Developer Harmonix has long been the standard bearer for the music genre of games. Since the release of Guitar Hero, which they developed in conjunction with Red Octane, Harmonix has blazed the trail that all other developers have followed. Recently though the music genre has been a bit stale. While titles like DJ Hero have certainly done something different with the niche, the two main franchises, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, have been floundering a bit. Something new and revolutionary needs to come out and blaze a new trail for music games to follow and Harmonix has once again stepped up to the plate delivering what can only be described as their masterpiece.
Rock Band 3 is the party game that millions of players around the world have grown to love with a windfall of improvements that make the game the deepest and yet most accessible game to date. The core formula stays intact, players will still play along with color coded “notes” with their assembled arsenal of plastic instruments but Rock Band 3 adds a brand new instrument to the arsenal, the keyboard, and it is as awesome as you think it is. Playing the keyboard is utterly satisfying and a welcome change of pace from the standard instruments of guitar, bass and drums. It also is a welcome addition for parties that do not have a singer or a drummer. Sadly there is no support on the XBOX 360 for more than four simultaneous players on one console, so the “full” band experience is relegated to XBOX Live.
In addition to the keyboard, the campaign has received a drastic overhaul. Gone is the globe trotting and sometimes tedious World Tour mode of previous titles. In its place is a menu driven challenge/goal system that is something of a hybrid of the old World Tour mode and Rock Band 2’s challenge system. Hundreds of challenges await players and while it is far deeper than anything from the previous games it also does not feel as daunting an undertaking to attempt playing them.
The core game focuses on a series of Road Challenges that basically simulate the rise of a small garage band to a worldwide phenomenon. These Road Challenges come complete with a series of amusing animated cut-scenes that feature the player’s created band. I found it quite amusing to watch my on screen persona party on a rooftop and end up passed out pool side. Aside from the Road Challenges though each instrument, including vocals has a deep progression that asks players to do a variety of tasks, like five star all the songs on a particular difficulty, or hit 90% of the notes on a certain number of songs in a particular difficulty. These additional progressions are the carrot that will keep players playing after they finish the Road Challenges and best of all, they are all designed to help players improve over time, so by the time you finish with those medium difficulty challenges you will be ready to move on to the easiest of the hard difficulty challenges.
Unlike any previous music game before it, Rock Band 3 encourages its players to improve through constant practice. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise though because the biggest new addition, Pro mode, is something that will require a lot of practice. Pro mode is the culmination is the culmination of everything that Harmonix has been trying to do since the first Guitar Hero game.
The new keyboard and pro-modes revitalize a stale genre.