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Rock Band 3

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: MTV Games
Developer: Harmonix
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 7 (Local or Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

Rock Band is back for another round with Rock Band 3, and it looks better than ever. Thanks to backwards compatibility and licensing terms, your downloadable content and even most of the songs from previous Rock Band titles are available - for a fee, if not free - for play in Rock Band 3. There are codes in the back of the previous game boxes as well as a small fee to be paid; I won't go into the details here, but - for the most part - the old music can be imported into Rock Band 3.

As for the new music, there is a curious selection of 83 songs included with Rock Band 3. Some are great, while others seem to be strange selections. (Check out the entire song list by following the Official Rock Band 3 website link, below.) From the keyboard standpoint, it seems like a lot of the songs have long stretches with nothing to do, with a few scattered keyboard parts here and there for most of the songs. Some of the new songs have no keyboard part, whatsoever. Of course, songs prior to Rock Band 3 have no keyboard part. Even songs that are newly for download may have pro keyboard parts available, yet sold separately. This might sound somewhere between an annoyance and an outrage to some gamers out there, but with the inclusion of the Pro modes and the "Learn a Song" practice option, you could feasibly use the pro mode part to learn to play a song and then actually perform it in a gig. At this point, you're not just looking at the typical song license, but have the equivalent of sheet music, without the chore of learning to read sheet music. In that light, I can see the reasoning behind the additional pricing. It doesn't make it any easier, however, to have to convince my wife that we should make not one but two (or more?) purchases to download a single song.


Gameplay:

Yes, keyboards were added. Yes, real guitar support* has been added, as well. However, the biggest change you're likely to notice if you've played the previous games is the new way that Career and Band Advancement works. Rather than playing songs in one venue to earn and unlock bigger and better venues and the songs that come with them, Rock Band 3 puts all of the music at your fingertips from the beginning and pushes the venues off into the background, letting them simply be a backdrop, rather than any sort of selectable, game-driving mechanic.

When I first encountered this, I was at a loss as to how to start working on advancing our band, Game Overlords, (which has been our band's name since the first Rock Band game. So, I set my band up with the name and, "Yes!" - it wasn't taken. Then J.R. Nip logged into his account (at the same time) and did the same, using the same band name and, although it warned him the name was already taken, it let him use it. Then Psibabe repeated the feat, so that all three of us had the same band name. I didn't see a way for all three of us to be in the same band, as in previous games, however. Eventually, I realized that we all were advancing based on each of our performances, regardless of whether we were playing together or on our own. This takes some getting used to, but it makes it easier to progress when your band members can't make it to a "practice session."

Thanks to careful implementation of the keyboard (keytar) controller, you can always play something, regardless of whether there is a keyboard part or not. The keyboard can be used to play the keyboard and pro keyboard parts, but can also be used to play guitar, bass and drum parts. For that matter, the guitar can be used to play the keyboard parts, although the pro keyboard parts require a keyboard, due to their complexity (utilizing 25 different keys).


Difficulty:

For those who have played Rock Band games before, the difficulty is exactly the same for the downloaded content you already have or any existing songs that you import, and is about what you'd expect for the non-Pro parts, across the board.

For those who aren't familiar with Rock Band, there are five different levels of difficulty for any given part, such as guitar, bass, drums or vocals. There are also Pro Modes for guitar, bass and drums, in which you are, for all intents and purposes, playing the actual instrument. If you learn how to play a Pro Mode part for a song and you memorize it, you can play it on an instrument, without the game. You might need to find a few bandmates who can play the other parts, as well, but you've got your part down. These Pro Mode parts have the same five difficulty levels, just like the normal parts, but playing Pro Keyboards on Easy is going to be harder than playing Keyboards on Easy. With normal Keyboard parts, you have five keys to worry about. With Pro Mode Keyboard parts, you have up to 25, depending on the song. While I'm on the subject, I should mention that in Pro Keyboard parts of Medium or lower difficulty, the keyboard parts don't have any "shifting," but above Medium difficulty, you will find the note tracks will shift left and right as the song calls for higher or lower notes. (There are arrows that indicate a shift is coming up when this happens, so watch for them.)

More so than previous Rock Band games, you can sort of take what you want from Rock Band 3. With the new advancement system, you can advance at your own pace without dragging down band members. You can create an experience tailored to your tastes, with your own band and stand-in musicians and, when you play with others, you can advance your goals while they advance theirs - or you can select the Road Challenges and accomplish Band Achievements as well. It's up to you whether you want to sing back-up vocals, duff around on the guitar on Easy or try your hand at Pro Keyboards on Extreme difficulty setting... your rewards will be scaled appropriately, but if you're looking to kick back and simply play around that's fine, too.


Game Mechanics:

Rock Band 3 may be the best music game to date. Well, it might... and that date is likely to be sometime early next year.

*While I had to get used to the Career advancement changes, I really like most of what I've seen in Rock Band 3. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that there is, supposedly, a lot more features and functionality that simply aren't there, yet. I received the standard 360 software-only version for review. J.R. Nip happened to buy the Keyboard bundle, so I was able to try the Keyboard controller out, at least, but the Pro Mode compatible guitars aren't available until the first quarter of 2011, making Rock Band 3 a dubious purchase for Christmas 2010 season. The midi adapters (allowing midi keyboards and guitars to be used with Rock Band 3) weren't available at launch and only became available just after Thanksgiving.

One thing that was a nagging annoyance was that if you selected to play Pro Keys (or even just Keys) for a set list, you would be warned if one or more of the songs in that set list had no Pro Key part, but the game doesn't allow you to select a secondary preference, such as the Bass part, to play during songs that had no part for you. This left me standing and waiting through half of a song, waiting to see if this was a song with no Keyboard part or merely a song whose Keyboard part doesn't come in for a while... which, if you remember what I said above about the scarcity of keyboard sections in some songs with Keyboard parts, really left me hanging. Even merely having some graphic treatment over the Keyboard part that indicated that there was no part to play would have at least allow me to take a brief break and grab a drink or something.

If you're into music games and you've already got guitar and/or drum controllers and possibly a microphone or three to use and you're looking for the new hotness, Rock Band 3 is it. If you even might have a friend who would want to play keyboard, I would suggest picking up the keyboard bundle, instead, so you can at least have access to one instrument's Pro Mode. If you already have a midi instrument, you might want to pick up a midi adapter from Mad Catz and a copy of Rock Band 3 and just use what you have. (Mind you, I haven't tried the Mad Catz adapter, yet, so I can't speak to that, either way.)

If, however, you heard about the Fender Squier Stratocaster Guitar that can be used to play Rock Band 3 and that's the driving reason you want to pick up the game, realize that the Fender Guitar you seek isn't going to be available until March of 2011. (Pre-orders begin January 1, 2011.) So, until that time, the only videogame with an actual stringed guitar controller will be the cheaper upstart Power Gig (See link to review below).


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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