“It has something for all kinds of players, but at the same time it is not really for everyone…”
RockBand Rivals is the culmination of a number of new features and upgrades to the original RockBand 4 package. Providing new songs, new game modes and even an entirely new story campaign to follow, Rivals is one of the most comprehensive video game expansions in recent memory. There is a lot on offer for RockBand fans, so to look at exactly what works we are going to take things just one at a time.
It might not be the big ticket item when it comes to Rivals’ new content, but Brutal Mode is the very first thing that caught my eye, and the very first thing I tried. If Expert level difficulty felt like it was lacking to you, and you wanted a new challenge altogether, then Brutal Mode is it. Testing not only your fingering speed and mobility, but also your memory and timing, Brutal Mode feels like the missing link between playing RockBand’s guitar controller and the real deal.
As the track comes down on the screen, the notes disappear through a barrier before they reach the crucial moment when they need to be played. This challenges you to both recall the colour pattern and get your timing spot on, as those notes aren’t coming slowly. The better you do, the sooner the notes vanish. If you struggle, the bar gets close, making the timing and memory easier, but risking you failing the song.
Brutal Mode offers a long-needed new challenge to RockBand, and one that truly encourages learning as well. The techniques of learning the notes and timing that it encourages improve your play across the board, making you look like a real aficionado when you next play with your friends. The added challenge is also very possible, but phasing enough for it to be worthy of the Brutal title it has been given. Enough to scare of noobs and put a tasty grin on veterans’ faces, Brutal Mode is a RockBand Rivals highlight.
Rockudrama brings a brand new campaign mode to RockBand 4 when you upgrade to Rivals. You have grown your band and toured the stages of the world. Now you can bring your story to the fans through your very own rock documentary. The campaign plays out as a narrative drama, following a story full of fun twists and story arcs as your band grows, tours and occasionally falls.
Rockudrama is certainly a different kind of campaign for the game with a more interesting style and format than the standard one, but it is not necessarily better. The standard story has a core focus on you playing music as a band, and that compliments the game’s central gameplay. That element however feels a little more forced when the documentary format is supposed to be the overarching style. The game finds it unsurprisingly difficult to keep up the story telling dynamic of Rockudrama when the core gameplay doesn’t fully suit it. Nevertheless, it succeeds at being a fun aside with a decent narrative to follow, and is well worth playing through if you are picking up the Rival package anyway.
Rivals mode is what this edition of RockBand has been named for, and it involves exactly what you might expect. This mode involves forming a crew alongside online players, and going head-to-head against other rock bands in a competitive showdown. Not directly it should be noted – online multiplayer is coming later after the release. Rivals mode sees your actions across the entirety of RockBand contributing to your crew’s cause, with a points based and level based system to show your progress. The better you do playing a song for example, the more you will contribute to your crew.
Rivals mode is also integrated with your Rockudrama story experience, with wagers allowing you to earn more by trying that little bit harder. The only issue with the persistence of Rivals mode in the story and across the game is that those who are less competitive when it comes to RockBand may find the element intrusive or annoying in their overall experience. Rivals mode is certainly in the game to appeal to the more hardcore players; the kinds who play for the maximum scores in every song they try. Those players who likely make up the majority of the fan base, who are those playing for fun in family or party-like situations, will not stand to fully appreciate what Rivals adds the wider RockBand experience.
Having read this far, you are probably wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned the additional songs which come in Rivals. The reason being, there are only but a few, with new gameplay experiences having been the greater focus of the package than bolstering your library. After all, there is already paid DLC in place for that purpose.
The songs which have been added to the game are… disappointing. Huge rock names and big technical songs have been replaced here by more popular options. Whilst these might appeal to a wider audience, those players who play RockBand for the “Rock” part of its title may be left slightly bemused by the choices. It is always nice to include hits like Pharrell Williams’ Happy, and some tunes from heavier bands such as Bring Me The Horizon are on the ten song roster too, but a big chunk of players have been alienated by the selection. If you are looking for hard hitting songs from Motorhead or long, technical tunes from Lynyrd Skynyrd, sadly there are none…
As a whole, RockBand Rivals is a hard one to call. It has something for all kinds of players, but at the same time it is not really for everyone… Competitive players will be in their element; that much is for sure. If you feel that you fall into that category, then you should absolutely pick Rivals up. Other players may enjoy certain aspects, such as the fun new story, or the exciting new Brutal mode, but will not make the best use of the wider set of features that are included. Anyone just looking for more songs would be best placed looking elsewhere. The Rivals package is a good one, but it doesn’t feel like it meets the needs of all of the game’s fans.