Rivals revamps Rock Band 4 with a new look, new tracks and new modes. While it keeps all the original content for existing players, can the added Rockudrama and Rival Crews be enough to dial the volume up to 11?
Straight out of the box we unpacked the new Fender Jaguar guitar. It's a good looking piece of kit and being bright blue it certainly stands out from the original Fender Stratocaster. The first noticeable difference is the neck, a small (stiff) clip on the back gives you the ability to fold the guitar in half making it much easier to store. The power, D-Pad and menu buttons are smaller and placed well out of the way to avoid any unnecessary interaction too. The strum bar feels more reactive and seems to perform well at high speed (perfect for nailing Through the Fire and Flames). It's also a lot quieter and doesn't click at anywhere near the levels of the old controller. The tilt sensor has also been improved to make activating Overdrive less of a problem. Overall we'd say that playing it seems much easier and natural than the old model.
With a little bit of fiddling (the instructions were just pictures) we manage to sync up the new Bluetooth Guitar and set up the rest of the band. We opted for Guitar, Bass and Vocals (the bassist sang while playing when they knew the words) and jumped into Rockudrama.
Rockudrama is a tongue-in-cheek reminisce of your fabled band's career. The playable rock documentary is narrated as you follow the story, from your first high school gig, the turbulent ups and downs of touring, to worldwide super-stardom and your farewell show; you get to play each and every set.
By scoring points and stars for each gig you can affect your story. Play well and the media moguls remember the good times, play a bad set and watch on as they rip you apart. It's great fun to play and comes dripping with sarcasm, poking fun at the fickleness of stardom and celebrity.
Rockudrama was a lot of fun. We appreciated the humour it brought to the game, enjoyed the video clips, and liked that we could unlock different narratives when we performed really well on harder settings. Although we would have preferred it if there had been a bit more of a variation on outcomes at different success levels, overall we enjoyed the change of pace that it offered.
Want some more serious competition? Rivals Mode gives you the opportunity to start or join a Crew with your friends online and enter weekly challenges against rival crews, finish the week in the top bracket, and earn badges. You can contribute to your Crew's weekly challenges by playing Quick Play, Shows and Rockudrama. Weekly Challenges vary over time and have a small selection of Spotlight songs with which you can earn bonus points.
We set up a Crew and added members so we could start earning points straight away. Our first Weekly Challenge was "Leading Ladies", so making our way to the Quick Play list we could see that all contributing tracks are marked with a W, and set about playing as many songs with female vocalists as we could. To coincide with the Weekly Challenge there are Spotlight Songs which earn a Bonus for your crew. For "Leading Ladies" these were three tracks included in the game, but we noticed the following week's Spotlight Songs included a track that needed to be purchased. With Rock Band set regularly update the store we reckon this may become a trend to boost some extra track sales.
It wasn't long until we had hit our weekly quota of points, just enough to push us up to the next tier. We waited with baited breath for the changeover deadline, and with a day to go we were still going strong but we played a few solo tracks here and there just to keep our Crew in the top percentile. We made it and jumped up to Silver Tier, earning badges for the crew and participating members. There does seem to be a tracking issue with Trophies and Achievements, however, as we've yet to receive any for Weekly Crew Badge earned, Weekly Individual Badge earned, and Increase your Crew to a higher tier.
You can also keep up to date with your Crew using the new Rock Band Companion App (available now on iOS and Android). Mirroring the features from the game, you can keep track of your Spotlight Song scores, Crew XP levels, rivals points, and the band's tier placement. You can join or create a Crew, add or kick members. In addition you can also check out personal badges and medals of your Crew members and Rivals. Someone not pulling their weight? You can send the Crew a chat message, discuss who's playing what, where, and when. All the data from the game is automatically uploaded to the app after each song, so you always know exactly where you are in real-time.
We found the Companion App really useful for keeping in touch with your Crew and following our weekly progression while away from the game. It looks great, it's easy to navigate, and it really adds to the challenge. It held all the data we needed and could plot what we needed to do to finish in the top tiers when the weekly counters reset.
Naturally Rock Band Rivals comes with all of the original tracks from Rock Band 4 (that's 65 in total) and pre-ordered copies will include a 10 bonus tracks.
"Happy Song" - Bring Me the Horizon
"Safe and Sound" - Capital Cities
"Save Tonight" - Eagle-Eye Cherry
"Sweater Weather" - The Neighbourhood
"Little Talks" - Of Monsters and Men
"Happy" - Pharrell Williams
"Closing Time" - Semisonic
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Feel Invincible" - Skillet
"King of the World" - Weezer
Of course, beyond that, there's hundreds of songs that you can pick up, but you'll have to put your hand in your pocket if you want to increase your collection. You can buy tracks individually or in packs, and existing purchases should be available for your jamming pleasure, although we were frustrated to discover that some of the old legacy packs (namely Green Day and Lego) are still not available.
Overall Rivals has added a level of fun to what had become quite a serious game played by hardcore players, and it will hopefully bring new people, or at least returning players that may have left, back into the fold. The new Jaguar Guitar is great fun to use, and the folding neck makes putting it away so much simpler. We would have preferred a slightly larger selection of tracks than the 10 added, another new mode would have been nice, and the Trophy/Achievement tracking needs fixing, but apart from that we have few complaints. Rivals has added some nice touches to Rock Band 4, and with a bit more content it would have been an essential purchase.