Rock Band 3 Review

by on November 10, 2010

Rock-Band-3-ReviewGame: Rock Band 3

Developer: Harmonix

Publisher: EA/MTV Games

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Harmonix seem to have taken the high road with the Rock Band series, deciding to focus on downloadable songs and band specific titles (The Beatles and Green Day) rather than releasing a new Rock Band title.  With the addition of piano, pro drums and pro guitar, they found a reason to release a new boxed title, but is this the definitive music game or just another number? Read on to find out.

GRAPHICS: If you’ve ever played a Rock Band title before, you’ll feel right at home here. However, there does appear to be a slightly harder edge to the visuals this time around. You could even say they’ve attempted to add a slight amount of realism to the characters within the game. Let’s not get carried away though, this is still very much a “Rock Band” title when it comes to visuals. Personally speaking, I got my character looking more like me than in any previous Rock Band game.

More effort seems to have been made when it comes to the on-stage direction this time around and if you have a moment where you aren’t playing, the action behind the highways is fun to watch. It’s the little things that count though and this time around it appears that if the song is sung by a female vocalist, a female vocalist is what you’ll see on stage.

The accessories and instrument sections all seem streamlined now as well, allowing you to change costumes and instruments far more quickly, instead of the painfully slow experience in previous games. New to Rock Band 3 are the cut-scenes that show your band progressing from garage band, to support act, to headliner and so forth. They are nice touches and for some reason, seem kinda cool. Every graphical change has been made with a view to making the experience better and more streamlined.

SOUND: Audio is obviously vital to any music game worth its salt and Rock Band, as usual, doesn’t disappoint. Roaring crowds will accompany good performances and the music on here has clearly been treated with a lot of love and reverance for the source material.

All the best features return, allowing you to turn up certain instruments in the mix. This is an excellent tool in a music game (and has been present in previous Rock Band titles) because it allows you to really tweak the sound setup to suit your home cinema setup just right. It’s nice to be able to mute the “wrong note” sounds as well, because they are very loud and especially offputting during keyboard gameplay.

A good surround sound mix will do wonders for your experience, as will turning it up. WAY up.

GAMEPLAY: As important as sound is to a music game, now we approach the meat of the game and, as usual, Rock Band comes up trumps here. Let’s start straight away with the latest addition to the series, the keyboard. Whilst this isn’t a hardware review, it’s important nonetheless to mention that the official wireless Rock Band 3 keyboard feels sturdy, well built and nice to use and if you are so inclined, you can play it stood up, prancing around using it as a keytar.

Keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of the game, you’ll get the usual highway only this time the notes your hits correspond to keys, with flat and sharp notes signified by a smaller and darker note on screen. Whilst there are songs on the disc that are clearly aimed at keyboard players, not all songs have prominent keys in them and some are fairly repetitive as well. Rock Band 3 truly does attempt to encompass all facets of the modern day “Rock Band” and it really does achieve this pretty well. Given the party nature to the game, it’s damn hard not to watch someone playing and grab a spare peripheral to join in with the fun.

The Rock Band experience has been streamlined for its third outing (if we ignore The Beatles and Green Day) and the game is far better for it. Gone is the horrendously long career mode, replaced instead with a natural “levelling up” type progression. This really makes sense for the game, instead of forcing you to play certain songs at arbitrary venues, now you can level up and gain unlockables (clothes, instruments etc for your on-screen avatar) by just playing what you want, when you want. The challenges are of course still there as well, but most people will probably enjoy playing quick play much more. In previous Rock Band career modes, there would come a point where you would need more players to get any further progression. With the new career mode this never feels vital, which is a good thing as you can’t always be playing with friends.

The biggest draw to Rock Band 3 (aside from the keyboards) is the pro mode and people who have chastised Rock Band for not teaching “real guitar” really need to eat some humble pie now. Being someone who can play multiple instruments to a reasonable level, the pro mode additions were incredibly interesting to me. Sadly I could only test pro keys, but they proved to be a fantastic addition to the genre. I can play to a reasonable standard already, but more than ever you’ll need to learn songs to get them right on the night in pro modes.

In practice mode you can learn pro instruments, with the game teaching you basic scales before moving you onto more advanced techniques. Rock Band 3 could honestly lay claim to being a learning tool! Once you’ve got the basics down though, you should be able to make use of sight-reading skills and play along to a track. The only thing missing from keys for me, were chord names when playing, but that probably won’t be a problem to most people. It’s also a bit of a shame that there is no “free play mode” for the keyboard (there is with drums) or guitars, but especially the former as it is actually a proper midi-controller that with the right cables, you can connect to a computer and use as a midi-keyboard!

It’s important to state that pro mode doesn’t negate any merits of the non-pro modes and playing the cheaper standard bass or guitar modes are still enormous fun. If you should so choose you can play the keyboards in non-pro mode too and it is still fun. It’s safe to say, all the playable modes have value and merits of their own. If you don’t have the inclination to learn keyboard properly, there is no shame in paying the non-pro mode, it is just as fun.

Vocal Harmonies, first seen in The Beatles: Rock Band are back for Rock Band 3 and are as fun as ever. New to this title (though not new to the genre) is the “drop in, drop out” multiplayer aspect. If you fancy picking up a plastic instrument and joining a friend at any time, you can do just that. Switching between instruments is still a bit of a mess though. You might find you need to sign in and out of gamer profiles to make it work, sometimes it’s just quicker to restart the whole process.

There’s something for everyone on the disc (setlist wise), but some songs are aimed more at keyboards than others (not all are fun, some are very repetitive). However, it still remains a complete band experience that anyone can enjoy on some level. All your previous DLC works too, though none of it has support for any of the pro modes aside from pro-drums (every song produced for the Rock Band series works with pro-drums) and no firm plans have been announced on what will happen regarding old DLC, be it retroactive patching, rebuying it as some kind of pro mode DLC or just forgetting about it altogether. It’s a crying shame that songs like “Don’t Stop Believing” are playable in Rock Band 3 but not with a keyboard and hopefully something that will be rectified in some form sooner rather than later.

As with the transition from Rock Band 1 to Rock band 2, you can export the Rock Band 2 content to Rock Band 3 with a few ommissions (licensing issues) for the cost of 800 MS points and by using a one-time use code from the back of the Rock Band 2 manual. Is it right to charge for that function? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but any argument for it involving anti-piracy measures seems null and void since you need the Rock Band 2 code and its one-time use. Basically you’ll have to own or buy Rock Band 2 brand new to make use of the export code. For the record, there is no actual export and once redeemed, the code directs you to a downloadable file, which is 2GB in size. 800 MS points or not, it’s still a cheap way to add a lot of songs to Rock Band 3.

LONGEVITY: If you’ve ever played a Rock Band game before then you probably are still playing it now. Rock Band 3 is no different and with the incredible number of downloadable tracks this game could last you for a long time.

With all the new ideas on show, it would seem as though Rock Band 3 has been created with a view to longevity and it would seem unlikely a fourth title will be on the horizon any time soon. Rock Band 3 will last you a very long time (even if you just play on your own) and if you are willing to shell out for the extra tracks, you can tailor it to be your music game.

VERDICT: Rock Band 3 has had so much time and attention lavished upon it, all with the aim to make it the best music game on the market. The addition of the keyboard and pro modes make it an absolute must own for any music game fan or for anyone who just wants a good time whilst listening to the music they like.

It’ll be interesting to see if Harmonix/MTV Games can get on the artists on board that previously bemoaned the music game phenomenon, complaining that it was false and didn’t teach people anything about music. Rock Band 3 puts that arguement to bed, having created pro modes that teach you how to play these instruments properly. It’s not the same as paying for lessons, but it looks as though it can certainly give you enough skills to transition from game to reality.

No game is perfect, but Rock Band 3 leaves you wondering “What now?” for the genre. There’s no mountain left to climb for music games. Rock Band 3 is definitive.

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