This Time, it’s for Real!
One of the biggest criticisms of the music/rhythm genre from musicians has been that video games based upon playing instruments don’t accurately reflect the realities of the music world. However, with Rock Band 3, we get closer to a rhythm game that actually mimics playing an instrument in a realistic way. But before you click away thinking that Rock Band 3 is some boring, music-teaching software, think again. There are plenty of new game features that will reel in longtime fans quickly and make this an experience everyone can enjoy.
Although there are plenty of areas where Rock Band 3 strives to nurture your inner musician, it is a game first and foremost, and it is relieving to see that Harmonix hasn’t made the pro aspects of the game its sole focus. The game’s career mode has been completely revamped and greatly improved, and takes a completely different shape than any other music game currently available. Instead of having a six to eight hour “story” that you have to play through on various difficulty levels, Rock Band 3’s career mode has become a free-form experience that incorporates various career-based elements in the game’s other modes. Whether you are playing a song in quickplay, practicing in pro-mode, or playing through a custom setlist, the game keeps track of your progress and updates a goal list from within the career menu. When you complete different goals in the list, your band will gather new fans, and as you pass certain thresholds, you unlock new gear for your band. These goal lists incorporate goals for different instruments, difficulty settings, and instrument groupings, so no matter how you play, you’ll always be working towards your career’s goals. And since all of Rock Band 3’s songs are unlocked from the beginning, you can get your band the gear they want any way you choose. Even if you’re toiling away at your favorite song in training mode, you’ll still be progressing through the career aspects of the game.
This free-form approach will definitely appeal to casual gamers, but if you are looking for a more focused experience, Rock Band 3 has you covered as well! The road challenge mode is a focused experience that allows you and your band to play through a setlist with a specific goal in mind. These goals vary from keeping a certain streak to maintaining accuracy levels, and also come in a variety of play times. So whether you have an hour to play or a whole night, Rock Band 3 has a story-time mode that will keep you and your bandmates engaged in a focused story-like experience. The Road Challenge mode is the mode closest to Rock Band 2’s story mode, but I really appreciate the different game lengths, as it allows you to get together with your friends and play through a round or two of Rock Band without having to worry about a commitment beyond what fits with your social life.
Another feature that is less extensive but definitely noteworthy is the new interface. Rock Band 3 has adopted an “Overshell” interface that allows players to drop-in/drop-out, turn on no-fail mode, and change instruments or difficulty setting at any point in the game. Even if the first player is browsing the tracklist, Player 3 can switch from Keys to Pro Keys without impediment, which is a great improvement considering the single-based menu system was extremely cumbersome in previous entries. If you selected a song on “Expert” that you weren’t quite ready for, you could sink your band’s score instantly. With the new menu system, changing the difficulty level mid-song takes only a few seconds and can be done without bothering your fellow bandmates.
But of course, the most-touted feature of Rock Band 3 (and the one I personally was the most excited to check out) is pro mode. Pro mode essentially allows you to learn how to play your favorite plastic instruments in a way that is more realistic and true to the spirit of the music. The only instrument that is immediately compatible with pro mode is the keys instrument, but if you are willing to drop some cash (ranging from $40 for a pro expansion set for your drum kit to $150 for a pro-compatible guitar), you can also get instruments that are compatible with Pro bass/guitar and pro drums modes. But no matter which instrument you use to “turn pro,” the depth of the pro mode for even one instrument is deep and satisfying.
The first place you’ll want to start off is the training mode, where you can load up lessons of varying length that teach you the basics, intermediate techniques, and advanced play styles. These lessons can be quite lengthy, so definitely don’t expect to become a master shredder in an afternoon. Like all goals worth undertaking, learning the basics in order to master your instrument on pro mode will take some time. However, once you get comfortable with your instrument, the fun can really begin.
The next component on the journey to turning pro is the song practice mode, where the game maps out the notes to each section of a song so you can practice each part by itself before stringing it all together to play the song. This is a surprisingly realistic mode, as learning a song on a real instrument often means memorizing and practicing chunks of a song at a time. In my personal journey to pro keys I was able to practice different segments of “Walking on the Sun” by Smash Mouth (an admittedly easy pro song) several times before starting it up in quick play mode, and then subsequently getting 100% accuracy.
The process of learning a song, memorizing the notes, and then successfully executing it is a feeling unlike any other I have experienced in a video game, and definitely gives this game some staying power. Even if you don’t spring for the other Pro-compatible instruments, simply playing the Pro keys is such a rewarding experience that you really owe it to yourself to check it out. And it comes with the added bonus of actually teaching you to play these songs (albeit on only two octaves) which is a great way to introduce anyone to the world of music.
The setlist in Rock Band 3 is as good as any on-disc setlist we’ve seen from Harmonix, and features plenty of hits from various time periods and genres. Standards like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice,” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” are present, but the game does a great job of also incorporating some unknown songs like Ida Maria’s “Oh My God” and “Don’t Bury Me…I’m Still Not Dead” by the Riverboat Gamblers. There really is something here for everyone, and even if you feel like the game’s 80+ tracklist is a little bit lacking in your favorite genre/era, Rock Band 3 will launch with 2000 songs available for download on the Rock Band store (though it is important to note that many of these songs are not compatible with the game’s pro mode).
The real strength of Rock Band 3 lies in its potential for endless replay ability. The goals-focused career mode offers plenty of goals that players can aspire to, and with different goals for individuals, bands, instruments, and difficulty settings, there are plenty of opportunities both for success and for challenges for those who want simple game-based challenges from the game. Similarly, the Road Challenge mode allows those with a penchant for social gaming to experience the game in a whole new way.
Honestly, just these two features by themselves extend the play value of Rock Band 3 by hundreds of hours, but the introduction of pro mode really pushes the value of this title into the stratosphere. Even if you never purchase one piece of downloadable content, it’s easy to lose yourself in the sheer amount of content in Rock Band 3, and this is one title that begs your attention and won’t let it go for a very long time. Though the price of entry for Pro mode is a little more than many may want to invest, the return on investment here is well worth the cost of entry, even if you just pick one instrument to go pro with.
Rock Band 3 is simply the best there is in the music genre. I have certainly had my moments were I have been skeptical of the music genre (especially when band-centric games like Rock Band: Green Day and Guitar Hero: Metallica offer little innovation), but Rock Band 3 has certainly changed my mind. This game has done the unthinkable and reinvented the wheel to make music games obsession-worthy again. So clear your schedule, turn up the volume, and grab your favorite energy potion, because Rock Band 3 is a game that will suck you in and won’t let go anytime soon!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Graphics are sharp, and the mood effects for each track range from beautiful to downright trippy. 4.9 Control
Familiar controls work perfectly, and the new keys instrument is intuitive and easy to use. Pro mode is nicely handled from a control standpoint. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Setlist features a mix of decades, from current hits to oldies from the 60’s, and all sound great. 5.0 Play Value
The persistent career, training, online, and pro modes give players plenty of reasons to come back to this one. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.