How many buttons is too many?
Though my love for rhythm games never flails, no one can deny the hefty amounts of sneering and contempt that come from self labelled ‘seasoned musicians’ who just sit in the corner and write songs about finding life too hard. One person has even gone to the extent of trying to mock me by saying that singing on Rock Band is nothing like actual singing. Even developers can’t deny the strings against buttons campaign seems to exist against gamers. Enter Rock Band 3, possibly the hugest middle finger Harmonix could’ve presented to realists…attached to a suitably massive hand to pluck the cash right from your bank.
The title itself can be somewhat misleading, as the 83 track set-list that comes bundled with Rock Band 3 is perhaps the most diverse to date. For every ‘Anthrax’, there’s a ‘Huey Lewis’. For every ‘Stone Temple Pilots’, there’s an ‘Amy Winehouse’. Classic Rock, Metal, Pop and even Reggae tracks walk a dangerously fine line in such a franchise, yet the funky and catchy karaoke hits melded with the heavier rock mashes provide a fantastic array of tracks for any audience, especially those who want to rock together.
Though the setlist the third time around should be the games main draw, in no way doesRock Band 3 enforce it upon you, and the new gameplay format allows you to give your whole music collection its merits. Once again, you are able to transfer the songs from your Rock Band library to build up a more personal and extensive experience. Gone are the days of touring the world and cycling through countless countries trying to find a song you and your friends wish to play just to earn you some more cred, tours are now scaled down to ‘Road Challenges’. Consisting of several destinations, once your band arrives at one, you’re given a choice of three set-lists. One will usually be a pre-made set-list consisting of purely Rock Band 3 tracks. The other two, however, may be random or customisable set-lists from certain decades, genres or even other Rock Band games. The level of choices players can make on tour almost styles the experience on how they wish to play, and the more streamlined way to play groups of songs makes it easier for friends to earn fans and accomplish goals to songs of their liking.
The ‘Road Challenges’ are however the only major game mode, and can be rather short to dedicated rockers. Each musician does however have career challenges that can be either completed on the road or in ‘Quickplay’. These challenges can range from note streaks, score challenges or simply beating songs with a decent star rating, and are your main source of fans and unlockables. The vast array of career challenges available drives forth the replay value in Rock Band 3, and some can even be made through downloadable content meaning that the minor quests for instrument perfection are almost never-ending.
Has breathed new life into a game genre that now feels like it has some evolution left in it.
It was only a matter of time before a new instrument had to enter the ring in order to freshen up what’s becoming a cash sink of a genre, and the keyboard has made its introduction to synth up you instrument store room. A 25 key replica is incredibly sturdy and light, making it excellent to play on your lap, office table or even as a keytar. 5 white keys are strictly dictated as the standard colours for ‘Key’ mode, and a touch sensitive bar on the side allows players to adjust tones through sustained notes. It’s even possible to play bass and guitar segments on it, yet after years of playing replica guitars, it’s a difficult controller to get your head around at first. It’s hard to resist firing up the synth hits when you first lay your hands upon it, and a few bouts with ‘Cold As Ice’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ leaves you leaping with a weird sense of joy when you start stringing together even the smallest combination of notes.
With enough dedication and hard graft on the new keyboard peripheral, players may even feel confident enough to brave the new ‘Pro’ modes on offer. Bragging the fact that ‘Pro’ mode aims to replicate playing the songs on offer as realistically as possible, Pro mode is the next best thing to playing on stage in front of litter missiles. ‘Keyboard Pro’ mode uses all the keys in a perplexing barrage of notes and chords. To say it’s bewildering is an understatement, and it’s clear from the start that this is truly a mode for those who are both up for a true challenge and wish to learn the instrument for real. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart to jump into and those impatient one who believe they can slay ‘Pro’ mode may find themselves trading in their keyboard sharpish. With the amount of trainers for both instrument and song, however, it’s easy for those keen for a challenge to be drawn into the simulation frenzy of notes.
Unfortunately, Rock Band 3 won’t be bundled with the accessory, and as such will force much shelling out to accommodate for it-a massive shame seeing as the soundtrack compliments the instrument so well. The keyboard isn’t the biggest bruise to the wallet however, with those wishing to enter Pro Guitar mode having to fork out almost £300 to purchase the replica six-string Fender Stratocaster. With the ‘Pro’ challenges locked before you dare part with your cash, big parts of the experience feels missing, and it may be worth waiting until both the price goes down and more downloadable songs implement the mode.
Some minor flaws also creep in when you’re performing. Character animations don’t flow nearly as well as they once did in the original titles, and the audience don’t jump in to sing lyrics with you or clap you into epic creschendos of songs. A lot of attention has been put into the band you travel with however. The character creation is much more extensive yet in no way confusing, adding personalised stand-ins to accompany you throughout is simple, and having your own rock avatar strolling through menus and starring in cutscenes is a nice touch that never fails to impress. The presentation is spot on and impressively crafted both artistically and practically, with all four players being clearly reviewed after songs, being able to drop out and drop in with any instrument easily caters for multi-player, and a number of clever filters on song menus insure that you can find a song you can play easily as well as peruse the online catalogue of 2000+ songs with little stress.
Though it doesn’t differ hugely from Rock Band 2, the latest addition to the franchise adds minor tweaks that can truly allow it to stand as an experience worth investing it, even for those who don’t wish to shell out for any new replica instruments. The diverse soundtrack is entertaining to play be it alone or with pals and the new ‘Pro’ modes encourage extra discipline to challenge those who have mastered everything button tapping has to offer. Starting a savings fund for the array of realistic extras really depends on the buyer’s dedication to learning an instrument, but should they wish to put the money forward, it’s a purchase that those without a mortgage won’t regret. Rock Band 3 is almost as much a learning platform as much as it is a video game, and has breathed new life into a game genre that now feels like it sti
ll has some evolution left in it.
The Bad: Incredibly expensive to unlock the full experience, Less audience participation during tracks