The battle of the video game bands is set to resume.
Rolling into stores Oct. 6 is Rock Band 4, the first new edition of the game in five years — and the first for the latest generation of console game systems, Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Soon to follow: Guitar Hero Live, out Oct. 20 (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PS3, Wii U and mobile devices).
In addition to being first on the market, Rock Band 4 has another selling point: The interactive music game debut of U2 (the Irish quartet previously has only had songs in the karaoke game SingStar). The U2 songs included with the Rock Band 4 game software ($59 and $79 separately; $129.99 with guitar controller) are “I Will Follow,” a hit from their 1980 full-length debut Boy, and “Cedarwood Road,” from last year’s Songs of Innocence. Future songs will be included in downloadable songs that can be purchased online.
Amid the music game peak around 2008, music video games drummed up nearly $2 billion annually. Especially fun to play by groups at parties, the games let singers perform karaoke-style, while drummers and guitarists match color-coded on-screen cues in time to the music.
But a flood of games — Lego Rock Band, Guitar Hero: On Tour, Rocksmith — overwhelmed retailers and consumers alike and resulted in the category being muted. At development studio Harmonix, “I don’t think (Rock Band) every really went away for us. We were always excited about bringing it back,” said lead designer Matthew Nordhaus. “We just had to wait until the time was right.”
This Rock Band iteration, co-published by Harmonix and game accessory maker Mad Catz, foregoes the keyboards introduced in 2010’s Rock Band 3 and focuses on vocals, guitars and drums. More than four can play together — a combination of drums, one or two guitars and three vocalists (a lead vocalist and, depending on the song, two background singers harmonizing) — along with the more than 60 songs that come with the game and more than 1,500 in the Rock Band library.
As long as you get the new game on the same game console family you’ve played on previously, either PlayStation or Xbox, you can download previously-purchased tracks into Rock Band 4. Guitar and drum controllers from previous games will work with the new game — automatically on PS4, with an adapter on Xbox One — but you can start afresh with new gear with a $249 package that includes the game and wireless guitar, drum set and microphone.
Some new twists include freestyle guitar solos that let you “feel like a rock god,” Nordhaus says. And there’s more character customization and branching storylines akin to what’s found in blockbuster action games.
Choices you make for your band lead to different story developments. “You can play the (story) campaign three or four times and see different things,” says Harmonix public relations lead Nick Chester. “My band career and your band career can be completely different.”
Several pre-release play sessions with the game have proven it to be as fun and engaging as previous Rock Band games.
Game makers must think enough new systems — more than 20 million PS4s and 13 million Xbox Ones globally — have sold to warrant a return of music games “They were effectively run into the ground in the last generation (of game systems),” said analyst P.J. McNealy of Digital World Research. “So to bring it back now, they think there’s enough of a new audience coming on board that it is the right time.”
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