Rock Band 3 Review
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On 11/03/2010 at 05:18 PM by Nick DiMola
Harmonix has officially left the Guitar Hero series in the dust.
Those who don't intend on picking up the Pro instruments or the keyboard should understand that they are buying a glorified track pack. Everyone else will easily have the most comprehensive and impressive rhythm game available.
Harmonix continues to impress with their latest mainline entry of the Rock Band series. Rather than revolutionizing the genre through complete and total change, they have managed to keep the same general structure while adding the brand new Pro mode that brings players closer than ever to truly playing the instrument they are emulating. As a matter of fact, if players choose to take on the Expert variant of Pro mode, they will actually be truly playing the exact notes that comprise the song. Couple this with keyboard support and an eclectic set list and you have the best rhythm game available on the market.
Part of what makes Rock Band 3 such a great offering is in the way it has removed the overhead associated with getting into the game, like bloated menus and excessive play time in certain modes to unlock all of the features or songs. The omission of Tour Mode is almost solely responsible for this, and it goes a long way to making the game more enjoyable and accessible. Additionally, this time around all of the songs in the game are unlocked from the get-go and no matter the mode players choose to take on a track, they will be rewarded. For those looking to take on assembled challenges and taks, the game's Road Challenge Mode offers just that.
These challenges serve as an alternate way to enjoy the game, focusing on beating tracks a certain way, such as keeping a streak, or executing star power as much as possible. Performing these tasks well during a track will fill-up a second set of stars, making for a total of ten that can be earned on each track. Because the Road Challenges have players performing a set of tracks, the more stars earned, the higher the award at the end, which is measured with Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
As with all prior Rock Band titles, Quick Play is inevitably where players will spend most of their time. The exception here is that a players' time investment is no longer for naught. Now, every time a track is played, players will earn fans and complete various challenges available. Obviously, with the lack of Tour Mode, this mode steps in as a means to progress in the game, which is great given the fact that many players excusively experience the game in Quick Play, myself included.
Another improvement in Rock Band 3 comes in the form of the latest instrument, the keyboard. The instrument fills a void that has been present for quite a while now, and does so extremely well. With its inclusion, not only do players have access to a brand new instrument, but they also have the ability to play a wide array of tracks that would've never worked in the game otherwise. New genres are represented, and keyboard tracks, like those in Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, can be realized to their fullest. Pop from the 70s and 80s also make an appearance, which is great for the Rock Band series because players can enjoy songs that aren't solely guitar-based any longer.
Using the keyboard is most definitely enjoyable as well. For obvious reasons, it feels quite different from the rest of the instruments as it is an actual MIDI keyboard. The keys feel real and the strategy for playing it is different than the guitar or drums, and completely foreign for someone like myself who has never played the true instrument before. While the keyboard is great in the standard Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert settings, it truly shines in its Pro Mode implementation. Here, players once again have the four choices of Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert, but the track takes use of the whole keyboard peripheral rather than the five keys used in the standard difficulties.
While I have no keyboard experience, I still jumped head-first into the Pro Mode and was pleasently surprised. Even playing on Easy, I found the tracks challenging as I learned to establish my fingering to play the tracks. I slowly felt like I was learning an actual skill while playing the available tracks, and this, in and of itself, was unbelievably exciting. I eventually moved up to Medium and was able to hold my own. I predict that with exposure, over time I'll be able to have some groundwork to truly learn the keyboard, a long time aspiration of mine.
Though I wasn't able to try it out, the Pro mode extends to the other instruments in the game, which given the implementation of the keyboard, is extremely exciting. With the inclusion of this mode and the ability to hook up the actual instruments, Rock Band 3 begins to cross the boundary between game and actual music making. The training mode included will definitely help players succeed in learning some real skills that should carry over nicely into true music playing or composition.
What really ties together the whole package are the small touches found throughout. Menus are easier to navigate, there's less overhead in getting into a song, players can drop-in and out at will, and difficulty changed on the fly. Tracks can be found and filtered in a variety of ways, players can rate their favorites, which will in turn suggest new music in the store. Finally, for the first time, the track list is eclectic and mainstream enough that it will reach players with a diverse taste in music, and almost everyone will enjoy all of the tracks no matter their particular musical preference.
With all of this improvement, the only lingering negative, as has always been true, is that the barrier of entry is extremely high. Players that already own all of the equipment who want to get into Pro mode will be spending an exorbitant amount of money to assemble a full band of compatible instruments. Those who don't already have a keyboard will have to buy one, whether it be a real one or the one offered with Rock Band 3 - even then, the MIDI adapter required to use your own keyboard retails at $39.99. Those who don't choose to grab any new equipment are still in for a great soundtrack and a number of improvements, but at that point, the game isn't vastly different from Rock Band 2.
There's no question that Rock Band 3 is the best rhythm game on the market right now. The game has advanced the genre to the only point it had to go: bridging the gap between true music playing and game. The inclusion of the keyboard is also welcome, and that alone has opened up the series to an entirely new scope of music that was once never possible. Casual players of the game will likely want to grab the keyboard at some point, and all others who are deeply invested will want to go Pro whether it's now or in the future.