It's been hard being a music game fan for the past couple of years with all of the over-saturation in the market with multiple titles from Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I say it's been hard because it's very frustrating trying to defend some of the decisions that the players in the music game genre makes. Personally, I usually side with Rock Band and point out the flaws of the Guitar Hero side, but recently, Harmonix is starting to show its weaknesses. Thankfully, Harmonix has gone back to promising the idea of a 'platform' for the music game with Rock Band 3, but like the first Rock Band needed a Rock Band 2 in 2008, does Rock Band 3 need a Rock Band 4 in 2011? I hope not.
First of all, you might be wondering why I'm calling them 'music games' instead of 'rhythm games.' Well, I think music games are a sub-genre of rhythm games, where the object of the game is to play music literally, whether through a peripheral or real instrument, and that would define Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Other games in the rhythm game genre would include something like Parappa the Rapper or Rhythm Heaven. I would delve into these semantics more, but that's for another article. Anyway, on to the review.
Let's talk about the most obvious addition to the series first, the keyboard peripheral. Honestly, it feels like the first time I played Rock Band with this controller, mainly because I have never really tried to play the instrument before. Though, I'm talking about Pro mode, not the regular mode of the keys, which is very easy to me and boring, but with Pro mode, it's very challenging and I can actually transition my skill with the peripheral to an actual piano. Not only that, but I can also connect the keyboard peripheral to my laptop with a MIDI output cable and practice that way or create my own music with a program of some sort. It took me a while to get used to playing the keys, but that story is for another series of 'Diary of the Rookie.'
I can't comment on the Pro drums or Pro guitar, so I'm just going to talk about the gameplay and design next. I think the best addition to this was the drop-in/out feature that can be used anywhere in the game. Doing a Road Challenge and your friend wants to help? No problem, just connect a peripheral and have him press start and he's there. Another slight change that had a big impact is the new rating and recommendation system the game has for songs. You can rate all of the songs in your library, and whatever you rated higher, the game will recommend similar songs from the Rock Band music store. Unfortunately, there is still not an option to delete/hide songs from the on-disc setlist, but you can rate them 1-star so they won't show up in random setlists quite as often.
Speaking of random setlists, you won't have to worry about them much anymore, since in the new Road Challenges that have replaced the World Tour, you have three setlist options for each city. They usually consist of a pre-made setlist, a random setlist and a custom setlist, or some combination of two of those and one other. What I really liked is that it will incorporate the downloadable content into the Road Challenge setlists. For instance, I downloaded the Billy Joel pack they had available and now a 'Random Billy Joel Setlist' will appear in Road Challenges.
Along with the Road Challenges, there are also Career Goals that you can fulfill. Mostly all of them are quantitative, like 'play all the warmup songs on guitar' or 'get a 500-note streak on bass.' Just because their quantitative doesn't mean they can't be interesting though, some of the previous DLC actually have goals that unlock in Rock Band 3. A couple of goals that my DLC unlocked was 'Dave Grohl Band' which had me play 5 songs from any band that includes Dave Grohl as a member, and 'Face Melter' which had me play 3 metal songs from the 80's. The best thing about these goals is that you're always working on them no matter what mode you're in on the game. For example, if you just happen to play all of the warmup songs while doing a couple of Road Challenges or even in quickplay, that goal will be completed.
Overall, Rock Band 3 is a godsend for fans of the series as far as added features and design goes... but there are some flaws and missing parts. The two-player Score Duel and Tug-of-War modes are completely gone, and the exports for Rock Band 1 and 2 have even more missing songs from the export than the first transition from 1 to 2. There is also the fact that many fans are angry at Harmonix for repackaging some of the pre-RB3 songs into downloadable content in the Bon Jovi pack and Queen (RB3 "Enhanced") pack. People who have bought DLC before RB3's launch feel a bit cheated because they will have to buy those songs again if they want keyboard and harmonies, and then an additional fee if they want the Pro guitar chart if it's available. In my opinion, I can understand the Pro guitar upgrade fee, but the keyboard and harmonies seems like something they would update on the original DLC rather than releasing another pack with the same songs on the marketplace. Another recent fiasco with the RB2 export is the Harmonix employees weren't included in the export, but was just released this week as a free pack. People assumed that since they didn't include them in the export, that they must have added keyboard and harmonies, right? Nope. Then why disclude them from the export? Seriously? Why, Harmonix?
Enough of my ranting about the flaws, time for...
Rock Band 3 is the absolute music game. The addition of Pro modes and great design choices make it the best option for any person to have as their 'platform' for music gaming. Harmonix has stated that their next outing may include improvisation and composition, so while Rock Band 3 teaches you how to play music, Rock Band 4 may teach you how to make music... but for now I'm very happy with Rock Band 3, and wouldn't mind waiting until next generation for the next installment in the series. Just wait, Harmonix... don't saturate the market anymore.
What I liked:
-The Setlist. Some of my favorites included: "Good Vibrations (Live)" by The Beach Boys, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by The Police, "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" by Filter, "Foolin'" by Def Leppard, "Midlife Crisis" by Faith No More, "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen and sooooo many more. If you don't like at least half of the songs on this setlist, then you just don't like music.
-The new career goals. They add for a lot of replayability and an incentive for me to try the other instruments.
-The keyboard! I actually know how to play the riff to 'Werewolves of London' now!
What I didn't like:
-Export fees. I don't even think I'm going to export the songs from Rock Band 1 and 2 if they're going to continue to re-release them as DLC and have us pay for it again, because there are a lot of songs from the games I'd want to play on keys that have them.
-No Supertramp. They added a keyboard and they still don't have any Supertramp? How is that possible?! Oh well, hopefully they will have DLC for them in the near future.