In 2005, Harmonix created a genre; five years later, they perfected it. Rock Band 3 doesn’t just bring new controllers in the form of the Pro instruments, it brings back life to a genre that many have claimed to be dead. How is that possible, though? Surely they couldn’t improve on the fantastic Rock Band 2 and expand the genre even more? Yes, they could. And it has been improved so much that Rock Band 2 pales in comparison with the third instalment in the series.
As you start the game up, you’ll notice a big change straight away: each player now has their own menu at the bottom of the screen, where they can drop in or out, choose characters, apply modifiers and change options. This is a sublime addition that makes the menu system a lot better. The game itself starts off in the usual way, you get to create a character and then start a band. There’s quite a bit of customisation here: first you’ll name your band, then create a logo, your personal character and you can even assign stand-ins so that you aren’t stuck with some random character singing or playing drums.
The gameplay is very similar to Rock Band 2; you have to hit the notes with a plastic instrument peripheral to keep a streak, collect Overdrive and get a good score on the song. You can simply choose Quickplay to play for fun, or you can start a new career as a band and rise to fame. The career mode this time round is much more focused; you aren’t thrown all over the place and it isn’t repetitive. Instead, a selection of Road Challenges are available, each with several songs. These will be arranged into setlists of two or three songs and you’ll travel to another venue between each setlist, as if you are playing actual gigs. To succeed you’ll need to get as many spades out of ten as you can in each song (the card symbol, not the tool).
What happened to the five star system, then? Nothing, it’s still there; the five stars you collect will be converted into spades at the end of the song. How about the other five spades that are to be collected? Well, these are gained by completing certain challenges in a song. These will range from being accurate in specific sections of songs, to reaching a target streak as many times as possible. There are many variations, of course, such as streaking only when you’ve activated overdrive or being accurate whilst you’re the band member in the spotlight. This spices the game up and makes playing a song even more fun.
If you’re playing with friends, the spades challenges will drive co-operation, such as having to activate Overdrive at specific points to keep it going for as long as possible. Each Road Challenge has three different merits available (bronze, silver and gold) and getting these will depend on how many spades you have collected through all of the songs. For example, you’ll need about nine out of ten on each song to get a gold rating. The better your rating, the more fans you’ll collect at the end. Fans act as XP, and you’ll need to collect them to effectively level up and get the next mode of transport.
What happens when you need a van to unlock the next Road Challenge, then? Here’s the brilliant part: completing the Road Challenge goals isn’t the only way to earn fans; there are many other goals available, which are very similar to trophies or achievements, only these ones will earn you fans so you can unlock the next vehicle. It’s a great way to mix up the usual dull career, where you just have to go through the songs to unlock the next and so on.
There are a wide variety of goals for you to complete, including instrument specific goals, downloaded content goals, band goals and many other miscellaneous goals. The structure is very much like a trophy list, except there are more goals and therefore more variety. Completing these will not only give you more fans, but will also give more clothing items, instruments and other perks. If you’ve selected a goal from the menu, you’ll be able to see your progress towards that goal instead of your star rating in the song (such as a box in the top corner showing your percentage if the goal is to get over 90%), this clarifies the goal and is a much better system than just working out what to do from a description.
Harmonix have refined Rock Band 3 so much that there’s literally no room for improvement; they’ve perfected every little thing that was missing from the previous games in the series. Anyone can drop in or drop out during a song at any time, change difficulty instantly or you can even continue after you’ve failed out – the HUD will fall away along with the score and it’ll just be you and the notes for the remainder of the song. There’s the new instruments of course, which means more keyboard or piano based songs, although some songs will be missing some instrument parts – Imagine by John Lennon doesn’t even have a guitar part! Don’t worry, though, if you complete the Guitar Immortal goal, you can play any keyboard part with a plastic guitar instead.
Vocal harmonies return in Rock Band 3; in the same manner as The Beatles: Rock Band, you can simply plug in up to three microphones and you’ll be able to harmonise with the other band members! It also looks much better, the notes look more colourful and the performance in the background looks great, with many visual variations and upgrades; the singer looks like he’s actually singing the song this time round. There are a few other little improvements that make the game much nicer to play, such as the track rewinding after you’ve pause so you have a few seconds to readjust.
There are of course, new songs; 83 of them to be precise. These offer a great amount of variation, and with everything from Good Vibrations to Du Hast, there’s sure to be something that will hit the right notes. All the DLC you’ve got will work in Rock Band 3 and you can export songs from the first two games, so you won’t have to worry about lacking music. The music itself has evolved, not just because you have many options to sort and filter songs, but also due to the fact that you’re able to rate songs, create setlists to save and then share. You can also see the individual difficulty for each instrument, which combined with all of these other improvements makes the music library the best it could be.
There’s still more options and modes available, such as drum freestyle, where you get to choose a type of kit and drum away merrily, or the expansive training mode where you can actually learn instruments if you have the new Pro peripherals or the regular drums. These take you through from basic actions to hardcore riffs and fills, which you can transfer to the real world on real instruments if you train enough. You can even learn any of the songs in the game with Pro guitar or bass. These features make Rock Band 3 not only a great music game, but a great music learning tool.
Rock Band 3 isn’t without its faults, though. It’ll sometimes freeze on the main menus if you try to do too much when it’s loading and you’ll sometimes lose track of time as you’re having too much fun. In all seriousness, the game runs flawlessly apart from the freezing issues on the main menu. Unlocking Road Challenges may be quite a challenge if you’re not very skilled at the game, but there’s really nothing to complain about. Rock Band 3 is near flawless and there’s so much on offer that you’ll be playing it for quite some time.
- Proof that the rhythm action genre is not dead
- Too many little improvements to mention
- Road Challenges are great fun, the spade system works well
- Great variation of tracks
- So much fun with friends
- Far too much fun
Rock Band 3 is what we’ve been wanting since the release of the first Guitar Hero; it’s what we’ve needed. The perfect music game is here, right now. It is so much more than a big track pack – there are so many improvements that there’s no knowing where Rock Band will go next. Playing the Road Challenges for the career is brilliant, just playing it is extremely fun and the training mode is fantastic. When you have a few friends round, Rock Band 3 is the best thing you can do with your time. Whether you like music, games or simply having fun, Rock Band 3 is for you.