I’ll admit it outright, I’m a Rock Band geek. I never thought I would be one to spend money almost monthly to get more songs to play in a video game, but here I am with a substantial library of Rock Band songs to play. Rock Band 2 was a great update to the game, and everyone knew that Rock Band 3 needed to elevate things somehow. Some evolution happened with the Beatles title, including harmonies and the much needed countdown timer after a pause during a song (gleamed from the Guitar Hero franchise) – so those were a lock coming to part 3. With all the hype of teaching people to play real instruments building – the team at Harmonix needed to really follow up on that and two new modes of play were announced, plus a new instrument altogether.
The first being a Pro mode for the guitar and bass parts. This would come in two flavors, a simulated guitar with plastic buttons on the frets where each string would normally rest, with actual strings for strumming and picking; additionally an actual Fender guitar is coming out for the pro mode, so players who perfect a song with the Pro mode will be able to not only hear it in the game, but them memorize and play the exact song on their new guitar. Sadly, this review will not cover that mode of play due to no hardware being sent out, and the fact that I prefer drums. Drums also get a Pro Mode upgrade, which is a lot less intrusive and cost prohibitive. Players who have the already available cymbal add-on can get the most out of this mode. Rather than just let you pick and choose when it’s appropriate to hit the cymbal, the new mode forces you to play the cymbals when required and the standard pads for snare and tom hits. Amazingly, this information was coded into the songs from the very beginning thank to the animation scripting, so all legacy songs contain Pro-Drum modes.
The new instrument announcement was one that was a joke for a long time prior to the game coming out, that being Keyboards…not Keytar even through the peripheral comes with a strap if you did want to play it as such. Two modes of play are available on this 25 key large keyboard, both a standard mode where only five keys are in play and the Pro mode where you’re essentially emulating the right hand on a keyboard for songs key for key (at least to this untrained player it seems that way). For people not trained pianists, the Pro mode can be very daunting, with both the ebony and ivory being tickled can be slightly confusing to the untrained hand. Once again though, extensive training modes are in place for all the modes – including vocals. The Pro Keyboard trainer takes you from basic hand positions through scales, up to complex chords and progressions, while the pro drum trainer helps get the feel of moving from toms to cymbals and back again all while relearning to play the game again. The Keys are a great new addition to the game, and even in the standard mode can offer some challenge. Sadly, not all of the songs included on the disc utilize the keys – and even the ones that do have key parts in it, there are sometimes long sections where you’ll be staring at a blank runway or watching your character do some dance moves while waiting for your turn. Thankfully the animations are scripted well enough that when you notice your band member move back to the keyboard and place his/her hands on it that there are notes coming up very shortly.
As with all music games, the song selection isn’t going to appeal to all players of the game – Rock Band 3 is no exception to that rule. For every song that I have a blast hearing and playing (Night Ranger, Tegan and Sarah) there are some that are so excruciating to my ears that I long for a rating system to remove the chances they ever pop up in a random set list. Oh, wait – there IS a rating system? Fantastic – sorry H.I.M. I never want to see you come up again in my house. With a song list spanning both genres and decades, I personally find this to be one of the better disc based collections yet – combine this with complete compatibility with all previous Rock Band titles (sadly excluding the Beatles) and all downloadable content, the set list continues to grow, change and evolve week after week.
Some changes to the gameplay have been included this time both online and off. Online there exists one mode of play now – that being band mode. Gone are the challenges for scores or streaks – this is a purely cooperative game now. Some may cry foul here, but I like the change; as when I’m playing a game like this it’s for the pure enjoyment – not to crush an opponent. One excellent tweak to the online mode is that all players get a say in the set list, they can add and remove songs from it on the fly – this makes for an easier method of communication for times when someone doesn’t have a microphone hooked up. Offline, the gameplay has also evolved to a more party based approach. At any time players can drop in/drop out of a game even mid song. Feel like swapping instruments during a song? Go for it, and your profile will migrate with you as long as you sign out of the one currently active.
There is still career progression this time around, but it’s not accessed through the Career option, that’s merely for tracking purposes. The career mode is rolled into an area called Road Challenges, but it’s essentially a zero to hero growth for your band. Travel from city to city, earn fans and play various setlists to keep moving up the ladder. A kicker this time is that fans can be earned by doing other things in the game too – such as playing a specific number of downloaded songs, hitting 90% of drum kicks in a song or even for linking your profile to Rockband.com. A metric tonne of other challenges are included i/n the game and those can be tracked through the Career page, but they can also be launched from here – so if you want to get the challenge for playing the free download songs, just select it and it will launch.
The core gameplay is what we expect and has been this way since the Harmonix guys worked on Guitar Hero – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it stands true here. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t complain about the addition of earning ‘Spades’ during the Road Challenges as I complained about excessive star counts in Guitar Hero: WoR – and this is really the exact same thing (without the ridiculous modifiers however). I understand why they did this here and it’s to help highlight hit streaks and cooperation, but it wasn’t really something that needed to be added. On top of this, during the challenges where the spades are the target, they removed all traces of actual score until the song was over – not cool.
Another core experience that was pushed this time around was the internet and website integration. Players are able to create battles and set lists from the website, and then send this to their friends to create a sense of community. Sadly, the website has been inconsistent in its availability since the game’s launch. Whether this is to be considered part of the game is a tough thing to determine – as it was advertised and made a big point to people who followed the development.
So the real question is, is Rock Band 3 a good game – the answer to that is a hearty yes, it’s a great title. The soundtrack in my opinion is one of the strongest and most diverse out there and standalone would be enough. Combined with the online catalog of downloadable tracks and you’ve got countless hours of entertainment at your fingertips.
Click the following links to buy Rock Band 3 from Amazon.com and beat the holiday retail rush: Rock Band 3 Keyboard and Software Bundle for Xbox 360 | Rock Band 3 Keyboard and Software Bundle for Wii | Rock Band 3 for PS3.
- The core game isn’t broken, and the new additions add a lot of depth and longevity to a currently declining genre. Fans of the format will love the new modes and Pro options add a freshness that even jaded gamers can appreciate.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
— Jeff Paramchuk