Let’s Rock Again!
Rock Band was certainly a pioneer in the music genre when it was released three years ago. However, in the time between that initial release and now, a lot has changed in the music game genre. Both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises have moved to releasing band-centric titles to keep the revenue flowing throughout the year, and with no less than 10 music-genre games coming out in 2009, the field is starting to get a little crowded. However, it seems like the crew at MTV/Harmonix are trying some interesting things with the third Rock Band iteration to help stave off stagnation.
Arguably, the biggest feature of Rock Band 3 will be the new instrument: the keyboard. Although it is only known as “the Keys” in-game (cause that sounds so much cooler), the keyboard peripheral that we were able to check out at MTV/Harmonix’s booth at E3 was a short and simple two-octave keyboard that had different “zones” tied to the five colors that come down the streaming note bar. It is a little jarring at first to have different buttons tied to the different notes that come down the bar, but as long as you can memorize where the different zones are, the “Keys” are fairly easy to play and music genre veterans should have no problem getting into the groove with this new peripheral.
However, after we were given a full tutorial on the new keys peripheral, we were introduced to the next big feature in Rock Band 3: pro mode. Hailed as the “evolution” of the music genre, pro mode is a special mode that allows you to actually play the songs from the game. If you are using the keys peripheral, pro mode is fairly simple, as the note bar just gets a little longer and you can play the song on the same peripheral. However, if you want to go pro with a guitar or a base, your regular button-based peripheral just won’t cut it. You will need special peripherals that have buttons on each fret as well as strings. These peripherals were shown off, but we weren’t given any hands-on time with them or told about a possible price point. Since these are real, functioning guitars (that can be plugged into an amp as well as the game) I would conjecture that the price would start around $200, but we were promised that a firm price point will be nailed down this fall.
One of the interesting things about pro mode is that you are able to “graduate” through different levels. We were able to watch as a Harmonix representative demoed the guitar’s pro mode, and it starts off simply enough with a note bar representing the fret. As long as you pressed down on any of the strings, points were accrued. However, on the highest level of pro mode, the names of chords are displayed, and you will need to strum accurately to get points. Of course, by this point you will be able to actually play the song on your guitar, so it is less likely that you’ll need to even use the note highway when you progress to this point in the game.
In addition to the new instruments and modes, there have also been a few tweaks made to the Rock Band UI as well. Because Rock Band has the most downloadable content on both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, importing tracks into a new Rock Band title can make navigation quite a chore. Fortunately, Rock Band 3 has created a new search system that allows you to find songs that suit your mood. You can select long songs, songs that feature piano solos, or songs that are from a particular genre or decade. You can also create your own setlists and save them (which may sound elementary, but it has been a long time coming.)
Rock Band 3 may not change the core formula of the Rock Band franchise, but there are plenty of new features to help make this title feel like less of a downloadable track pack and more like a fully-featured new title. Although we were only able to test drive some of the new features, we should know more about price and peripheral compatibility soon, so make sure to stay tuned!