Game Review: ‘Rock Band 3’ for XBox 360

*** Note – The following Rock Band 3 review does not formally review the Keyboard, the Pro Guitar peripherals or Pro Mode since they were not available to us at the time of the review. This has been reflected in the review score.***

Harmonix began taking the music genre by storm with their work on the initial Guitar Hero. After parting ways from Activision, they took the game to the next level by making drums and vocals the new standard.

They also came up with the idea of the Rock Band franchise as a platform rather than an annualized release like Guitar Hero has taken (Guitar Hero being on their sixth consecutive yearly release with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock) After two years since Rock Band 2, Harmonix looked to step up their game by adding an additional instrument in the keyboard to the band mix as well as a Pro mode to help players learn how to play guitar, drums and keyboard using music in the game.

They also took concepts from other spinoff titles such as Rock Band: Green Day like vocal harmonies and brought them to the fold as well.

Gameplay:

Not much has changed for Rock Band 3 for the standard band format. Two guitars and a drum set each have a cascading highway of notes down the screen as the vocals scroll across the top.

There is now of course the substitution of a new instrument in the keyboard which can even be used to play the guitar parts of older Rock Band music that hasn’t gotten the keyboard face lift.

Another addition comes in the form of challenges for each set list along with more meta challenges. These challenges unlock more stars and bonus spades or help players gain more fans respectively. Set list challenges are similar to those song challenges from Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock that encourage players to deploy a certain amount of overdrive during a song or hitting consecutive streaks.

These feel forced as these are things players should be aiming for regardless in the pursuit of hitting 100% through all their songs. The meta challenges feel a bit more rewarding as they break down song completion by difficulty, genre, game of origin or even band in some cases. Some are obvious like getting five stars in every song on Expert difficulty. Others are more surprising like renaming the band or successfully completing a Queen song.

One notable exemption from Rock Band 3 is the disappearance of Solos on guitar. They just don’t exist anymore. While notes remain the same from previous titles, there is no longer a bonus for completing specific sections with a higher percentage like there was in the past. Harmonix did decide however to keep the “Big Finish” at the end of songs to give that superstar feel to the players.

Story and Presentation:

The career mode of Rock Band 3 takes a different approach than previous versions of the game by presenting players with challenges. These challenges are a series of setlists where players must score a certain number of stars and bonus spades to unlock further locations. Each stop has one of three setlists players can choose from. These set lists can be predetermined. They can also be customizable or random based on certain genres or which game they originally came from.

This is one of Rock Band 3’s greatest strengths as it seamlessly integrates a player’s entire music collection together into one massive library that the game uses parameters to sort through to keep coming up with different playlists to go through. As a result, players don’t have to repeatedly play the same songs to progress as they had in the original Rock Band and even most recently in Lego Rock Band. Even without a preexisting library, the set up on the career mode helps players progress through it faster and puts an end to repetitive song choices.

The “Story” of the game’s career mode, not surprisingly, is fairly standard for the Rock Band series. Though it has been given a facelift from added mini in engine cut scenes featuring a player’s band, the story remains the same. Players progress through a series of gigs starting at a local level until they have enough fans to afford better modes of transportation until they become the world’s ultimate cover band traveling the world. Though the cover band concept is never mentioned, let’s be realistic. Players aren’t composing their own albums. They are just fighting for the real life position held by Mini-KISS as the world’s best cover group.

Graphics and Sound:

With each version of Rock Band comes a new level of polish. Characters look more and more refined and maintain a happy medium from over the top cartoony style of Guitar Hero or total realism. In addition to the more refined models comes more customization options for clothing on top of all previous designs and outfits being brought back. It is a little disappointing that these clothing and customizations couldn’t be carried over from the previous Rock Band files or at least unlocked from the start instead of being slowly unlocked through career mode.

The animations look crisper and smoother than the already stellar look of previous titles and include some great new visual effects during performances, save the big finish where the lead singer tosses poorly animated water on to the crowd. A lot of effort has also been put in to the game’s menu screens which are now fully animated using your band.

The band can also be found in short cut scenes before and after playlists in the career mode which are great substitutions for loading screens as they are fast and unobtrusive. They also do a great little job of adding that “on the road” feel to the game seeing bandmates passed out in vans and closing out bar tabs.

The 83 song setlist of Rock Band 3 helps bring some of the last big name songs people have been waiting to have a part of their Rock Band library. Bob Marley, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Ozzy Osborn’s “Crazy Train” and even “Free Bird” are finally all Rock Band songs. In addition, there is a varied set list meant to appeal to a more mainstream audience with lots of radio friendly hits.

Overall:

Hopefully Harmonix can continue their innovative and creative trend in the future, aided by the fact that they are not expected to launch a full Rock Band release every year and are able to take time to soak in their work and think of new ways to experience music games. Alongside Dance Central, this looks to be a fantastic quarter for the Boston developers.

Rock Band 3 follows the Rock Band formula closely but also isn’t afraid to reach further. Just the concept of using a game to teach real life skills is something many have dreamed about for the industry and while the Pro mode may not teach a player how to read sheet music, it is a start for those who are too intimidated to take the step any other way.

Rock Band 3 also maintains its status as the ultimate band party game as it allows for a truly massive library of songs (over 2000) as of this press time that a group of friends can choose from to enjoy together.

XBox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3 and Wii)

Developers: Harmonix

Publisher: MTV Games

Price: $59.99 (Game Disc), $129.99 (Keyboard Bundle with Game Disc)

Score: 8.0

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