This review is a difficult write. The fans of rhythm will have already bought it or are planning on it. Non-rhythm gamers are going to glance over it whether it says Rock Band, Guitar Hero or Power Gig. I’m not trying to convert anyone — this review is more or less for people on the fence about which available rhythm game to get.
But the long and short of it is this: Rock Band 3 is here. All other rhythm games are irrelevant.
You might think that’s a rather bold statement. And it is. But that doesn’t make it untrue. Rock Band 3 is here and has thusly rendered every single other rhythm game available on today’s market absolutely inconsequential. Rock Band 3 is the only rhythm game you will ever need. Period.
Let’s put it this way: Say that Harmonix is the Empire and Rock Band 3 is the Death Star. Every other music game trying to compete is Alderaan. Oh, and for all intents and purposes, there is no Rebel Alliance. That’s how good Rock Band 3 is.
This latest iteration is the new foundation for rhythm gaming. Any flaws are easily overlooked or case-by-case complaints from various individuals. Everything about Rock Band 3 is right. Almost to the point where you’d say, “I wish I could find fault in this, but I can’t.”
The game greets you with a cutscene, but gone are the days of ridiculous and over-the-top rides on the back of moving vehicles, and you’re face-to-face with something with a touch more realism. A rockin’ montage of rockers rocking to an edit of The Doors’ “Break On Through.” Said rockers aren’t cartoony or doing anything outrageous, but doing their best at putting on a good show. Essentially, this is a statement about Rock Band 3 — an emphasis on realism and going beyond the game.
With an improved character editor, you’ll be happy to know that each one of your band members can look vastly different from one another instead of being stuck with the same handful of faces over and over again. Sure, you could make their hair and clothes different before, but deep down inside you knew they had the same face.
Such is no longer the case! With the overhaul of the character editor, you’re now able to make your characters entirely different right down to the shape of their nose and eyebrow size. Dang near everything is customizable on them, so you can truly call them your own.
The gameplay interface has seen a nice little touch-up as well. Everything seems a bit smoother than past iterations and detection has been completely redone to make the prompts more noticeable, but not obnoxiously so. You’ll be able to tell when you’re striking or missing notes more easily, as well as when your Overdrive meter is ready to be deployed. Furthermore, there are special situations during the Road Challenges mode where green and purple prompts will aid you in the situations.
The interface is a lot more toned down as well. There used to be a lot of clutter on-screen, but now you have a music track with integrated Overdrive meter, a performance meter and a Star/Spade count. That’s really it. No more score, no more ridiculously unnecessary messages popping up constantly, no obnoxious meter telling you your standing with the crowd like in Guitar Hero. Just a new sleek interface with a wrap-up performance screen after a song. It just feels less cumbersome.
Remember the Tour mode from Rock Band 2? Yeah, that’s gone. In its place is a mode called “Road Challenges” where you’ll take your virtual band on mini-tours across the world. You’re stuck playing sets again, but not the same songs over and over again when in a single area. The Road Challenges take your entire library into account and randomize your sets across various factors, such as Songs from 80s, Long Songs, Indie Songs and other such criteria.
Playing well is, of course, never counted against you, and a wonderful asset if you’re doing the Road Challenges. In addition to Stars, you’ll also be tasked with collecting Spades which, for all intents and purposes, are like bonus Stars. You’ll be awarded Spades for activating Overdrive so many times in a song or playing a certain number of streaks during the course of a song and the criteria will change from locale to locale.
Playing well has other advantages and Harmonix have taken humanity’s addictive nature into consideration by implementing a Goal system. Much like Trophies and Achievements, Goals have a specific set of criteria that must be met in order to attain them. For example, one Goal will say you have to get 85% or more on the solo to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” to unlock it. Unlocking Goals has the two-step reward system — awarding the band more fans to increase overall status and unlocking in-game clothing and musical items to further customize your characters.
Money no longer has any place in the Rock Band games. Instead, the game rewards players for playing more and becoming better. Different Goals have different rewards, so completing more Goals is going to unlock more options. This game was built for completionists through and through.
You’re all probably wondering about PRO Mode, too. That thing that’s supposedly going to teach everyone who to be a real musician? Yeah, it’s the real deal. It does require dedication, but make no mistake — with the right amount of perseverance and practice, you will actually be able to sit down at a piano and play songs or pick up a guitar and pump out a tune.
Mad Catz did an excellent job constructing the new peripherals. The Rock Band Keyboard is a legitimate keyboard. Everything about it is just like the real thing, from the size of the keys to the pressure it takes to actually put them down. Playing piano myself, these things are certifiably genuine. And the fact that they can be used as a MIDI keyboard with an adapter just makes the purchase all the sweeter to aspiring musicians everywhere.
The amazing thing Harmonix is doing with Rock Band 3 is actually blurring the line between creating an engaging game and teaching someone a skill. Modern Warfare isn’t going to turn anyone into a soldier andSuper Mario will certainly not give you any plumbing experience or knowledge to overthrow evil reptilian royalty, but Rock Band 3 will give you the fundamentals to develop into something resembling a musician. Very few developers can lay claim to the fact that they are teaching the players anything, let alone being responsible for developing a new skill in players.
Remember those drawbacks I mentioned? Hardly drawbacks at all. Niggling things at best and easily overlooked. One thing that caught me off guard was the lack of collision detection for band and crowd members. Every once in a while, you’ll see crowd members sometimes move through one another while cheering or during close-up shots of the bassist’s hand, you’ll see their fingers just pass through the strings. These things are by no means game-breaking and really just show where Harmonix’s priorities were — in the music and player-game interaction.
The only thing that I found to be anything sort of a “negative” aspect is importing your songs from Rock Bandand Rock Band 2. There were a few songs from the original game lost during the transition to the sequel, and “Dani California” and “Black Hole Sun” are additional casualties due to licensing issues. Other victims include “Any Way You Want It,” “Spoonman,” “Give It Away,” “Let There Be Rock,” and “Battery” during the song exporting from 2 to 3.
To some people, this might not even be a problem. Maybe you don’t like Metallica, Journey, AC/DC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Soundgarden. Maybe you have AC/DC Live: Rock Band, so the loss of “Let There Be Rock” doesn’t even faze you, because you already have a superior live version to play. Personally, I think it’s tragic that Soundgarden have sold their souls to Activision to be heavily included in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. I think Metallica made a bad move to have their own Guitar Hero instead of sticking with the leaders in rhythm gaming. And this situation all but confirms a Guitar Hero: Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But let’s be serious — do a handful of songs really matter when there’s already an enormous library at every player’s disposal? Over 2,000 tracks enormous? Maybe if you’re the pickiest person on the planet. But game-breaking? Hardly.
I’m not even going to mention the 83 on-disc tracks. It doesn’t even matter. You can practically download any song you want already, and new songs hit the Music Store and Rock Band Network every week. If you don’t like an on-disc song, you technically don’t have to play it…ever. The only reason you would is because you are a completionist and want to show off that you have all the Goals attainable.
Daniel Sussman wasn’t joking when he said that Rock Band 3 was a “disruptive title in the music category.” This game has turned the rhythm gaming world on its head. Any rhythm game to come out is going to be a meek imitator and not much more. Harmonix love music more than anything on this planet and it shows.
There’s only one real question you should be asking and it isn’t “Which rhythm game should I get?” The question you should be asking is “Guitar Hero and Power Gig who?”
An Xbox 360 version of this game was independently acquired by the reviewer.