Before we even begin this review I want to make it clear that we DID NOT have access to two of the major bullet points for Rock Band 3; the new instruments and pro mode. Working in this business sometimes you have to make a choice of whether or not to review an incomplete product, and unfortunately this is one of those times. Our review of Rock Band 3 is entirely based on existing instruments and should be viewed as such.
The evolution of music games has been a rough ride for us all. It started not so long ago with just a plastic guitar and the idea that peripheral-based games simply could not succeed. At the forefront of that was developer Harmonix known for their quirky rhythm games on PS2 and of course Karaoke Revolution. Guitar Hero was a phenomenal success and helped launch the career of this budding young studio. Several years, a couple of lawsuits and a publisher change later they introduced us to Rock Band; the end-all, be-all of rhythm games. It was to be a platform for downloadable music that would be the mainstay for years to come. And now I am reviewing Rock Band 3.
All cynicism aside the series is still the most robust and polished of the genre. Guitar Hero has simply not been able to match the sheer polish that Rock Band brings with it. Rock Band 3 is what Harmonix is calling the coup de grace of music games, and the only one we will need for years to come. Sure we have heard this song and dance before, but after spending some ample time with Harmonix’s latest I would tend to agree. Everything in the game is focused, sorting songs is flawless, and everything else just falls into place. Even without being able to sample the new keyboard peripheral or try my hand at pro guitar, this disc definitely felt like more than a simple track pack.
One of the changes made to the core game this year is career mode. Instead of the traditional Rock Band bouncing from city to city, the third game focuses on challenges. Your entire Rock Band library has challenges and they are broken down by instrument. Truth be told this is way more interesting than simply moving set to set, plus it gives you a chance to play the songs you enjoy playing as well as being introduced to some new ones. Like anything else these days completing challenges nets you experience points which unlocks new items like clothing and venues; all fairly standard stuff.
The part I love most about Rock Band 3 is that it tracks nearly everything. Every goal that each song has for each instrument is tracked in your master list. Managing to complete every challenge and for every instrument could take a large chunk of time, which is what a game designed to be a platform should be. As long as Harmonix continues to update based on their DLC this should be the definitive Rock Band collection. However, if you don’t do DLC the set list included on the disc could easily make or break the game for you.
The music genre was built around shredding guitar tracks that had users mastering the notes for months at a time. Since then the game has definitely become more of a casual affair, and Rock Band 3 hits that note harder than ever with the inclusion of the keyboard. While we were not able to review said peripheral, the set list definitely reflects its presence. This is the most lighthearted song list of the three games and includes some truly decent tunes, but don’t expect the next version of Dragonforce to be found here. Instead you will find the B52’s Rock Lobster, Beach Boys with Good Vibrations and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Yeah these are not exactly going to light expert players on fire, but they are still a delight to play.
For those wanting the hardcore experience there are some devlish tunes on the disc including the return of Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Crazy Train from Ozzy and even Slipknot. Overall the setlist is very diverse, but you can still feel that it focuses on pop over the more guitar-focused rock. It is also worth noting that some of the game will be lost on anyone not planning to buy the new instruments. Pro Mode and Keyboard definitely becomes a major focus of the game, and even some of the challenges and Achievements/Trophies are tied to the new modes.
The visuals have not received as much attention but a lot of the items you have requested have finally made an appearance. When you pause in the middle of a song it now rewinds back a few notes which is helpful in getting back into the song. The characters all still look and act the same although there are some new animations for particular songs that really stand out. Trippy visuals and mirror-images make focusing on the note highway difficult at times, but that is only because it is such a cool effect. I am not a fan of the designs personally, or the way the bob around sometimes. Still the menu system and song selection screens have been streamlined so well that it is hard to complain too much.
I wish I could go on about Rock Band 3 in more detail, but as I mentioned at the beginning we are really reviewing a partial version of the game. If you plan to pick up the pro guitar and keyboard you can likely tack another full point onto the score, but as a standalone this feels like a sweet title update with a track pack. Still Rock Band manages to be the definitive music game experience and if you enjoyed the previous ones chances are you will fall in love all over again. Hopefully they continue to find songs that will support keyboards down the road, and it should be fun to see what pro-guitar tracks eventually wind up for DLC.
Review copy provided by publisher.