After a couple years of waiting, and a few smaller individual band releases, we finally have the latest main edition of the Rock Band series! With the addition of a new instrument, as well as the introduction of the pro mode, Harmonix attempts to continue it's streak of excellence as they attempt to bridge the transition between playing a game, and playing a real instrument. So, grab your mic, tune that guitar, and beat that drum as we try to become superstars in Rock Band 3!
Title: Rock Band 3
Publisher: MTV Games
Systems: PS3, 360, Wii
After a few smaller, specialized released, here we have the latest full release in the Rock Band series of games with Rock Band 3! After seeing an increasing amount of success from the last two main Rock Band titles, the developers at Harmonix attempt to try something a bit new in the Rock Band system as they attempt to continue the wave of success with Rock Band 3. The game, on the whole, is done pretty well, with numerous additions to the game itself, along with some increased graphical prowess to help enhance the gaming experience. Rock Band 3 also shows a very strong attempt by Harmonix to somewhat bridge the gap between playing a musical video game, and actually playing real music altogether. However, while most of the game is done very well, and the new instrumental choices will bring about a lot of fun, fans of the previous games may feel a tad disappointed when it comes to some of the gameplay mechanics, as well as the changes in the career and menu options. So, overall, Rock Band 3 is a mixed bag, where some things have been greatly improved with other elements failing miserably.
To begin, Rock Band 3 definitely attempts to bridge the gap between playing a musical game and actually playing music itself. There have been numerous additions in terms of the instruments available, such as the addition of a keyboard, and “Pro” modes of the guitar, bass, drums, and the aforementioned keyboard. Unfortunately, the Pro modes are only accessible through the purchase of additional actual equipment, such as a special guitar or cymbal attachments for the drums. For the Pro Guitar, it requires actual fingering positions down the entire neck of the guitar, as well as actual strumming on 6 strings. Not only is this a massive step up in terms of some realism, the fingerings are accurate enough to actually carry over to a real guitar. The Pro Drums bring about actual cymbal hits, rather than just the drumpad equivalent. The keyboard pro mode has the player moving up and down octaves across the keyboard itself, as well as the inclusion of more accurate sharp/flat keystrokes. As stated, all Pro modes pretty much can convert over to actual instrument playing rather easily, and is definitely a fantastic step in the right direction to bring about an entirely new level of play, while still allowing those not musically inclined to have a lot of fun in the normal instrument modes.
RB3 also brings about some impressive graphical and cinematic upgrades as well. Even the introduction to the game, while disappointing to not see the old characters in some epic event, shows some live-action characters in an animated world. While this doesn’t translate to the game itself, it’s still very pretty to watch. The character models in the game have also received a bit of a graphical upgrade, and the venues and backgrounds are all quite impressive. Another fun little feature is during career mode the characters of the band itself appear in various cutscenes depicting the rise to rock band superstardom. The menu backgrounds have also become rather nice to watch, as the members of the band all appear in various simple scenes as the player makes their choices. These scenes are definitely a nice enhancement to the game aesthetics themselves.
The overall layout and career mode of the game have also undergone numerous changes and variations in the transition form RB2 to 3. Rather than a set career mode for the game, the career is done by just playing the game itself on a username, as each username is tied to an individual band. The player can just play songs and complete challenges to increase their band’s rating, or they can venture into the Road Challenges section of the game. This mode is somewhat similar to the career modes of the past, as the player goes through various streams of venues to earn greater transportation vehicles to play at better venues, etc, until they finally complete the ultimate road challenge and achieve the goal of worldwide stardom. However, in addition to being able to complete the songs, the game introduces the presence of internal venue challenges. These challenges vary from completing note streaks at the right time, to overdrive deployment, to streaks during overdrive, etc. They all basically come with the ability to play the instruments and songs very well, and at the end of each venue, the star rating for the song is added to the “spade” rating for challenge completion, and then an overall song and venue rating is obtained. The game then rates the road challenge at the end using all the combined ratings for the all song stars and the spade rankings. So, even if a song is completed and earns 5 stars, failure to complete all the challenges well could result in a player only achieving half of the possible rating for the road challenge. However, to unlock venues, the player only needs to complete the songs and survive. So, the player only may miss out on additional costume bonuses by failing to perform well on the challenge sections.
Now, as stated before, while there are a number of fantastic upgrades to the game, fans of the older games may feel a slight disappointment in the change, or outright removal, of various elements to the game. Overall, it may end up giving a major feeling of limitation. Unlike in the previous Rock band games, there is the allowance for only one band per username. For fans that enjoyed making numerous bands with different styles, the limitation will be a major detriment to the fun of the game. The menu system also seems to have gone through a recess, as the sorting ability has become more fine-tuned, though it requires additional menus to navigate through. The simplistic one-button sorting changes have been replaced by menus and specialized categories. The changes in career mode may also end up hurting the enjoyment, as rather than being able to play each individual venue using your own setlist for every one, the road challenge limitations in regards to setlist choices may hurt the gaming experience, but mileage may vary depending on interests.
The character creation system will also be a mixed bag of emotion, as the removal of the money-based shop system has been replaced with a challenge-based unlocks system. While for some, this is fantastic, as to get certain outfits and attire may come to be much simpler, but for those who have difficulty completing different challenges, some outfits will never be obtained. So, as with most challenge-based systems, the game rewards the best of the game with more outfits. Also, the challenge-system plays into the career mode as the bands rating increases depending on the more challenges completed, and for some, the maximum band ranking will never be obtained, which is a tad disappointing. So, while the removal of the slog of constantly having to farm money for equipment and outfits will be a pleasant sight, it has the potential to be a nightmare for others who just play the game to have fun. Oh yes, another point to mention is that the stand-in characters to the band are just set as stand-ins in general, rather than being able to assign them to specific roles. Now, the instruments the stand-in character will play are now determined by which instrument the player plays, and they change with each player character instrument change.
There is also the ever-present issue that plagues any game with numerous peripheral requirements. If someone doesn’t have a certain peripheral, then certain modes of the game are not available to them at all. No pro guitar? No pro mode access. Didn’t buy the keyboard? Then there is no pro keyboard option at all, nor is there even a normal keyboard part option until certain requirements are met to allow the part to be played on the guitar (and even then, no kb challenges can be completed even with the guitar). Unlike in the other Rock Band games, though, not having a certain instrument now has a major effect on the band’s rating, as the lack of certain instruments means there is no ability to complete challenges, and as such, the band’s career rating will suffer. Not being able to complete challenges also means certain items will also be unobtainable.
Overall, Rock Band 3 is still very fun to play, and the attempt to bring about a more realistic musical experience is definitely noticeable. However, the game itself definitely made a step towards appealing towards those with more skill at the game rather than towards those who just want to pick up the game and have fun. While yes, the player can still just pick up the game and play, most of the juicy elements of the game are limited to how well one can perform on challenges. So, the game itself has taken numerous steps forward in certain areas, though steps back in others.
Now to see how well this game stacks up!
Storyline: N/A – There really is no realest storyline, nor is there an attempt to create one. You are a rock star, and your band is making their way to the top of the world. So, let’s bring about the special category for games like this!
Flexibility, Functionality, & Extras: 8.75/10 – So, does this game get the job done in terms of making someone feel like a rock star? Overall, yes. The game has you going out on road trips in an increasingly wider range of locales. You start out locally then move to national prowess, and then finally ending on a world tour! The milestone cinematics, with the inclusion of the actual characters, definitely adds a nice touch to the experience itself. In terms of flexibility, there are numerous elements to choose from, along with the addition of multiple modes per instrument, given the availability of the required peripheral. Functionality, though, is a bit of a drawback, as while the instruments do perform well in terms of accuracy and whatnot, the menus navigation and song sorting can be a tad frustrating. But overall, the game does what it sets out to do, and the experience of becoming a rock star is present. No bonus points due to the lack of groupies, though.
Graphics: 8.5/10 – The backgrounds are pretty; the effects during the shows are done well; the cinematics are enjoyable; and the characters still have a good feel about them. However, there seems to be a couple of additional issues in regards to some items on the character cutting through others (sunglasses cutting through a tilted hat, for example), as well as the lacking of certain details in regards to guitar straps and whatnot. So, it seems there are a couple oversights, albeit they are more nitpicky oversights.
Controls: 8.75/10 – The controls are done well, though it all really depends on the condition of the peripherals used. The more use that an item gets, the faster the condition degrades. But, given good equipment, the controls are pretty solid. The game can be calibrated for different entertainment systems, and the calibration works smoothly. The response time for the notes has also improved from the previous games, so there is definitely work being done to improve the game itself. The only complaint is with the menu functions and controls, and the aforementioned sorting mechanisms. Otherwise, the game controls well, and the response time is done well enough to not warrant any complaints.
Sounds & Music: 9.5/10 – This is a music game, so there is an emphasis on including a good soundtrack to the game itself. Overall, the song selection itself really all depends upon individual music tastes. Therefore, this is judged upon the variety available, and RB3 covers a ton of bases on this one. There are many fun songs across various genres and time periods, and along with the addition of a few highly requested songs, the soundtrack really shouldn’t disappoint as there is something for everyone. Probably the most demanded inclusions would have to be “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band. So, the soundtrack of the game covers a ton of different musical bases, and along with a gigantic DLC library, RB3 definitely pulls through in terms of a soundtrack.
Replayability & Fun: 9/10 – As with the previous Rock Band games, this series takes pride in providing a fun game that should last for quite some time. While the lack of additional bands does hurt, the game itself still is rather addicting, and can still provide hours of enjoyment alone or with a group of people. The gigantic library of songs available, either stock or DLC, will provide many options for all song desires, and the internal challenges will continue to test players for a while. The addition of the pro modes also allows for many players to take the next step into actually being able to play these instruments, so that alone should drive folks to pick the game up multiple times. So, RB3 still continues on the formula for providing a continually enjoyable game that should bring people back time and again. However, as stated before, the game definitely is moving towards a focus upon those who are better at the game rather than the casual crowd.
Overall: 44.5/50 = 89/100 = B+
Recommendation: Definitely a fun game to play and those who are fans of the series will definitely find some enjoyment out of playing the new songs and moving your band to the top of the world. The pro modes for the instruments are also a fantastic step in the right direction in terms of moving towards realism. However, as stated, the game is essentially two steps forward, one step back. All the changes implemented may cause a sour note for longtime fans of the series but it shouldn’t be too much of a disappointment. Overall, the game is still very fun, and still will be enjoyable for many, but it is definitely different. However, it’s definitely worth a shot sometime.