Rock Band 4 couldn't arrive at a better time for Harmonix. We're ready. Since Rock Band 3 released nearly five years ago, the rhythm savants of the video game world have diverted their attention to other franchises out of player fatigue, either due to there being too many peripherals or too many DLC packs or too many rhythm games in general. But we know—and more importantly, they know—that Dance Central, Rock Band Blitz, and Disney Fantasia were never really the heart of Harmonix, as much as I'm excited for the HD remake for Amplitude.
And finally after such a long hiatus, Rock Band 4 will finally make its return and, surprisingly, it's more or less how you remember the last one. Four players can team up as the standard configuration of a rock band—guitarist, bassist, drummer, and vocalist—in an everyday living room or, as us lucky journalists experienced at Harmonix's pre-E3 event in Santa Monica, on a live stage with a crowded audience and flashing strobe lights. (Thank goodness I don't have epilepsy.)
Despite us playing off a PC build of the game, Rock Band 4 will only be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year, hopefully with some solution to the limited number of USB ports on both consoles (the best would be a four-way USB splitter that isn't sold separately). All of the DLC from prior versions of Rock Band on Xbox 360 and PS3 versions will be compatible at no additional cost. Also the vast majority of legacy instrument controllers (and maybe the smoke machine and light show display from the Stage Kit) will be compatible with their next-gen consoles, so long as it is within the same console family. This may force me to purchase new PS4-compatible peripherals from MadCatz.
The point of the game is still to earn points and the highest five-star rating by hitting the corresponding colored capsules as it passes below on the screen in time with a hit of your instrument of choice. At least that's how it works for the regular instruments; for vocalists, that means singing or humming the right notes, or patting the microphone in percussion sections. Completing a section of glowing capsules bestows energy that can be used for overdrive, where you can double your score and earn a x8 multiplier if everyone else activates overdrive at the same time. As a bonus in RB4, your multiplier and overdrive stock carries over to the next song in a set.
Rock Band 4 improves on its predecessors in several minor ways. Drummers can now activate overdrive by hitting the green drum/cymbal in a more intuitive, better integrated part of the existing music so that they can keep on the beat. The prior method for drum fills from Rock Band 3 can be switched on instead if you prefer. Vocalists on hard or expert can also add flourishes to the existing melodies which will count as long as they stay within the key of the song. This allows for more freedom in the improvisation and more opportunities for harmonies, which fans of The Beatles: Rock Band will appreciate. Improvisation is scored separately too, so vocalists may be able to increase the high score this way as well.
Groups have the ability to create set lists through in-game voting either between songs or even during a silent section for a particular instrument. This is meant to keep the flow going and allows the audience to shout requests and encores. Of course, it's up to you and the group to decide whether to ignore or accept your fans' demands. With any luck, you'll have the chance to play some of the new tracks available in RB4's catalogue, including “Hail to the King” by Avenged Sevenfold, “The Seeker” by The Who, “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers, “Lazaretto” by Jack White, “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Little Miss Can't Be Wrong” by Spin Doctors.
Utilizing the studio's proprietary Forge engine that will allow the game to run at 1080p at 60 frames per second, Rock Band 4 also a special revamped feature that I can't talk about yet, so you can expect an update or a separate article about it once E3 rolls around. The full setlist and inevitable DLC plans have yet to be unveiled, but you can bet Harmonix will be staggering the reveal as the game reaches its Late 2015 release date.