In a period where music games are all but on life support it seems like the genre is in desperate need of a serious resuscitation. Enter Rock Band 3, the third main entry in the long running franchise that hopes to not only refresh the way you play a music title, but revolutionise it. Does it keep its epic promises though or should we give up on this dying breed?
While the transition between the first game and its sequel may have been a decent one, I wouldn’t consider it a true step upward. There were a few tweaks here and there and the song count was padded with better tunes but overall it was more of the same. Then came the countless “side” games featuring LEGO rockers, Green Day and track packs that were simply excuses for bringing new blood to your ever expanding track count. In order for Rock Band 3 to truly prove its worth then, it needed to bring with it something fresh and exciting. Something we haven’t seen before in a music game. Trust Harmonix to not only pass the bar for music games but raise it even further up.
While the original experience featuring the usual gameplay with coloured icons scrolling across the screen is all there and accounted for its the newer pro modes and keyboard add-on that make this a worthy successor. Whether you’re playing the drums, keyboard or guitar you can choose to opt for the new “pro” mode (given you have the new peripherals) which bridges the gap even further between gaming and playing an actual instrument. These are the big advancements and while they make things a lot tougher they also make the game feel far more rewarding.
In terms of peripherals, I’ve tried my hand at the new drums and keyboard as well as gotten some practice in on the pro guitar.
Let’s start with the old instruments then. The microphone works as it did before with pitch playing the key role in winning, however now you can also sing with up to two other people in duets and triplets. Of course this option is only available in songs that actually have more than one vocalist and involve backing vocals or sometimes entirely different segments for each person. It’s great fun and definitely adds another challenge especially when trying to sing the same part at different pitches. The old guitar has been left untouched. Match the colours and strum the bar at the base to win. It’s still good fun on lead or bass and you can just use any previous Rock Band and Guitar Hero axe so good news there. Furthermore you can use any older instruments you may have such as the drums and old mics. Even better news!
Now onto the new peripherals. Firstly the drums. I have to say (as a drummer myself) that the new and improved drum set is a phenomenal upgrade from the old Rock Band 1 set. The overall frame feels much better, the pedal now has a more sturdy spring and pads themselves are quieter and look as though they can take a beating… quite literally. Where the set truly excels though is the added “cymbals” that are attached to the back. These are your hi-hat, crash and ride cymbal more often than not and really take you one step closer to playing a real set. If you have a second foot pedal you can even use it as a second bass drum pedal or the high-hat pedal. Of course if you want to practice without the use of all the added features you can just use the four base pads. While the transition between the old set and new one may take some getting used to, it is totally worth it in the end and definitely worth the investment.
So now the keyboard. The newest member of the band makes its debut and it is definitely one of the tougher instruments to get the hang of. At only two octaves long it is still an impressive piece of equipment giving the overall feel of a real genuine keyboard. You have your sharp keys, white keys and a slide bar on the side that allows you to alter the effect on long held keys. Like the drum set if you don’t want to attempt playing the full set of keys then instead you can opt for the basic mode that has you follow the usual five colours/ five buttons set up we’ve grown used to over the past five or so years. It is nowhere near as fun but the option is there if you want it.
Pro guitar is a very intimidating piece of equipment using over one hundred individual buttons. It certainly is an advancement from the original five! Buttons represent the guitar strings on each fret of the neck with six actual strings to pluck at the base. The way you read what note to hit and when can be confusing as the screen often becomes a jumble of numbers and symbols. It’s no substitute for the real thing, instead giving you a general idea of how real musicians play these songs. While the five coloured method is easy to get into this is for your ambitious learners who are thinking of taking up the instrument. Don’t buy this peripheral if you’re not seriously commited to it.
All of the new instruments have some handy lessons that tutor you on basic and advanced beats, fills and finger placement making the switch from regular to pro if slightly easier. It’s useful for learning songs but with little explanation on what you’re doing it can be too daunting at times.
The layout of Rock Band has been completely revamped this year and in my opinion it’s definitely for the better. Let’s start with the new career mode. Instead of the usual travelling around the world playing endless repeating set lists here you get to play smaller challenges but with a bit more freedom and variety. One gig may offer you two random rock tracks, two Green Day songs (should you have them exported) or two songs from the nineties. Also thrown in for good measure are spade challenges. These occur at each gig and must be completed during your songs ranging from deploying overdrive as often as you can right up to the much more difficult nailing combo after combo throughout. This can all be played with up to four players on any of the instruments too. Career doesn’t end there though, as you’ll find over five hundred “achievements” to be completed which are carried over to online play and multiplayer as well. These may be as simple as making your band or designing a logo or could be something much more time consuming and difficult like nailing every song with five stars on keyboard. Upon completion you upgrade as a band and unlock more goodies such as clothes and instruments. Overall the amount to do and see is amazing whether you’re alone, online or playing with mates.
The new overshell system allows each player to pop up their own menu and change character, choose lefty, sign in, sign out and more. It is extremely handy for situations where you’re in a group and friends may constantly drop in and out of the game. Setlists can now be created and saved to your hard drive too should you want to group four or five songs into one awesome rock session. Everything has been improved in terms of menus and features and it feels like Harmonix have really gone the extra mile to make the game a lot more party focused and easier to get into.
As for the soundtrack itself, it features some of the biggest names in the music industry and therefore provides perhaps the best soundtrack in a music title yet. Queen with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Slipknot, Huey Lewis and the News with “The Power of Love”, Paramore, The Ramones, Beach Boys… the list goes on. Overall you’re bound to find a good chunk of songs you enjoy. If there’s one issue I have with the list however, it’s that at times the keyboard player will be relegated to simply holding one or two keys repeatedly. Not exactly fun. Thankfully as I write this more songs are being released via downloadable content that better implement the keyboard part such as “Sweet Home Alabama.” Constantly updated with new music since 2007 this is the kind of game that you could essentially play for years to come.
Almost every Rock Band title before this is easily exported at a small fee (that’s for each game) and any disc based game or downloadable content you’ve already saved to your hard drive will automatically work right from the go at no extra cost. In total you could have anything from the eighty three songs on this disc right up to one thousand songs from other games and downloadable content. Every single old song you own also works with the pro drums, but sadly not keyboard or pro guitar.
Which brings us onto Rock Band 3’s biggest complaint. It’s cost. When buying the drums, keyboard and game it cost nearly £200 which is very steep for a game. The pro guitar too would set you back another £130. This is only a real issue if you NEED to get all the new gear so should you want to focus on a single instrument then it is definitely a great investment.
Without question this is the ultimate music game available in stores right now. While still appealing to the casual players of the genre the game manages to also bring with it new features and modes that bring playing a real instrument that much closer to the gamer. If you can afford it this is one of the most fun and challenging games out there but I can honestly say it’ll be worth every penny.