Rock Band 4 review: The plastic guitars are back

 
Steve Hogarty
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Rock out with your gamepad out

Rock Band 4 | ★★★★☆

Xbox One, PS4

Remember all of those rhythm action music games? They were here for a while, and then they went away. But they were fun, weren’t they? With the pretend guitars and the pretend drums and the parties and the jumping around. It was the mid 2000s, we were younger, more innocent and better looking. We didn’t even know what an iPhone 6 was.

Back then, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band took the air guitar and turned it into a clickety clackety videogame controller, allowing you to play and sing along to your favourite songs. But about five years ago, having created a small mountain of dusty plastic peripherals in livings rooms across the nation, the whole thing stopped being cool. The genre burned out. We chucked our guitars in the landfill and moved on.

Or, hopefully, you put them somewhere safe like under the stairs or buried in the garden. Because Rock Band 4 is attempting to reignite the pretend-you-possess-musical-talent genre, and the game is compatible with most of the Rock Band tat you might already own. Not only that, but if all those years ago you spent money purchasing new tracks to play along to, you’ll be able to import most of those into your library too.

Rock Band 4 is less a proper sequel than it is a unifying consolidation of all that’s come before, albeit with some of the less popular features stripped away to streamline the thing into an efficient, party-compatible distraction. This game is less complex than it predecessor. The tiny plastic keyboard is gone, because keyboards are rubbish, and the career mode has been whittled down to a nub. The mind-boggling, 100-button Pro Guitar that shipped with Rock Band 3 has thankfully vanished too.

But that fat-trimming has resulted in what’s now a far slicker experience, with players choosing between guitar, bass, drums and vocals and diving straight into the game’s 65-track setlist however they please. New freestyle soloing sections are the only real deviation from the usual sight of coloured bricks streaming towards you.

During these parts, guitarists can shred with impunity, while singers can freestyle too, as long as they stay in key.

The song selection errs on the side of modern rock (Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys), with a smattering of classics (Van Halen, Rush, Ozzy), but Rock Band 4’s true strength lies in its heaving catalogue of DLC from the previous games, around 1,500 songs all of which are available to purchase.

It’s that wealth of pre-existing online content that will set it apart from the similarly revived Guitar Hero Live (launching later this month), which pretends that Guitar Hero never happened and starts the whole thing from scratch.

The genre’s unlikely to ever reach the heady heights of its decade-gone stardom, and Rock Band seems to be fine with this. It’s not trying to get the old band back together so much as draw all the best parts into a slick new package for a greatest hits tour.

It turns out that strumming away on bit of plastic, which had become utterly boring five years ago, is tremendous fun again. And I can still ace everything on Expert, in case you’re wondering.

The Uncharted series gets a fancy makeover

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection | ★★★★☆

PS4

Playing this polished up and remastered collection of the PlayStation 3’s most beloved adventure series is a lot like peering into the coffin of a dead relative, only to have them leap out – somehow renewed and youthful – and start running around, leaping over chasms, exploring ancient ruins and firing guns into the air. Who gave your nan guns? That’s not important now.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a compilation of the main Uncharted titles, a trio of third-person shooty-jumpy games launched between 2007 and 2011. Now on PlayStation 4 and spruced to within an inch of their digital lives, each game shimmers in 1080p resolution, running at a silky 60 frames per second and boasting a slew of graphical updates. They haven’t just given the games a facelift either, refinements made to gunplay in Uncharted 3 have been retroactively applied to the older titles. On the other hand, online multiplayer is missing entirely, but no great loss there.

Whether or not you buy into its linear and boisterously cinematic format, Uncharted undoubtedly redefined the adventure genre, clambering on top of Lara Croft’s shoulders and unceremoniously booting the old girl into the mud. But at almost a decade old, there’s an undeniable fustiness to this ageing collection, an over-familiarity with the formula that might leave new players wondering what the big deal was.

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