WPR Reviews: Rock Band 3
Check out our review of Harmonix’s latest Rock Band game. Can it top Rock Band 2?
Rock Band 3 is the latest iteration of the music game franchise from Harmonix. It contains 83 songs from a variety of music genres, and has now introduced a keyboard peripheral and a pro mode for all instruments, along with a 102 button guitar and next year, a proper six stringed Squier Stratocaster. Harmonies also make their first appearance in the main game series. I don’t own the keyboard or the pro guitar, so I will be talking about the core game.
Gameplay wise, it’s the same style you’ve come to expect from any Guitar Hero or Rock Band game. If you don’t how they play by now, read this. Harmonix have added in the count in feature from The Beatles: Rock Band, so songs don’t count back in when you unpause the game. They have also implemented the drop in and drop out system that recent Guitar Hero games have used, including the ability to change difficulty or turn on no fail mode on the fly.
The main change Harmonix have made is by replacing career mode with road challenges. The goal is the same (to become a world famous band), but instead of going through city to city playing select songs and a mixture of preset and custom setlists, you now go on one big road tours, and later world tours and pick from 3 different types of setlists, 1 of which is always custom. It’s a much more relaxed affair, as you always have the choice of what song you want to play, which means you won’t be forced to play songs you don’t want to (Rehab comes to mind).
Unlike previous games, all 83 songs are available from the start, so you would never have to play road challenges if you didn’t want to. All you earn from them is fans, and there are other ways to gain fans, which I will explain in a moment. Each road challenge contains a number of spades to earn, through your star rating on each song and additional challenges in a setlist such as deploying overdrive as many times as possible. At the end of a road challenge, you are given a bronze, silver or gold rating based on your number of spades. It adds an extra level of difficulty for purists but there are no extra rewards for getting a gold medal other than an achievement/trophy, so I don’t see the reason why the system exists in the first place. Sometimes, the additional challenges are unfair, with spades taking a long time to earn and especially on streak challenges, easily missed.
Finally, there is a goals system in place where achieving certain feats such as getting 3 stars or more on many songs will reward you with fans. This in turn will make your band more famous. As a semi-competent player, I quickly rose from garage band to headliner within a few hours of playing. Throughout the game, there is no real level of challenge for returning players unless they seek it themselves. The fans system is purely cosmetic however as it only opens up the later road challenges.
Harmonix have also made a radical overhaul of character/ band customization. Created characters’ faces and body shapes can now be modeled in detail, which I gladly welcomed, because the preset faces in previous games didn’t offer much choice and every character looked like they were on steroids, where as now you can make a fat guy if you want to. Where as the previous games also used money as a system for buying new clothes, instruments and the like, everything is now unlocked via goals, although there is a healthy selection of items available from the start. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, I was able to dress every character I’ve made exactly like I wanted them to from the beginning, where as previously this would have required me to earn money for each character. On the other hand, some items are unlocked via instrument specific goals, so I can’t use any of the items unlocked by drum goals for example. I think the best method would have been to implement this new system into the old one. You could buy the clothes you wanted at the time, or unlock them for free later on.
Those are the major changes to the game. Aside from that, music selection has been made easier, as you can now use much more advanced filters. There is also a party shuffle mode, which selects random songs as well as the ability to save setlists. Songs can now also be rated from 1 to 5 candles, and this will influence how often they appear in random setlists. Handy if you’re like me and don’t want to play an Avenged Sevenfold song for example. As always, the game’s soundtrack is entirely down to personal preference. A lot of genres have been represented this time around, perhaps even more so than previous games. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the majority of the music. As with any of these games, aside from enjoying the gameplay, you’re only going to find the game fun to play if you like the music. Check out the soundtrack list here. That being said, my experience was better because I had my Rock Band 1/2 and DLC tracks. I would say personally as an alternative/rock fan, I enjoyed about 70-80% of the tracklist in Rock Band 3.
In conclusion, I considered Rock Band 2 to be the best of these games until Rock Band 3. It further refines the experience by making features more enjoyable to use, and indeed, the theme here seems to be just to enjoy the music, rather than getting frustrated by the game’s shortcomings and it does have these, but they’re not enough to stop it being a great game. Simply put, Rock Band 3 is the best value for money music game of its type that you can get on the market right now. The Beatles: Rock Band still has the best ever music game soundtrack though. Look out for a review from a Keyboard perspective in the future.
I played Rock Band 3 on Xbox 360 using a standard 5 button guitar to complete the game’s road challenges. I also took it to a party where I was able to try out harmonies/vocals and drums.