you spend faffing around trying to choose a song.
Phil: It makes the game more of a party game which Rock Band and Guitar Hero has always really been – a game you can enjoy with a hell of a lot of people.
Susan: The Rock Band that we saw still had that magic of playing with lots of people. Plus, since we were in an underground dive bar playing Rock Band on a stage, and they were saying that Rock Band was always about you playing to the fantasy of actually being in a band, and we got to pretend we were for a little while… That was really fun!
Phil: Absolutely, though that had a lot to do like you said with the place we were actually playing the game in. My problem with the idea of the Rock Band 4 fantasy is that as far as we’ve seen so far you can’t really customise who you’re playing as or the look of your band which is something that Guitar Hero still seems to have over Rock Band. With role-playing games, the role play is fun.
Susan: Yeah, I miss that aspect, or really just playing as Midori. But then Rock Band was never really about avatars, just purely the instruments and getting together with your friends. The characters on the screen were kind of incidental to whatever was going on in your living room.
Phil: But for me, simulation always has to have a certain degree of role play. It’s like if you’re playing The Sims, you start by making people you know – yourself and your family members. With Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’d use your favourite character and get the same kind of fulfilment of levelling them up and getting new songs based on that, and new outfits and guitars. Although Rock Band has the same thing about doing successful concerts and getting new songs, the fact that you can’t really customise the band means it takes a lot away of the fantasy that they’re supposed to be developing.
Susan: But then if it’s a party game it doesn’t really matter.
Phil: Sure, as a party game it’s fantastic.
Susan: So after what we saw, which kind of just feels like Rock Band, what did you think of the limited playlist that we had access to?
Rock Band was always about you playing to the fantasy of actually being in a band, and we got to pretend we were for a little while…
Phil: It seemed like an average playlist you have at the start of this kind of game, I won’t critique it because I’ve not really seen the playlist of Guitar Hero or Rock Band in the past that’s made me think this is incredible or this is rubbish, it’s a very well balanced average playlist
Susan: There were a mix of really good songs on there that were good starter songs, like The Killers ‘Somebody Told Me’, everybody knows that, right? And Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’ was on there, which was great.
Phil: There were also quite a few songs that people didn’t know as well. I’m not trying to say that the songs that they gave you on the first part were crap, but I’m saying that it compares about as well as the other starter playlists of previous games of this type. Although More than a Feeling was very, very popular.
Susan: Yeah, people were playing that one over and over again. And I made the rookie mistake of attempting hard drumming on ‘Even Flow’. That was so very stupid of me because the song is really long and had far too much kickpedal for my leg to cope with.
Phil: There were a lot of different difficulties for the 4 instruments you could play with. They were highlighted for each song. For example with Avenged Sevenfold and Iron Maiden, the guitars and vocals were very difficult to do whereas something like The Killers was a lot easier.
Susan: It sounds like you have a lot of critique to level at a game that seems to be in its early stages. Are you just reserving judgement, or not a rock band fan?
Phil: I’d say I’m reserving judgement. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears to be very good, it has a lot of very good components. It certainly has a lot of flaws as well. So the first preview I’ve had of Rock Band 4 isn’t one that makes me as optimistic as the best trailer in the world but it appears to be an extremely good party game and a worthy successor to Rock Band 3.
Susan: I do think that the whole party experience and playing pretend at being in a band, and getting to play Rock Band on a mini stage was super fun.
Phil: Yeah, it comes from either where you’re playing or the people you’re playing with. And we played it in a nightclub where there are frequent giggers which was really cool and seemed like a big part of the experience. And style wise, Rock Band 4 seems to be big in terms of emphasising that, although you still have things where you can’t customise the band and the band doesn’t play in time to the song you’re doing.
Susan: Oh yeah, that bothered you, didn’t it?
Phil: It was a big pet peeve of mine, yes.
Susan: I wasn’t paying too much attention to the background animation, I was trying too hard to follow my part
Phil: Fair enough. I was in the audience at the time, I think. I think it’s cool that they have made allowances to let people bring in the DLC from Rock Band 3 as well.
Susan: Ah yes, that was really nice, and good to know that all that money that you dropped buying those songs you just had to have won’t be wasted. But that library of songs must be massive by now.
Phil: Especially if they keep rolling out DLC opportunities like SpongeBob Squarepants. It’s a very good thing, especially if you compare it to things like Mortal Kombat which seems to be raking in as much money as they can from gamers at the moment. With Rock Band they seem to be appreciating that people who have enjoyed this game have downloaded more songs to enjoy it with and letting them keep doing so seems remarkably rare. So if you had to say the biggest thing you loved and your biggest disappointment with the game so far, what would it be?
Susan: I loved just getting to play Rock Band again. It reminded me how much fun it was. In that whole swathe of music games a couple of years back you just got really sick of it and forgot how cool it could be. So there was that. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to try the new instruments; it would have been interesting to see what difference that would have made to the gameplay, especially as they were talking about some tweaks to the hardware. You?
Phil: My favourite thing was that the software seemed to work very well, even with the old hardware. The guitars, vocals and drums lined up well albeit in a way which seemed to depend a lot on the people using them. My least favourite thing was how they spoke about the fantasy of playing a game like Rock Band but a lot of the fantasy elements seemed to have been left out. I hope that in the future they make it more of a real stage rock band fantasy rather than a party game. Party game isn’t a bad label to give something like this because you always have people bringing along controllers and saying that they’ve got this game, who wants to have a go, but to make it more of a fantasy like they said, you need to really be able to personalise it a bit more.