- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
nlike its competitor, Activision, which has flooded the marketplace with “Guitar Hero” games to the point of overexposure, Harmonix has been a lot smarter about the number of titles being released under the “Rock Band” banner. Instead of a third installment last year, the company put out a game dedicated to the greatest band in the history of music, all while introducing a new gameplay mechanic (three-part harmonies) that has become a staple in every game since. Of course, “Rock Band 3” was always inevitable, and although it marks the second time that Harmonix has released two games in the same year (the first being “Green Day: Rock Band”), it’s so innovative in the progression of music rhythm games that it makes “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock” look even more pathetic in comparison.
Before you dive into some of the game’s newer features, however, you’ll need to take care of all the basics first, like creating a character, choosing your band name, and designing the logo. You can even create additional characters to fill out the rest of your band, or just choose from the game's roster of musicians as stand-ins for when you’re not playing alongside friends. In addition, all new outfits and items are now earned by completing band- and instrument-specific challenges that range in difficulty. Some are as simple as calibrating your TV, while others are as hard as the fittingly titled Obsessive Compulsive, which tasks you with hitting every note in the game. You can even track the progress of each challenge via the Goal Trackers menu so you know how close you are to completing each one.
A majority of the goals fall somewhere in the middle of the difficulty spectrum, with many unlocked just from playing through the game’s enjoyable set list. But if grinding through all 83 songs doesn’t sound too exciting (and why should it?), there’s also a Road Challenge mode that sends your band on tour in an attempt to broaden your fanbase and increase your popularity. Every challenge contains several stops along the way, and in addition to earning stars based on your performance, you'll also receive spades in exchange for completing certain in-song challenges like maintaining a streak or deploying Overdrive a certain number of times. Stars are then converted to spades (with a possible ten to collect at each venue), and depending on the number of spades you earn at the end of a challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a bronze, silver or gold medal.
It’s not perfect, but at least it gives the usual Tour Mode an interesting twist, as players are now forced to deal with a secondary challenge apart from their score. Unfortunately, it’s really nothing more than a footnote compared to some of the other features, like the inclusion of keyboards. This has been a long time coming for the music rhythm genre, and considering that “Rock Band” was the first to bring drums and vocals into the mix, it isn’t too surprising that they’re responsible for introducing keyboards as well. There are a couple different ways you can play the instrument – either lying flat on a table or stand, or slung over your shoulder with a strap like a keytar – and it even doubles as a fully-functional 25-key MIDI. Better yet, keyboardists can also play any five-lane guitar or bass part, opening up the entire “Rock Band” back catalog for a completely new experience.
And just from some of the songs included on “Rock Band 3,” it’s clear that the absence of a key-based instrument has been holding the series back from its full potential. But while the introduction of a keyboard is an excellent addition, the game’s biggest feature is undoubtedly Pro Mode. Too long have musicians in the industry complained that music games aren’t the same as playing a real instrument, but with the arrival of Pro Mode, that’s no longer the case, as it provides gamers the ability to develop real-world skills on the guitar, drums or keyboard while playing “Rock Band.” Instead of candy-colored notes, Pro Mode uses chord notations that, quite frankly, will confuse the heck out of anyone who’s not familiar with sheet music. (And even those who can will likely be intimidated by the fast-streaming notes.) Fortunately, Harmonix has included a fairly deep tutorial mode, but at the price of investing in the new Fender Mustang Pro controller, you better be serious about learning to play guitar, because it's not cheap.
Of course, all the cool features and instruments in the world don’t mean a thing if the soundtrack sucks, but Harmonix has compiled yet another great mix of music that includes songs both popular and obscure. There are a few tracks that don’t really belong (Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” sticks out like a sore thumb), but jamming to hits like Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is some of the most fun you’ll have all year. It doesn't change the fact that “Rock Band 3” is still just another music game at the end of the day, but at least Harmonix continues to innovate and evolve with each new installment, and that’s why they’re the best around.