Admit it, we've been through it: that one phase in our lives where we've picked up a guitar and even considered playing it. A couple of shaky renditions of Smoke on the Water later and it's been quickly discarded in favour of our next "thing" that for God's sake isn't just a phase, Mum.
Most people have also picked up Guitar Hero or Rock Band and joined in with the plastic instrument craze that swept the world, before quickly coming crashing down due to the market being flooded with too many games. While the former has hit the reboot switch and is starting afresh with new guitars and a new subtitle, Rock Band 4 has opted for a more fan-friendly approach – it's backward compatible with most Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments, as well as any extra songs you may have bought. It all fits into the game's new approach: Harmonix, free from a publisher, is setting up the franchise's revival as a platform rather than a game. This means constant song updates – as you've probably seen if you've taken a gander at the DLC section of the PlayStation Store – as well as software updates.
What's clear to see is that Rock Band 4 feels fresh, while bearing a huge resemblance to the older games. The main gameplay is the same old, same old: notes come down the highway, you strum and hit the right button at the same time. What's new, though, is the Freestyle Solos mechanic, which allows you to perform solos that sound great – even though all you're really doing is pushing buttons randomly.
Here you play any selection of notes and the game makes them sound amazing, but, although you can just make up your own solo, the highway suggests when to hold a long note, strum twice a second, or strum four times a second. Adhere to these guidelines and you'll get extra points; make your own solo and you won't be rewarded. It's a great new system that adds a personal touch and a bit of challenge to playing the game.
Rock Band 4's 65-strong selection of songs is sure to apply to most people's tastes, though it is a tad underwhelming. While there is plenty of variation, from Van Morrison and Elvis to The Black Keys and, strangely, Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk, of course – there really aren't that many hard songs that feel great to master. While Avenged Sevenfold and System of a Down are present, there isn't a Through the Fire and the Flames-type song that presents the ultimate challenge. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the U2 songs present in Rock Band, but they aren't iconic: I Will Follow certainly isn't a Sunday, Bloody Sunday, and the other song, Cedarwood Road, is from last year's infamously crap album.
The ultimate mode of play is, of course, Career mode, which feels as complete and polished as ever. You choose your band's name, your hometown, and what you want your band member to look like before embarking on your first gigs – mostly Open Mic nights, where you'll attempt to earn enough fans and money so that you can go on tour. What's cool is that you can make decisions before going on tour that reflect what rewards you get – whether you want to gain more fans or more money from a tour, for example. Cash can be used to buy new clothes and instruments, while more fans equals more money. It feels like a deep mode that just lets you have fun with making and managing your own band.
Gigs are always different, and can take you by surprise. Sometimes you can vote for what songs you play, sometimes they're pre-determined. If you've played particularly well, the fans may even demand an encore – or if you've played badly, you'll get booed off. A devotee may even give you a request. Each show feels organic, and hearing the crowd cheer feels like a real boost.
The biggest problem with Rock Band is that this is really all there is to it. Bar the Quick Play mode – where we suspect that most will spend the bulk of their time – Career mode is really the only thing to do in the game. That's not a big complaint at all – this is some of the most fun local multiplayer you can have on the PS4, but it just feels like something else could've been added. With online multiplayer not coming until later this year and no practice mode, some series stalwarts may not be all that happy with this instalment initially. Still, Rock Band 4 does what it's supposed to do and does it exceptionally well, and that's all we could ever ask of it.
While its setlist does underwhelm in some areas, and the online multiplayer mode is not ready yet, Rock Band 4 still feels like the music platform that Harmonix set out to make. Career mode is deep, fun, and customisable, Freestyle Solos is an excellent addition, and the general gameplay maintains the awesome feel of the originals. The revival of this much-missed franchise may not be revolutionary, but it definitely hits a high note.