One of the mantras Harmonix is holding for Rock Band 4 is giving the player more of a customized experience that allows them to feel more in tune with the music. The freestyle guitar solo mechanic is, in the short time I had with it at a recent demo, an incredible example of that idea put into practice.
When a guitar solo comes along in a song, Rock Band 4 no longer requires you to simply beat match it the way you would any other section of the song. Instead, there’s a bit of improvisation thrown in. You’ll hold notes, strum along in time, and finger tap up and down the fret in the combination you desire. You’ll have some on screen prompts, but it’s up to you to choose the notes.
The music has been recorded in such a way that nothing you play will sound bad. You can mess up the timing, sure, but you can’t turn your favorite Paramore, Elvis Presley, or Judas Priest track into an unlistenable mess.
The result is something that not only sounds great but also makes you feel like you have a hand in creating the music. Tapping along to the gems on screen song after song can eventually lose its luster, but you never have to play a guitar solo the same way.
I also played a feature that members of the Harmonix team said isn’t an official mode right now, but that they are considering for the full game. I played through the freestyle mode for an entire song. It took a bit of adjustment, but I quickly found myself trying to create an impressive solo, not simply mash all the buttons as I went along. It brought me back to the early days of Rock Band, playing and discovering the music while feeling like a part of the experience.
More so than that, it was fun and evoked the rock fantasy that attracted me to the series in the first place. The in-song solos are built to allow both score chasers to still try and reach the top of the leaderboards while letting more party-focused players simply add their own spin to the songs.
If the freestyle solo is any indication, Rock Band 4 looks well on its way to fulfilling that promise of once again making the player feel like they’re actually creating the music. We’ll find out if it succeeds as a whole in that respect when the game releases on Oct. 6 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.