* Prices may differ from that shown
This game currently costs £15 on amazon. That's just for the game, though - you'll also need special controllers to play it. Ideally, a guitar (£60ish), a keyboard (£70ish), drums (with optional cymbal attachments - £125) and at least one, possibly three microphones (about £30). Plus a second guitar, if you want (another £60ish). You'll probably also want a couple of microphone stands (£30 each) and a keyboard stand (not currently listed on amazon, but I believe about £20 if you can find one). Oh, and the new 'pro' guitar (£120). You can even import a smoke machine/strobe light gizmo for it (£100ish). And, of course, you'll need to pay to import the songs from previous Rock Bands (about £12, plus another £50 or so to actually buy the older games if you don't have them already), and download a lot of tracks from Xbox Live (£1.20 a pop, if memory serves me correctly). To be 'properly' set up will therefore now cost you around £600. All for a game in which you get to act out your mid-life crisis fantasies of being a rock and roll star. £600.
And you know what? It's worth *every goddamn penny!*
(I haven't spent all that just for Rock Band 3, of course. I'm not going near the 'pro' guitar, and apart from the brand new keyboard, I had all the other bits from earlier versions. Happily, instruments released for older versions still work fine on Rock Band 3, and Guitar Hero equipment will also work. I do have a friend who has spent more than £2,000 on Rock Band stuff, a fact I regard with a combination of awe and fear.)
So anyway. This is the latest release in my favourite gaming franchise. Rock Band 1 took Guitar Hero and added drums and vocals. Rock Band 2 tweaked it in pleasant ways. The Beatles Rock Band added harmony vocals to the mix. Lego Rock Band brought The Final Countdown and little else. And finally Rock Band 3 is with us - a synthesis of everything that's gone before, but with a keyboard as well. So now we can play Doors songs.
If you've played previous versions of the game, you'll know what to expect. The gameplay springs no surprises on us. As before, you follow the music onscreen, hitting the right button/key/drum on your controller as instructed, and are rewarded with points. Up to seven people can play at once, although only if two of them are doing harmony vocals rather than playing instruments. You can't have two guitars and a keyboard at the same time, although it would be difficult to see how they'd fit all that on the screen.
Guitar is still my first choice to play with, especially if I'm playing alone, and is probably the easiest to pick up - the functionality hasn't changed much since Guitar Hero, although 'hammer-ons' are much easier to get right in this version (that will probably only mean something to you if you've played earlier versions).
Drums are tougher and more physically involving, with four drums and a bass pedal to keep track of (I don't have cymbals, alas). I don't really find the drum parts as much fun as the guitar parts, so haven't practiced enough to get good at drumming. Perhaps because of the effort involved, and the fact that they make a bit of noise when you whack them with your drumstick, these tend to take me out of the game slightly - I don't actually want to be able to play a musical instrument, and if I did I wouldn't be faffing around with a computer game.
The microphone is great, and you soon get the hang of following the pitch of the singing onscreen. I tend only to sing when I'm playing with other people (in the same room, not online). It's weird sitting there singing by yourself in front of your TV, like you're obeying the commands that some electric god is beaming to you, so I save singing for when my friends are around and we're all getting drunk on Polish beer. Solo vocals do seem a bit easier in this version than in previous releases - I've found myself easily getting five stars on songs on expert difficulty that I struggled with in the past.
Harmony vocals can obviously only be done in multiplayer, and are extremely difficult if you don't know how to do them. Most of the time the backing singers just end up singing along to the main tune even thought the screen is clearly telling them to pitch it higher or lower. It's better suited to duets than harmonising, although there aren't many duets available.
The keyboard is the new kid on the block. It's a short, rather stubby keyboard that can either be worn with a strap like a guitar or balanced awkwardly across the knees (this is my preferred option). It feels nice to play, and of the instruments it's the one that feels most 'real'. It is difficult to pick up, especially if you're used to playing a guitar, as the onscreen tracks looks very similar for both. My main criticism is that it's difficult to go into 'overdrive' (a points multiplier you earn by doing well). Activating overdrive is easy on all the other instruments, but the keyboard makes you hit a little button that's not terribly well placed, which mean you'll likely lose your place on the keyboard and end up dropping notes. Another criticism is that they've insisted on creating keyboard parts for songs with very little actual keyboard action in them, leaving you sitting there doing nothing for long stretches in songs like Radar Love.
The visual style of the game is great, perhaps a little more restrained than in earlier Rock Bands, but still stylish without getting in the way. You'll usually see your self-made band playing in front of a crowd, but occasionally you get some quite inventive music video visuals (all generic, sadly there's nothing to match the Beatles version and its bespoke videos for individual tracks). My one criticism of the visuals is that the faces for the band members now look unpleasant - you can put a lot more effort into creating your band this time round, but somehow mine all ended with faces like troll dolls.
There are a few annoying little cut scenes at the beginnings and ends of playlists (most of which seem to include a dislikable long-haired fat bloke who seems to latch onto your band as a roadie. Given that my band consists of delectable, near-nude ladies with troll-doll faces, this comes across as creepy). Sadly the amusing bits of band trivia and mocked up album covers that used to come up when songs loaded have gone. That said, loading times seem faster in this version.
The single player bits aren't nearly as well developed as they used to be, which is a pity. Certainly, you can easily play any song in the game. But the old 'tour mode' and 'challenges' have gone, replaced by a series of 'career goals'. These do include a kind of mini tour, but every player has to follow exactly the same route, and you can complete it with pitifully few gigs. The value of the older style, which contained dozens of individual venues, each with several setlists, was that it made you play every song in the game several times over (as did the 'challenges', effectively setlists linked by a common theme). I'm not going to be anything like as familiar with the Rock Band 3 songlist, as it isn't going to force me to play the songs that I don't immediately enjoy. This feels like a bad deal for some of the less interesting bands in the game - no one's going to play Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley out of choice.
The lack of a tour mode isn't terrible, but it is disappointing, especially since Lego and Beatles Rock Band were both so heavily story driven. It's a shame that we won't get to focus on new Rock Band 3 tracks so much, because there are now so many songs that it's very difficult for any of them to stand out. With near-complete setlists for four Rock Band games, plus all the downloads, I have more than 300 tracks to choose from. If nothing else, this leads to difficulties in navigating your vast rock treasure trove, and although they've made efforts to improve the song selection screens, it's still not as easy as it needs to be.
And the new music? Well, it's the usual combination of stone cold classics; things you don't really know but grow to like; and utter, utter crap. The first category includes both Bohemian Rhapsody and Free Bird, which would be more than enough, but it also throws in Rock Lobster, Here I Go Again, Space Oddity and Sister Christian. The second category includes things like Werewolves of London or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. And the last category includes drivel by bands like The Smiths and INXS, both of whom would have been relegated to the status of 'embarrassing footnote' if there was any kind of sanity in the world. It does seem that the songs selected are putting more emphasis on 'classic rock' now, perhaps reflecting the fact that middle aged men are probably a) the demographic who can afford all this; and b) likely to be most susceptible to its charms.
Harmonix also pulled out all the stops as far as downloadable content was concerned - the weeks after this game was released saw good sets made available by the likes of The Doors, John Lennon, the Bee Gees and Johnny Cash. They've also released souped-up Rock Band 3 versions of certain older songs, including some of the Queen stuff. Annoyingly, you have to pay full price to download them, even though you already paid for the song once.
It's unclear what kind of future music games face. Guitar Hero is no more, and while this leaves Rock Band with no competition, it is ominous. I suspect there won't be a Rock Band 4, just more and more downloadable content. There are rumours of more band-specific releases, like The Beatles and Green Day ones we've already seen (I didn't buy the Green Day one, obviously). If those happen I hope they make them compatible with the main game. I like Beatles Rock Band, but I don't play it nearly as often as the main version. Sixty five songs, even by The Fab Four, can't compete with 300+.
Still, for the moment I'm more than happy with Rock Band 3. It has effortlessly stepped in to replace the earlier versions as the chosen party game for me and my painfully fashionable friends. It ought by rights to be a profoundly embarrassing experience; instead it's life affirming in a way no other game has been since Samba de Amigo.
Rock Band 3
*Please note that I do not have the Pro Guitar instrument, so I will not be giving my opinion on it. I do, however, have pro drums/keyboard so I can give my thoughts on that.
The music game has sadly been falling into decline once again. From the two blockbuster hits Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band 1, which sold in the millions, we're slumping through games which barely manage to scrape in at half of those sales. But now Harmonix, arguably the guys who brought the genre back with GH1, are giving us the next installment of their series, Rock Band 3. They are hoping to inject life back into this decaying genre with new features and instruments. Will it sell out a stadium, or leave fans wanting a refund?
The first thing to remember about the Rock Band franchise is how much music backs it up already. It has close to 2000 songs available with its main music store (for stuff from the big bands), it's 'Rock Band Network' where bands with less demand can author their tracks and upload it to a store themselves, and the exports from the various games before Rock Band 3 like LEGO, Green Day and Rock Band 1. It's definitely more of a worthwhile purchase if you tap into the game's catalogue of music, but it's obviously not essential unless you get bored with RB3's disc songs quickly.
Rock Band 3 has pretty much what you expect from a music game. It comes with a quickplay feature, where you can jam through all the 83 disc songs plus any of your DLC without having any kind of progression, a career mode which I'll discuss later, and practice modes for you to get better at your chosen instrument, as well as the extras like leaderboards for local and global scores. Whats changed is accessibility. Now, rather than returning to previous menus to drop out of the game, you can just press start and drop out in a flash. It's much more convinient for those party situations. You can also change your difficulty, character and other options in this menu too, making it much more intuitive. You can also change difficult and turn on other options in the middle of a song, which is helpful.
One of the big new features of RB3 is the new instruments. On top of the standard Guitar/Bass, Drums and Vocals, you can now go Elton John and play Keyboard. The sturdy model made by Madcatz has 24 keys in total, as while you can just use five keys for a normal, guitar style mode, you can also use all 24 keys in Pro mode. It's a daunting task, especially on Hard/Expert, but a helpful trainer mode will teach you the basics of actually playing Keyboard. You'll be soon jamming to Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting in no time, though you will need to put a lot of time in to get technique, hand co-ordination and speed right. RB3 shows these keys on screen by shifting coloured lanes, which makes it easier to read no doubt. It's a challenge, but making progress is rewarding.
Of course, Keys doesn't just get the pleasure of Pro mode. You can also play Guitar/Bass on Pro, where you pick up one of the models of guitar and play with either up to 102 buttons on the Mustang, or real strings on the Squire in March. I haven't got it personally, but having seen it in action, it requires a ton of dedication to learn and master. Perhaps the easiest Pro Mode comes from Pro Drums, which adds three cymbals to the mix. It takes time to learn the difference between a cymbal and tom note, but it's kind of fun once you get the hang of it, if not really that different to normal mode. Also, returning from Bealtes and Green Day are Harmonies, where up to three people can sing the different vocal parts.
It's worth noting that the amount of songs with Pro Support on Keys/Guitar/Bass is limited. All 83 songs have Pro Guitar and Bass, but considering only 60 songs support Keys, you get fewer songs to key to. On top of that, Harmonix isn't charting every future DLC with Pro Guitar/Bass, which is understandable I guess but also limiting. The good news is that every single song on both the disc and music store support Pro Drums somehow. It's great, though because HMX hasn't charted Pro themselves, rather the game has, there are some charting oddities. The worst cases come from early RBN songs, which chart tom rolls to cymals, making for an awkward excercise.
The engine is definitely at its tighest on Rock Band 3. The strum limit, a feature which would tighten the timing window for sections with incredibly fast strumming i.e. Visions bass, is gone and the elite players can sleep easier now knowing it's possible to hit those. However, a couple of new features are a bit half-assed. Taking cues from Gutiar Hero, new trill/strum lanes populate some songs, and while the strum lanes work okay, the trill lanes are darn near impossible to hit, making FCs much harder than they should be. There's also a drum roll mechanic which, again, is obnoxiously hard to hit and makes FCs more difficult. Thankfully, only songs on RB3 and DLC released from now on will feature these mechanics.
There is kind of a dual-career mode in Rock Band 3. The short-term career comes from the 'Road Challenges', where you play setlists of songs with a specific goal attatched to them. These goals can range from deploying overdrive as many times as possible to hitting the notes in a particular section. It's here where having DLC will be beneficial, as custom setlists are created to use such as a 'random 1990s setlist' or even a 'Weezer setlist', otherwise you'll be stuck playing the disc-songs. However, this career mode feels half-baked, as in the end the challenges all boil down to just hitting the notes, and the road challenges can be completed in about 4 hours.
The long-term career comes from career goals. There are dozens of special challenges which you can perform, such as getting 5 stars on every RB3 song on a certain instrument, to htting all the phrases in T-Rex's 20th Century Boy, to getting a 100 note streak. Completing goals gives you fans, which in turn unlock more items of clothing for your character. Some goals even give you clothing too. Some of them are simple, while others can be demanding, such as getting 5* on every RB3 song on Drums. You don't have to be in a specific mode for these either-just doing quickplay can unlock the challenges. There's even special goals created for DLC and Imports, for example, getting 5* on Welcome to Paradise by Green Day unlocks Billy Joe's Iconic guitar he used in the Dookie era. These challenges take decidedly longer, noticably because you basically have to play RB3's disc songs on every instrument.
Unfortunately, the new character system, while boasting a ton of new and old clothing, is let down by the new system of unlocking clothing. The character creator couldn't be more robust, featuring mechanics which let you change your character's facial features right down to nose size. It's just when it comes down to clothing your character, you may be out of luck. Like I said, clothing and instruments is unlocked by completing challenges. However, some clothing requires completion of Pro challenges, meaning if you haven't forked out on the expensive new tech, you'll be out of luck. I much preferred the money system in Rock Band 1/2.
Another mistep is online. For starters, competitive modes are gone completely, so there's no score dueling if you wanna test your skills. The other problem is doing random quickplay. The problem lies in the fact that you can basically all pick songs at once, and it will put it into a setlist. However, you can also delete songs from the setlist, and pick the same song as many times as you want. This leads to awkward moments when your song gets deleted, and someone picks Before I Forget a hundred times. One good thing is that if the randoms happen to leave before a song finishes, you can carry on playing (even if a big box saying who left is blocking the notes) rather than fail out.
Speaking of picking songs, the new organisation of picking music is iffy at best. You have a back menu in which you can sort by difficulty, band name, song name and how many stars you have on the song. There are also filters, however, which hide songs from each source, pro support and more. It feels clunky, and takes a lot longer to pick songs than it did on RB2. One good thing is that you can now rate songs, so if you wanna play more Bohemian Rhapsody and less I Can See for Miles, you can rate them from 1-5 lighters, 1 removing songs from random setlists and 5 giving them double the chance to pop up.
Rock Band 3 at first looks glamourous. The new characters all have fine details, as do the instruments and the arenas look as great if a bit familar from Rock Band 2. However, when you actually take a look at RB3, its animation feels recycled completely from Rock Band 2. Characters perform the same facial expressions, moves and singing from the previous game, making it look kind of stiff with the glossed up characters and arenas. One other thing to note is that now, when you enter a full combo on any instrument, the note highway turns blue. I personally haven't had problems with it, but some people have complained that it is distracting.
What ultimately saves RB3 from just being 'okay' is its song list. Comprised of 83 songs, the soundtrack runs the track of decades of hits. From Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic, to Slipknot's Before I Forget, to Ozzy's Crazy Train, to Phoenix's Lasso; there's bound to be something you will treasure on this setlist. The game also happens to have the most gems in a music game ever, such as Echo and the Bunnymen's Killing Moon and Roxette's The Look. The songs all have their strengths on each instrument too-Guitarists will lick up the frets with Freebird and Rainbow in the Dark, while Harmonists will be singing with the choir with Bohemian Rhapsody. No song is bad really, unless you have narrow-minded tastes in music. There's just too much good music in this game.
Sadly, Rock Band 3 falls short of its predecessors. For those who have time and paitence, the new Pro modes will give you value for money and may actually help you learn a thing or two. However, for those comfortable with their five coloured buttons, Rock Band 3 doesn't do much over its predecessor aside from cut off the DLC from Rock Band 2, and its new features are hit or miss. If you like Rock Band, and in particular have a lot of its DLC music, you may find it more worthwhile but those just getting into the genre may be turned off by its decided lack of polish.
What can I say... So many great times have been had playing this with my mates and having a few beers. It really is great fun and useable by literally everyone - girls, boys, mums , dads, girlfriends, boyfriends, kids. The main consensus of the Rock Band games is to use a plastic instrument as your controller and click the buttons on the instrument in time with the notes moving down the TV screen so it essentially feels like you are playing the song along with your friends in a real band!
I must admit sometimes it can get a bit stressful when you think the instruments are not responding but most of the time its just your timing is out! The new instruments in Rock Band 3 consist of a keyboard and you can also have 2 singers! The only bad points I can say is that they are a bit stingy on good songs and most of them I have never heard of e.g ROCK LOBSTER and Sister Christian... some of the songs had us all in stitches especially as we had people trying to sing the songs we had never heard of. The only other bad point I can say is that it can take quite a bit of galavanting switching between instruments if you want to change around. You have to like log everyone out of their gamer profiles and log back in again... it can be quite annoying but when you are actually playing away it really is great fun!!
The game consists of the normal touring around various countries playing different songs from each era. The good thing about Rock Band 3 is that most of the songs during the tour you can actually pick where as in Rock Band 2 you were forced to play set lists. Most of the ones you come across now you can choose but its era based so for example you can only choose songs from the 60s, 70s or 80s.
The game itself is quite fairly priced however the instrument costs can soon add up.!