Game: Rock Band 3
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii
Publisher: MTV Games
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Rated: T – for Teen
Harmonix is back with another iteration of Rock Band. Sequels to rhythm games tend to be little more than glorified track packs, but that’s not the case with Rock Band 3. This installment revolutionizes the franchise and also introduces enough new elements to possibly sway the future of the overall genre.
For the New Arrivals
Just in case you’re one of the three people who doesn’t know the Rock Band formula, imagine karaoke that scores you by your pitch accuracy and also allows you and your friends to play the lead guitar, bass, and drums tracks of the songs with toy instruments. That’s the gist of Rock Band, and it’s a game concept that has been adapted back and forth between the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises ad nauseum over the past few years. Rock Band has grown to dominate the music video game scene and has become a platform franchise that supports more than 2,000 playable songs, all available either on one of the main game disc releases or as downloadable content.
The key game mechanics have stayed true throughout the series’s history. As the music plays, colored bars slide down the screen. Players “play” their instruments in time with the bars hitting a line near the bottom of the screen by matching their fret button presses, strums, and drum beats with what they see on the screen. There’s a lot of muscle memory involved, and playing Rock Band well really is an acquired skill, not unlike the skills required to play real instruments.
Rock Band 3 throws a new instrument into the mix for the first time since Harmonix introduced drums with the first Rock Band. Mad Catz has produced a 25-key keyboard for use with the game, so you now can add a keytar to your plastic instrument collection. The keyboard is sturdy and feels like a real keyboard with plastic keys. I’ve been playing piano and keyboards for most of my life, and this keyboard peripheral immediately felt natural to my hands. The keyboard is color coded in sections to match notes on the screen, much like the fret buttons on the guitars and the pads on the drums are colored. It also features a button to the left of the keys that can be used to activate Overdrive mode (similar to Overdrive for the other instruments), as well as a touch pad to allow for note bending.
Having prior piano experience and knowledge definitely gave me a leg up in playing Rock Band 3, as I was able to jump straight into the Expert difficulty on the instrument. The standard play mode requires players to use only 5 of the 25 keys on the keyboard, so it’s not really an accurate representation of keyboard playing, but it’s a decent approximation in the same way that the guitar and drum peripherals approximate their real life counterparts.
The lack of accuracy is true only in the standard Rock Band mode. If you’re itching for some more realistic playing, Harmonix has introduced a new Pro Mode for Rock Band 3. Pro Mode is available for guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard, and dramatically changes up the way you play the game. Instead of dropping the usual colored bars down for note approximations, Pro Mode requires that the actual notes be played correctly. For the keyboard, this means you’ll see a visual representation of the keyboard on the screen, and you have to hit the right keys as their notes fall. Similarly, there’s a new interface for the guitar peripheral that will have you actually hitting strings and moving up and down the fretboard. There’s a new Pro guitar peripheral on the market that is required to use Pro Mode for the guitar and bass, but I was unable to try that out for this review.
I did give Pro Keys a shot, though, and it’s an exciting addition to the genre. Having piano experience once again helped me into the keyboard playing, but it is in no way a cakewalk. Using the visual note cues is very different from reading actual sheet music, so I started at square one, as most players will. The Rock Band notation is not universal, but I really feel like it could be a good tutor for training people who previously played no instruments to actually know how to play real keyboards. I imagine the results with the guitar and drums would be the same.
Even with the addition of the keyboard and Pro Mode, the real star of every rhythm game is the song list. Rock Band always has been at the top of the line for offering a great variety of songs we actually want to hear and play. Rock Band 3 delivers 83 new tracks into the game, featuring acts such as The Doors, Devo, Ozzy Osbourne, Rilo Kiley, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and Queen. As with every game in the series except The Beatles Rock Band, you can import and export songs between all the titles, allowing for an instantly huge setlist in Rock Band 3 if you have some of the previous releases and have been downloading tracks.
In a genre that has been slipping in popularity over the past year, Harmonix took the initiative to innovate, and they really have breathed new life into Rock Band and probably into rhythm games in general. Rock Band 3 takes the franchise beyond the arena of party games and into the possibilities of real musical experience and instruction. It’s now entirely feasible that someone could learn the basics for playing real music, just by playing Rock Band 3. And I guarantee it’s a lot more fun than taking lessons from the guy down the street.