Harmonix drop the ball a bit...
Here it is. The big one. Rock Band 3 arrived on our shores on the 27th October and I preordered it to come with the new keyboard controller. Now I’ve been excited about this for a long time as I’m a classically trained pianist so I was so looking forward to using the skills I’ve learnt from a young age in order to improve my game playing. Now having conquered the majority of Rock Band 2, this was always going to be high on my wishlist, so imagine my disappointment when Play.com decide to deliver the game late despite me booking it months in advance. I think I’m going to use Amazon from now on. Anyways, this is a review of Rock Band 3, not a condemnation of Play.com.
RB3 initally shows you the vast improvement of graphics available and the background city scapes are amazing and become very immersive once you’ve created all your characters. The character creation is an improvement on RB2 as there’s much more costumes available once you’ve created your characters and the adjustments you can make are more like the Smackdown games, which is a good thing. Problem is once you’ve created the character, you can’t tweak any appearance, it’s locked down and you’re stuck with it! The other fail on the character side is certain attires will only unlock with certain criteria. Unfortunately this includes pro keyboard, pro bass, pro guitar and pro drums; but I’ll come onto the Pro modes in a minute. Naturally if you don’t that that equipment, you can’t unlock it, so in my eyes, that’s a bit senseless.
The general gameplay is pretty much the same as RB2 except with a few additions. Drums have got a drum roll feature that creates a long string of notes whereby you can rattle off a section like you’re some kind of military drummer, guitars have got a tremolo section which is pretty much the same but on the guitar (a bit like the ghost notes in Guitar Hero) and they’ve introduced the harmonies seen in the Green Day version to the vocals. All good stuff, but unfortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends.
Remember how I said that I was classically trained to play the piano, well the first thing lessons teach you is correctly touch. Piano playing is all about finesse and poise, whereas in order to get the piano controller to recognise a note, you have to hammer the keys like you’re some kind of marionette with ADHD. Secondly if you just play the normal keys, the alternation on the blue and orange is ridiculous, much like on expert guitar because Harmonix haven’t catered for people who aren’t double jointed. I mean I know what I’m talking about here. I’ve grown up playing Chopin, so fast sections on a piano aren’t foreign to me in the slightest. But it’s not just the piano which suffers, its all the instruments, but seriously, this is not how you play a piano. Piano in italian means soft, and this is certainly not the case in rock band, as I found myself viciously hammering the keys like some stone handed chimpanzee in order to try and get the notes to register. It’s utter bullcrap and for someone who was after the first ever piano based game, found myself rather frustrated.
I did write in a previous article who I was excited about the setlist but in reality, the setlist is fucking awful, compounded by the fact that all the songs are tabbed badly…really badly. I’m not sure who decided to assign the notes but whoever did sincerely needs to lose their job. Casing point is “The Beast & The Harlot” by Avenged Sevenfold, a band of whom I saw live two weeks ago. The riff for the beginning on guitar and bass are completely wrong and despite several times recalibrating the controller, the notes they tell you to play do not reflect the rhythm of the riff whatsoever. It’s like you’re playing a completely different tune. When I did turn DOWN the sound and played through the song I was dismayed to see that 97% on Expert only warranted 4/5 stars. Now who the fuck implemented that? You’d like to think that a game so intensive on stats has people who’ve ascended further than GCSE maths wouldn’t you? But going back to the setlist, half the songs on it aren’t even rock! So how on earth did they manage to get into a rock simulation game? I don’t know who in the higher echelons of Harmonix has this bad a taste in music but I sincerely hope they get sacked. There’s two unknown songs in Spanish which nobody will know, there’s that scrunt Amy Winehouse on it with one of the most odious records ever, and Elton fucking John. HOW!?!? There are some good songs on it like Paramore, Queens of The Stone Age, Rammstein and Huey Lewis; but that’s not enough to balance out how much utter shtie is on the disc.
This brings me to my next point, I’m dubious whether it was done on purpose but the controllers now are less responsive than in RB2. The arrow for the vocals consistently drops off entirely meaning you cannot hit the target line at all regardless of how well you’re singing. This is exceededly frustrating as the game will continue and mark you down for doing badly when it’s the game’s interface itself which is fucking up.
The game also comes with “lessons” on how to play. Remember how you used to get annoyed from people being good at Guitar Hero claiming they were good guitarists? Well now this game “teaches” you how to play. Seeing that I’ve actually had piano lessons I was intrigued. What I found was absolutely no music theory whatsoever and what it was that you just have to react quickly to press the keys as they appear on the screen. You don’t learn why you play it, you just do it and frankly that’s shit. On piano you also have 25 notes in play so you have to react very quickly to the notes coming down. In reality, this is impossible. You cannot physically react to whatever the game throws at you and you find yourself scrabbling about the keys like a Tom & Jerry cartoon trying to get your hands into position in order to play it. Either that or you have to learn the actual song. I’d actually be more successful on Pro Keys if they threw sheet music at me because at least I can sight read to a degree, shoving small white incherent notes at me in hyperspeed isn’t going to make me a) learn it or b) get the right notes. I can totally see what Harmonix were trying to do, but it just doesn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, kudos for attempting the integration of music learning into gaming, but it just doesn’t mix properly. Plus the keyboard shifts back and forth like a roller skate on a sea faring yacht which totally screws up your positioning and reactionary stance where your hands go.
I was also led to believe that they were providing backwards compatibility with the DLC songs, i.e. previous DLC would have keys in them, which is not true. The songs now are being re-released with keys support but surprise surprise, you have to pay for them….again. I understand that this is business but is it necessary for these assclowns to cockslap the fans with more hard earned money? Plus the upcoming DLC has lost its way a bit. I have a huge library of DLC songs from a library of Avenged Sevenfold, Rise Against, 30 Seconds To Mars, Metallica, Iron Maiden and other assorted metal. Now with the keys support we have pap like Billy Joel and The Bee Gees. I know the Bon Jovi which came out was a nice touch, well almost. you can’t have the “best of” Bon Jovi without the song “Always” but still. It’s almost that because the piano is supported, they can’t release any metal, at which point I’d like to point out that Power Metal and Prog Rock have encompassed keyboards for decades yet instead of some decent Dream Theater and Dragonforce, we get the Bee Fucking Gees. Wankers.
But by far the worst part of this game is the multiplayer. The game has marketed itself as supporting 1-7 players. So that’s Guitar, bass, drums, 3x vocals, and piano. But try doing that online. If you have a guitarist and a bassist, a pianist cannot join the game. Similarly how are you meant to get 3 vocalists? If one vocalist is in the game, you cannot add any more. So why have so many harmony achievements? And when did a pianist get confused with a guitarist? I don’t remember seeing any paintings of Mozart with an electric guitar? Maybe the 7 player thing is solely for local play. Which falls over once you realise that assuming you can have 3 mics on one controller, you still need four more controllers for 7 players….and there’s only room for 4 controllers on one console. So I can only assume that 7 players is only possible on system link. This is a huge fail on Harmonix’s part as they have advertised this game to revolutionise the multiplayer experience, yet cannot properly implement a session to capacitate this.
Also the achievements are complete shit because half of them require buying the pro guitar, pro drums and pro keyboard. The keyboard is £59.99, the guitar is £129.99 and the drums are also £129.99. So once you’ve spent £320 on equipment you can get the remaining 50G. Hardly seems worth it. It’s almost as if this game was tailored for millionaires, with large front rooms, because all that equipment is not going to comfortably fit in an average front room.
In summary, the game itself is a competent game which is better enjoyed with a decent library of DLC songs, as the songs on the disc are truly terrible. The support for the peripherals is shite and the tabbing of the songs is shocking. I applaud the premise of teaching music instruments but in reality it just doesn’t work. In the battle between Guitar Hero and the Rock Band series, Activision (despite being dicks) have seriously closed the gap as without the piano instrument, Guitar Hero’s latest version would have beaten Rock Band 3. I’ll finish by saying that RB3 is OK. It’s not brilliant, but it’s not completely shite either. It’s just a very expensive game which could have been so much better had Harmonix pulled their fingers out their arses and spent more time making decent songs instead of masturbating over the fact that the keyboard is being released