Rock Band 1 and 2
have been pretty solid games in the music rhythm game genre and Harmonix’s track record has been pretty impressive. There was no doubt that a third game in the series would be released by them, but what could they possibly do to improve on the first two? Well, Rock Band 3 does improve on the second game and adds some great features as well as polish to the game to make it the best of the series.
By now, everyone knows how the game plays so I won’t go into details on that. I’ll start off with the songs, but before I get into what’s included in the list, let me talk a little bit about the songs from previous games and DLC. Yes, most songs will transfer over, except for the Beatles catalog of course, but if you’ve been spending your hard earned money on DLC and past Rock Band games, you’ll be treated to the ability to play most of them in the third game. As with the second game, there are a few songs that won’t be making the jump over to RB3, but that’s not too big of a deal as you have more than plenty of tracks to play with from all the past content available.
When I talk about the song list for musical games, I usually shy away from saying it’s great or it’s horrible as everyone has different musical tastes. What I do like about the song list is that there’s a great variety of music to play, though, so there’s something for everyone here to play with. A lot of the songs do reflect on the new keyboard mode available and pro modes as well. Not all songs will support everything but that’s to be expected as music do come into a wide variety that doesn’t always include some instruments.
In the gameplay area, Rock Band 3 adds the harmony feature from The Beatles: Rock Band where up to three players can participate in the vocals. It’s one of the features I enjoyed with The Beatles and I’m glad to see it made it to Rock Band 3. The gameplay should be pretty familiar to everyone though, as not much has changed from the second to the third game. It was easy to jump in with all the old instruments and have fun with the new songs that are available with Rock Band 3.
One of the the most significant additions is the keyboard, making it the first new instrument to appear in the series since Rock Band 1 took a guitar game and added vocals and a drum.So, how fun is it to play the new keyboard? Well, if you’re playing it in regular mode, you really don’t need to buy the peripheral. Without going into Pro Mode, it’s sort of a dumbed-down version of a guitar whereby you only need to use five keys and just press them when the notes hit the line. There’s a sliding touch bar that you can use just like the whammy bar on the guitar and a button next to it to activate overdrive. It’s not bad sitting down and playing in normal mode, but that’s not where you’ll get the most satisfaction out of buying the keyboard for.
No, the Pro Mode of the keyboard is what you’ll really need the Mad Catz controller for and that’s where you use every single key. For someone like me who has never played any real instrument outside of a recorder in grade school, this was a pretty tough task to undertake. Just getting my hand in the correct position and knowing where to press without having to look down was a very hard thing to do initially. Now, I’m still taking it pretty slow but like anything, practice will make you better and it’s definitely a lot more fun and a better experience when you utilize the keyboard to its fullest.Unfortunately, not all songs on Rock Band 3 will support the keyboard but it looks like Harmonix is starting to add some past songs into the fold. I signed in recently to see that there were Rock Band 3 versions of some Bon Jovi songs. The frequency and amount of these updates is uncertain, but I’d love to see as many of the old songs that can possibly become “Rock Band 3” compatible as it’s great to have a large group play them. I know everyone has their preferences but I’m hoping to see the Queen set incorporate the keyboard and harmonies as well.
Pro mode is going to be something that will interest those that want to take the next step in a musical rhythm game as it makes you play the real notes. The drum Pro mode adds a few cymbals that you can use, but that’s not a significant change for the instrument. I already talked about the keyboard so that’s a great way to play the game. Guitar gets pretty fancy now if you can nab the Mad Catz button extravaganza guitar or the real guitar that’ll be released in March of 2011.
Since I don’t have the controller, I wasn’t able to test this part out but from what I’ve seen and read, it looks to be a very intense and fun experience. The game tells you where your hand’s located at all times so you can really learn how to play a guitar. The user interface changes with numbers coming down representing the fret you need to use. Each string also has a different color so combine the two, you can get a sense of which area to have you hand on the neck and what string to strum. A shape will come down that you have to match with your hand based on what your fingers have pressed and your current finger position is also shown. So, you have everything on the screen to let you know how you are currently holding the guitar giving you the ability to follow what’s coming down on the screen without having to look down if you’re a beginner. You start out playing notes only on easy Pro mode with chords added in as difficulty is ramped up. It looks pretty insane, but I’ve heard it gets pretty intuitive after a few minutes. It’s a mode that has me seriously considering picking up one of the two guitar controllers to try out.
Harmonix also changed up the “career” mode as now, everything you do will earn fans towards your total and makes progress in unlocking items to outfit your musician. Whether you’re playing in quick play or trying to play some of the setlist challenges, fans continue to pile up the more you play. It’s great to see progress made even without having to go through a story mode: I’ve noticed many of my friends just loading up the game to play in a party, and to have the game let you unlock items no matter what you do is a nice change in the series.
Speaking of playing in a party, the ability to drop in and out and change instruments without interruption also adds to the party feature of the game. It’s a feature in one of the recent Guitar Hero games which I liked, and I’m glad to see that Harmonix has put that in as well. Now, when folks come in and want to jump into the game, you don’t have to stop, go back to the player screen, sign them in, and restart a song.
Throughout it all, I think the series is starting to get a little long in the tooth as I wasn’t really too excited about this release. Even with the additional changes, a lot of the people I talked to weren’t either. The keyboard and pro mode additions are nice, but it seems even these two major additions didn’t generate a lot of excitement around my circles. That’s not to say that Rock Band 3 isn’t a good game, it’s just we could be seeing a winding down of the excitement for musical instrument games. If so, Harmonix has a big challenge ahead of them if they want to keep the series fresh and exciting.
All told, I think Rock Band 3 offers up some great party features and the keyboard is fun to play in pro mode. Pro mode guitar should be interesting once the real guitar’s released. Of course, you get the incredible amount of song choices that the past two games and DLC has to offer. It’s a solid entry in the series and it’s still the one musical game, in my opinion, that offers up the best experience.