Start A Band; Rock The World
Music video games, for me, have always been about experiencing music in new and interesting ways. The Rock Band franchise has allowed that possibility over the past several years. I can honestly attribute most of my more recent musical obsessions to the fine folks at Harmonix and the delightfully eclectic setlists that they’ve pieced together in their time. Rock Band 3 has again taken music gaming to a whole new level. They’ve crafted what is not just a music video game, but a marvelous musical experience.
One of the key pieces driving the evolution of the genre is the new keyboard peripheral. The keyboard revitalizes the series and gives longtime fans of rhythm games a brand new challenge to tackle. Harmonix did a good job transferring the act of playing keys onto a scrolling note chart that’s very similar to what you’d expect out of the series. Playing standard keys is as simple as hitting any of a group of five keys, almost identical to playing guitar. The real challenge comes into play while playing Pro Mode. Pro Keys charts the entire 25 key layout, and on higher difficulties, shifts the on-screen track at certain moments in order to accomplish that.
Pro Mode is not exclusive to the keyboards though. Pro Mode can be played on guitar, bass, and drums as well. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get my hands on one of the required Pro Guitar peripherals. Pro Keys and Pro Drums are exactly what they need to be, though. The goal of Pro Mode is to remove the abstraction of playing instruments as much as possible, and essentially have you play songs just as you would in real life. This is pulled off remarkably well. When jumping into Pro Mode for the first time, it’s hard to stop thinking about how insane it all is—yet it’s insanely fun at the same time. The game becomes even more rewarding when you nail a section on expert and realize that that’s exactly how the section would be played on real drums, or a real keyboard. The gap between fake instruments and real ones has been impressively bridged, and I can’t imagine where this genre could possibly go from here.
Even the game’s menus and UI have been reworked to be exactly what they need to be. A new overshell allows players to drop in and out at any time—even mid-song. Menu categories have been simplified, and options such as no-fail mode are always at your finger tips. Selecting songs has also never been easier with a new redesign, dubbed the “Music Library”. Potentially enormous song libraries are now sorted with ease. The option is given to layer on multiple sorting filters, which can help you to quickly find a keyboard-compatible pop song, that was made in the 90s, and that you’ve scored 5 stars on, for example. The menu changes all seem smart and exactly what needed to be done for the most part, even if they, at first, just appear to be dumbed down a bit.
The only aspect of the game that has been truly dumbed down is the direct competitive modes found in previous iterations. Dumbed down really isn’t even the right phrase, as they have been removed completely. There’s no more score duel, or tug of war; nothing like that. Rock Band 3 seems more focused on the cooperative band experience this time around, which I’ve always found more fun anyways. For some, this may be a big loss, though.
The career mode is handled a bit differently than in previous entries. There is a mode called “Road Challenges” that acts as your standard band touring mode. This mode even goes as far as to introduce a new “spade” scoring system. Spades are earned based on preset goals for each setlist. Said goals include things like keeping streaks, deploying overdrive as many times as possible, etc. This mode only lasts a handful of hours though, so you’ll eventually be left with the goals menu. The goals menu is a really great way to see which songs you’ve played and which of the many unique goals still need completing. Goals include anything from playing five songs by bands with Dave Grohl in them, to completing all of the Pro Keys trainers within the training section. Some are tied to achievements/trophies, but there is an endless stream of goals to complete beyond the ones tied to achievements. Goals can be earned online or off and within any game mode, which makes whittling away at them a natural process.
Experienced plastic-instrument gurus will certainly find a ton to dig into here, especially when you throw in the great on-disc setlist. Rock Band 3 is very obviously designed with the everyman in mind, though. Even if you only have an interest in rock music in general, Rock Band 3 will likely have you singing and strumming with friends online, or off, for a very long time to come. This may be the third entry in the series, but Harmonix's initial message remains as alive as ever: Start a band; rock the world.