It's been years since we received a new Rock Band game, with the last releases, The Beatles Rock Band and Rock Band 3, attracting a big audience. Fans have clamored for a return of this musical franchise, and later this year, they’ll get their wish.

Rock Band 4 was announced at PAX East a few months ago, and managed to win over the show's attendees without physically being at the event. How could players not get caught up in its nostalgia? Instead of trying something new like Activision with Guitar Hero Live, Harmonix plans to stick with what made the series rock-worthy, a four-player band sim with familiar and new tunes.

Similar to earlier games in the series, Rock Band 4 will consist of four positions: lead vocals, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums. Players can sit down with plastic instruments that replicate the real thing (to a degree, since a Rock Band drum set is smaller than an actual one) and keep up with the beats on their displays, timing their hits with the icons at the bottom of the screen.

The more beats they hit, the better they perform at the song, building a combo meter and activating special jam opportunities that double the scoring table for a limited time. These beats are easy to hit at first. However, by cranking up to a higher difficulty, you'll find yourself just as challenged to complete a guitar solo as a blindfolded Joe Satriani; he can do it, of course.

Although the game is wide open for jams with fellow players (either online or locally through a stage set-up), there's a lot more to Rock Band 4's single player campaign. Players journey through a variety of locales, keeping audiences entertained and leveling up through upgrade paths, becoming a better singer, guitarist, or drummer, depending what position they play.

In addition, the game features plenty of content, with song recommendations based on previous selections, as well as requests from crowds.

There's no word yet if you'll be able to customize your band characters (as you could in previous games), but Harmonix has next-gen development nailed down, with a smoother overall experience running at 60 frames per second and realistic lighting effects that make your band appear like they’re under the stage lights, putting on a show. This should be the best-looking Rock Band to date, and that's saying something, considering the high quality of previous entries in the series.

Another great feature about Rock Band 4, despite new instruments? Older peripherals work just fine. Harmonix and its partner, Mad Catz, haven't indicated how these will work yet on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but being able to pull out your custom axe (or Beatles drum set) to use with the new game, without needing to fork over $200, sounds outstanding.

Rock Band 4 will have a full slate of tunes available on the disc, along with additional music that can be purchased through the Rock Band store. So far, only a handful of them have been unveiled, including "Somebody Told Me" by The Killers, "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" by the Spin Doctors and "The Seeker" by The Who, but more are expected to be unveiled next week during E3, including current and classic favorites.

On top of that, the game will have full compatibility with previous Rock Band games. If you bought a pack from Rock Band 2's glory days, or exported your favorites from either Green Day Rock Band or the AC/DC expansion, you should be able to play them in the game with no problem. This opens up a slew of new possibilities for Rock Band 4, as you can get right back into your old-school jamming sessions, all while discovering new ones.

Indeed, Rock Band 4 appears to be a music party that won't stop when it makes its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year. We just need the full track list, and of course, if we'll get our "Free Bird” encore. Considering the backwards compatibility, that seems likely.

Want to rock out even more? Check out our first look at Guitar Hero Live.