Developer Harmonix has long been the standard bearer for the music genre of games. Since the release of Guitar Hero, which they developed in conjunction with Red Octane, Harmonix has blazed the trail that all other developers have followed. Recently though the music genre has been a bit stale. While titles like DJ Hero have certainly done something different with the niche, the two main franchises, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, have been floundering a bit. Something new and revolutionary needs to come out and blaze a new trail for music games to follow and Harmonix has once again stepped up to the plate delivering what can only be described as their masterpiece.
Rock Band 3 is the party game that millions of players around the world have grown to love with a windfall of improvements that make the game the deepest and yet most accessible game to date. The core formula stays intact, players will still play along with color coded “notes” with their assembled arsenal of plastic instruments but Rock Band 3 adds a brand new instrument to the arsenal, the keyboard, and it is as awesome as you think it is. Playing the keyboard is utterly satisfying and a welcome change of pace from the standard instruments of guitar, bass and drums. It also is a welcome addition for parties that do not have a singer or a drummer. Sadly there is no support on the XBOX 360 for more than four simultaneous players on one console, so the “full” band experience is relegated to XBOX Live.
In addition to the keyboard, the campaign has received a drastic overhaul. Gone is the globe trotting and sometimes tedious World Tour mode of previous titles. In its place is a menu driven challenge/goal system that is something of a hybrid of the old World Tour mode and Rock Band 2’s challenge system. Hundreds of challenges await players and while it is far deeper than anything from the previous games it also does not feel as daunting an undertaking to attempt playing them.
The core game focuses on a series of Road Challenges that basically simulate the rise of a small garage band to a worldwide phenomenon. These Road Challenges come complete with a series of amusing animated cut-scenes that feature the player’s created band. I found it quite amusing to watch my on screen persona party on a rooftop and end up passed out pool side. Aside from the Road Challenges though each instrument, including vocals has a deep progression that asks players to do a variety of tasks, like five star all the songs on a particular difficulty, or hit 90% of the notes on a certain number of songs in a particular difficulty. These additional progressions are the carrot that will keep players playing after they finish the Road Challenges and best of all, they are all designed to help players improve over time, so by the time you finish with those medium difficulty challenges you will be ready to move on to the easiest of the hard difficulty challenges.
Unlike any previous music game before it, Rock Band 3 encourages its players to improve through constant practice. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise though because the biggest new addition, Pro mode, is something that will require a lot of practice. Pro mode is the culmination is the culmination of everything that Harmonix has been trying to do since the first Guitar Hero game.
The new mode actually works as a virtual trainer to learn how to play these instruments for real. It is an awesome idea and in practice it works fairly well but players will need to be willing to shell out additional money for new equipment, including the aforementioned keyboard, a PRO cymbal add on for the drum kit and an entirely new guitar.
As of this review, the new guitar pro guitar has yet to be released but even so keyboards and drums have pro-modes and they work as intended. As a classically trained pianist, albeit an out of practice one, I was able to jump into playing the easiest of Pro mode songs on the easiest difficulty. However for those that have no idea what a flat or sharp key signature is, Harmonix has included a very in depth tutorial system that will run you through learning how to play the keyboard. The tutorial will teach finger placement, scales, as well as just about any other mechanic you can think a virtual trainer should. The only thing Rock Band 3’s training modes won’t teach you is music theory but the mechanical knowledge you will get from the game is more than enough of a starting point to moving beyond the game.
Ultimately Rock Band 3 is the stepping stone from video game music to actual music but it is still a game and as such it has technical and genre standards to live up to. Unsurprisingly Rock Band 3 is the best looking and best sounding Rock Band game to date. The character models have been improved and while they certainly have a cartoony quality to them, they at least don’t all look anorexic anymore. The venues, some of which are returning favorites, all look fantastic and are ripe with new band animations depending upon the song choice. As expected a game named Rock Band needs to sound great and it does, especially on a surround sound system. Fans will cheer (or sing along with you) directionally and the music sounds strong coming out of the speakers.
Of course one can’t escape a review of a music title without discussing the on disc soundtrack and Rock Band 3 delivers a wide range of goods. There is a lot of keyboard centric music on the disc, not surprising in the least but possibly a deterrent for fans that wanted the game to go in a different direction. Fortunately for those that are not entirely happy with the soundtrack on the disc, nearly every song that has been previously released, sans The Beatles, is importable into Rock Band 3, giving fans a potential to have over 2000 songs to play. So if you don’t like Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love”, you certainly have more than enough other material to play, although honestly if you don’t like “The Power of Love” there is probably something wrong with you.
It took six years but the music genre has finally reached the potential that it always promised. Rock Band 3 is the best music game ever produced and something that even the most cursory of fans should give a try. Where does the genre go from here? Who knows. Maybe Rock Band 3 is the graceful, yet triumphant ride into the sunset the genre deserves but as long as Harmonix is out there making music based games I wouldn’t count the genre out and neither should you.
5 out of 5
Originally published at Hooked Gamers.