When I was at Pax Prime recently, I had the opportunity to try out Rock Band 4 in a few different ways. Harmonix had three separate setups for people to try the game out and needless to say, it was packed the whole weekend. My first experience with the game was on the guitar controller, playing two DLC songs chosen by other members of the band that I was assigned to. It wasn’t massively difficult, it’s Rock Band. This is a game we’ve been playing for years, and there’s not really going to be a drastic change in how the game is played because in a way it’s already been perfected. You have four players: two on guitars, one on drums, and one on vocals (plus two others if you choose to do harmony vocals). It’s a party game that we’ve all come to recognize as one of the best party game experiences you can have, and for good reason. It’s fun and it doesn’t matter if you suck or not, everyone just has fun playing it.
My second shot at the game was at their freestyle guitar solo station. They had everyone trying that out just put on headphones so you could hear your own music uninterrupted as you played. The freestyle guitar element is something new that’s been added to Rock Band 4, where you can play your own solos by playing around with the guitar any way you want when a solo comes up. You’re not just limited to what the song tells you to do this time. In many cases, this could seem like a bad idea and would just make the song sound like a mess, but somehow Harmonix has managed to make it sound natural for the most part in every song that it’s available in. I can’t say that I know how they managed to do it, but the sound of the guitar, the tuning, tone and everything else actually manages to mesh very well with the rest of the song. If I were to try and find anything negative about it, I would say that it’s strange not hearing the iconic solos that are supposed to be in those songs. It’s very possible that they could make freestyle optional though, and that would solve that completely.
The experience that stands out though, was the last one that wasn’t even set up by the cool guys at Harmonix. On the last day of PAX, I went to their booth with a friend and stood in line for an hour just like all of the normal con-goers did. We wanted to play on the big stage, the one that people were crowding around to watch as people played their hearts out with fake plastic instruments to music that everyone there loved. And there was no shortage of music, as they had what seemed like the entire DLC library available to choose from, as well as all past songs available through Rock Band games. Even waiting in line was a ton of fun; joining in with everyone else as we sang the lyrics to Tribute, Short Skirt/Long Jacket, The Trooper, Centuries, and Uptown Funk among several others. But the one song that my friend and I had in mind was not chosen until we got up there with two others from the crowd. We played Light Up the Night by The Protomen, with him on bass, our two guests on drums and guitar, and myself on vocals. From the start of the song there were people in the audience cheering just for the fact that we played it, pumping their fists in the air during all the exciting parts, and just letting off this feeling of raw energy. You could feel the excitement from the crowd just for the fact that Rock Band is back. Maybe it was gone for a little while and the music games fad died out, but it’s back and we all remember how much we loved it now.
And suddenly the volume of the speakers dropped. The music was slightly audible, but you couldn’t really hear the vocals at all. So I did what I had to do: I belted out the rest of the song at its most intense parts, letting my voice crack, losing track of where my tone was in conjunction with the actual song, just having fun. And people cheered for that, because they understood that Rock Band isn’t about being good at it, it really is about having fun in these groups. Being friends and screwing around with songs that we like. I’m glad that Rock Band is back, and I can’t wait to play more of it once it comes out next month. In the end, I got 83% on expert vocals for the song. Earlier in the weekend though, The Protomen themselves went up and played that very same song at the booth. And Raul Panther, the lead singer of The Protomen himself only got 9% on easy vocals. Do with that what you will. I’m not saying that I’m calling out Panther, but if he sees this, it’s on.
And yes, that photo at the top of the article is from that play session.