Platforms: XBox One (Reviewed), PS4

Just about a year ago we saw the return of one of the most successful video game franchises of the 2000s. In 2009, the Rock Band franchise officially passed $1 billion in retail sales. During the 5-year hiatus between Rock Band 3 and Rock Band 4, developer Harmonix dove into different projects like Dance Central and Fantasia: Music Evolved, and also started developing for future virtual reality releases. However, the release of Rock Band 4 was welcomed with open arms, with the expected sprinkle of speculation.

In this new age in the video game industry, we are embroiled in a world of expansions and microtransactions. Harmonix has stated that Rock Band 4 is going to work as a platform title and not a predecessor to Rock Band 5. This means that periodic updates, patches, and expansions will be made available. We have already seen those applied with the new "Brutal" mode along with the return of "Practice Mode." Rock Band Rivals is Harmonix’s first expansion for Rock Band 4, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Competitive Players, Rejoice!

During Rock Band’s peak, we saw multiple competitive teams going against each other, YouTube was filled with players showing off their scores, and forums filled with players boasting about their musical achievements. Now, you may find a few straggling original players, along with the new wave of fans from Rock Band 4’s launch.

Harmonix was smart to aim the latest expansion at their core players. They are the ones that keep investing, so they kept focus on their primary audience. Rock Band Rivals is targeted at the competitive side in everyone. Rock Band 4 still shines through because, well, it’s Rock Band, but the suggestion of score chasing and full combos is a strong one.

Crews?

Rock Band Rivals is split into two halves: "Rivals Mode" and "Rockudrama." "Rivals Mode" is where the competitive side of Rock Band really shines through. Each player can either make or join a crew of up to 10 people. Each member contributes to a cumulative score, which is based on weekly “spotlight songs”, a leveling system, and individual scores for each song. Also, remember that everything you do in Rock Band 4 from this point forward will contribute to your crew. "Rivals Mode" is a great way to appeal to the core players. Casual players can pass this by without affecting their gameplay, which is great.

Be sure to pay attention to the bar at the bottom left, however. Each week your crew earns experience towards tier rankings. If your crew is within the green, then you are guaranteed to move up a tier. Blue means that you are in the clear, but you will not rank up. Red means your crew will be demoted. Bottom line? Keep playing! Don’t fall within the red zone!

My One Lone, Dedicated Fan

Rivals’ new "Rockudrama" is a great, quirky addition to Rock Band 4. Rock Band has always had a light humorous tone, but the Rockudrama’ mode really shows off Harmonix’s creative side. Do you remember the original MTV content that showed off behind-the-scenes documentaries? This is Harmonix’s play off of that, but called “Beneath The Tunage.” The mockumentary will adjust based on how well, or poorly, your band plays. It’s a different, but fun way of playing the Rock Band 4 career mode. 3-song sets are played while clips of people close to the band give their accounts.

"Rockudrama" mode is so incredibly silly that it left me laughing out loud a few times. Throughout the first couple of sets, I had one fan that cheered and yelled for my band constantly. With my surround sound I could hear him behind me cheering me on. It was great to feel that sensation of being on stage. Rock Band has always been great with stage presence in their games.

Back In The Game

I have been playing Rock Band since I was a teenager in high school – that’s over 10 years - and have easily invested over $1,000 into the franchise. Knowing that, you may think I am biased with this review, but hear me out. My extensive experience with the game also means that I notice things that casual players don’t. Rock Band 4 initially launched with sub-par instruments (except the microphone), a beyond-buggy marketplace, and a complicated song retrieval system. However, with all those negatives, Harmonix has started to listen.

They relaunched "Practice Mode" after a flood of requests, they also put out several free content patches, including taunts, and fan requested songs are finally starting to pop up. It's always a good sign when a developer is willing to heed the advice of their fans, especially when that results in free updates. I did not receive the new PDP Instruments for review, so I cannot comment on the new equipment. 

Rock Band Rivals has once again sparked my love for Rock Band, and the thrill of the chase. I am a drummer and have been since the days of Rock Band 1. I have missed drumming for hours at a time, chasing Gold Stars and Full Combos. This expansion was exactly what I needed in order to spark that passion back up.