The Rock Band series have always been the pinnacle of rhythm games. With a library of over 2000 songs, no other music game even comes close to matching the vast selection of tracks that the Rock Band platform offers. The gameplay over the years has been so fine tuned that every instrument is fun to play and just feels right. With Rock Band 3, Harmonix has kicked it up a notch and introduced a pro mode, which makes players play their instruments in a much more realistic manner. When our copy of Rock Band 3 arrived, we were quick to rip it open and give the game a spin. Does Rock Band 3 live up to the hype, or has Harmonix lost their touch? Read on to find out.
Note: This review is based on the Playstation 3 version.
Quickplay and the Basics
Quickplay allows you to choose your own songs, create playlists, play ready-made sets, and share/save your own. The new (optional) recommendation system suggests songs that the game believes you will enjoy and allows you to purchase them right there and then. It seemed a little off since we have over 500 tracks and the only suggestions that we got were from Stone Temple Pilots and Jimmy Eat World, but hey, it worked and we now have a copy of STP's Creep. There are a ton of sorting and filtering options, which makes selecting a song much faster and easier. When you complete a song, you can now rate it. Lower-rated songs will show up less often during random set lists, nice touch.
Did a friend start playing a song that you like and you want to join in? That's no longer an issue in Rock Band 3 as you can easily jump on board a song midway or even drop out. You can also change the difficulty on the fly if you haven't warmed up your fingers before playing Freebird on expert guitar -- that's my excuse anyway. The gameplay interface has received some minor tweaks but I can't say that I'm a fan of all of them. The fretboards that the notes scroll down through are now semi-transparent, which makes it very distracting when the background is white and you're on overdrive. There's also a lot more visual clutter which can confuse newcomers; the spade meter, the spades, the text describing your goals -- it can become a bit overwhelming. The freestyle lyrics are now represented by centered text on an opaque background which makes it easier to read.
The gameplay has also received a few tweaks. For vocals, there's an optional pitch correction system. The harmonies from The Beatles Rock Band have been ported over and you can now use overdrive during the tambourine / cowbell sections, which is great. We found it frustratingly difficult to activate overdrive in this game using the mic; There have been many times where we were unable to save other players because it simply wouldn't work. Luckily, a patch can fix this...right Harmonix? We didn't notice any differences in the basic guitar and bass gameplay. Drum rolls are now a lot more forgiving.
Career Mode (Road Challenges)
The career mode has received a major overhaul. You are now presented with road challenges, which are a series of tasks that you need to complete while performing at shows. These challenges are met by filling up your spade meter. One example would be streakmania which requires you to maintain streaks, another prompts you to keep overdrive for as long as possible, yet another is to get a streak going while the spotlight is over your character. There are a bunch of variations and, while not entirely mandatory, do add an extra level of depth and much more replay value.
In addition, there are over 700 career goals for you to complete. These work very similarly to the achievements on the Xbox 360 and trophies on the PS3. We will admit, we were a bit frightened when we saw one goal that requires you to hit every single note in all 83 songs. Damn our OCD! The challenges aren't limited to Rock Band 3; don't be surprised if you see challenges from other Rock Band games that you've exported pop up. They are also available per instrument, for the entire band and even for pro instruments. This game will keep you busy for months!
One problem with the PS3 version of the game (we hear that this is a non-issue in the Wii/360 ones) is that you are stuck with one band. If you wish to create a new band, you need to exit the game, log off, create a new account and log in to that. Bummer.
Online mode returns and you can enable it at any point which gets our thumbs up. The online experience is very similarly to that of Rock Band 2.
Rock Band 3 Modifiers
The modifiers from the previous Rock Band games have returned with a few new ones added to the mix.
All Instruments Mode
Checking this will allow you to use 7 instruments (2 guitars, 1 keyboard, 1 drum and 3 microphones in harmony). This was added because the Xbox 360 and Wii do not allow for more than four controllers at a time.
The fret will scroll at twice the speed with this on. Breakneck speed doesn't change the rhythm. Instead, the notes are spaced out further and scroll down faster giving you less time to react. It's more challenging but looks smoother.
This allows you to enable or disable navigation through the menus using the drums. Our Rock Band 1 drum kit did not allow us to scroll up or down through songs with the drum pads, unfortunately.
Enabling this will cause a scratch sound when you miss a note. Keep this off if it annoys you or just don't miss notes!
Turning this on will make it so that you can't lose while playing a song. You can still rank on the leaderboards and unlock everything save for a few challenges.
Unicorns will fly across the screen and rainbows will appear when enabled. This only works for me and when no one else is around. For the rest of the world, this toggle does nothing and is a running gag from the previous games.
Okay here's the tricky part, song exports. The following games' songs can be exported into Rock Band 3:
- Rock Band 1 (except for Enter Sandman, Paranoid, Run to the Hills, Black Hole Sun, and Dani California (damnit!))
- Rock Band 2 (except for Spoonman (DAMNIT!), Let There Be Rock, Any Way You Want It, Give It Away, and Battery)
- Lego Rock Band
- Green Day Rock Band
- Rock Band AC/DC Live Track Pack
The Beatles Rock Band cannot be exported. For the most part, these songs are unavailable due to exclusivity deals with other franchises or various licensing issues. The export keys are usually not free but only cost $5-$10 to buy. If you want to export your Rock Band 2 tracks, you will need the code from behind your Rock Band 2 game manual and to visit RockBand.com.
Rock Band 3's new Keyboard
The new instrument on the block is they keyboard which can also be used as a pseudo keytar. The wireless keyboard, created by Mad Catz, is very comfortable and well built. Just because the keyboard works essentially like a guitar/bass without the need to strum, doesn't mean that it's a stroll in the park; it's actually pretty difficult, especially on pro mode.
We did find it a bit hard to press the overdrive button while trying to maintain a multiplier. The whammy pad also takes a bit of getting used to. The note lane differs from one track to another which means that while the notes appear in the center of the screen on some songs, that doesn't necessarily mean that your fingers need to be placed in the center of the keyboard. That's part of the challenge of learning a new instrument.
As we mentioned in our Rock Band 3 preview, pro mode allows you to play the plastic instruments in a much more realistic fashion. This obviously makes the game a lot harder. There are tutorials built in that allow you to learn how to play the instruments which is a great addition for aspiring musicians. Unfortunately, we did not have all of the pro instruments at the time of this review however, we will write up reviews as we get them so stay tuned. The keyboard and the Mustang Pro Guitar are available in stores. For the true hardcore guitarists, the Squier (Fender's stringed pro guitar) will be available on March 1st, 2011 with pre-orders taking place starting January 1st. Check out the teaser for Fender's Squier Stratocaster for Rock Band 3 below.
The launch of Rock Band 3 is a massive one for Harmonix as they try to bring some new life to the music rhythm genre. It does feel like the game was a bit rushed with peripherals not being available on the first day and some issues that people encountered while trying to export their songs. At the time of this writing, the account linking wasn't working yet and the midi pro adapter cannot be found in stores. While a bit annoying, these aren't deal breakers and will all be addressed with time. We also did encounter a few bugs such as the vocal overdrive not always working, the game muted itself which required a complete reboot of the console and the game told us that we need a negative amount of points to increase our rank in the leaderboard. We've also heard complaints of the game exiting randomly and bringing players back to the Playstation's main screen but we did not encounter this issue.
If you're still hesitant about purchasing Rock Band 3, don't be. Despite the inconveniences aforementioned; the massive career mode, the new gameplay changes, the ability to change the dynamics of the game on the fly, the pro mode and the ability to learn to play a real instrument are all just small examples of the many additions that make Rock Band 3 the best music game out there. Why are you still reading this? Go out and buy yourself a copy. If you're playing online, look out for the Cubicle Assassins, we've heard that they've got the "Awesomeness detection" working.
A few days after we wrote this review, Harmonix sent out an e-mail blast explaining some of the issues that users encountered with the game. Rock Band 3 bug crashing issues, microphone / vocal overdrive not working properly and account linking issues are all being addressed and will have fixes being issued via a patch shortly. For those experiencing problems with the Lego Rock Band export, more export keys will be made available soon. In addition, certain songs did not export properly from Rock Band 1/2. This was due to audio glitch problems and will be resolved.