To say that Rock Band 3 is simply another sequel to the title that essentially changed rhythm games forever would be an extreme understatement. Sure, it still relies on the tried and true gameplay that has been a staple of the series since the original Guitar Hero, but that is where the similarities end.
Besides a slew of new features that will be a welcome change to long time fans of the series, the biggest shock is that Rock Band 3 is trying to be so much more than just a rhythm game. It’s attempting to be the very first rock band simulator ever created, actually teaching people how to play everything from guitar, to drums, to keyboard. Read on to hear my hands-on impressions and understand how Harmonix is prepared to revolutionize the genre like never before.
I could sit here and list off all the new features that Rock Band 3 brings to the table, but most of them are things the developers have already been hinting at in previous games, or things the community has been asking for. These changes include 83 brand new songs and the ability to have up to seven instruments playing at once: guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and 3 vocalists.
Other features include the ability to drop in/out of a game or song at any time without interfering with anything, a new character creator which has yet to be revealed, and the ability to create custom set lists. These lists can then be saved for later, and shared online with friends. You can even challenge your friends to beat your best set list scores.
One of the most welcome changes is the inclusion of an advanced filtering system to help search through your extensive music library. To date, Harmonix has released 1500 songs on the Rock Band network, and they plan to have 2000 total by the time Rock Band 3 comes out. That’s a lot of music, and hence it can be really tough to look through it all to find a song you want to play.
With the new filtering system, you can specify the difficulty level, song length, song location, decade, genre, and instrument support for the track you want to jam out to. That’s a ton of different options, and it should make it a lot easier to find something when you are in the heat of the moment and are ready to rock out.
All of these are small changes though, and don’t compare to the much larger ones Harmonix has made, the first being the inclusion of a keyboard. Like all the other instruments, the keyboard will have multiple difficulty settings that will gradually get you used to playing the 25 key, true to life instrument. Of course, there’s no point in having a new instrument if there’s not any songs that include it, so the developers have specifically chosen a large selection or appropriate songs, like Bohemium Rhapsody, that do have a keyboard part.
If you don’t feel like going out and buying the Rock Band specific keyboard, you will be able to buy a special MIDI adapter that allows you to use any MIDI equipped keyboard you might already own.
Now you would think adding a brand new instrument would be the biggest change that Harmonix has made to the game, and with it their hard work would be complete. They could have easily stopped there and all their fans would be happy, but Harmonix wouldn’t have been. That’s because they don’t simply want to make another band rhythm game. They want to make a true band simulator, and with Rock Band 3, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.
To make the game a true band simulator, the developers have included a new mode called professional mode, which actually requires the player to use completely new instruments. There’s now a professional guitar, made exclusively by Mad Katz, which has a 102 push-button fret board and actual strings. The professional drums now include the typical 4 pads and bass pedal, but also include 2 new cymbals. The keyboard is already professional ready with its 25 keys.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get my hands on the professional guitar, but I did see it in action and I can attest that it’s a thing of beauty and actually works. During the hands-off demo I was shown, the Harmonix employee playing the guitar actually switched from the game to a real life amplifier and the music sounded exactly the same. You really are playing a true-to-life guitar, which means as you learn to play the game, you’ll actually be learning how to play a real guitar.
Just like with the regular instruments you’ll get to choose your level of difficulty when you switch to professional mode, allowing you to gradually improve your skills over time. If you stick with it and really practice hard, you should actually be able to pick up a real guitar and play it. That’s the theory at least. Until I try it myself though, I’ll hold back on saying whether it’s a true success or not.
What I was able to get my hands on were the new professional drums, which include the two new cymbals I mentioned before. The way this works in the game is one cymbal is yellow in color, while the other is green, and are represented by cymbal symbols on the corresponding color tracks on screen.
If a typical yellow bar comes up, you play the yellow pad as you would on regular drums. When a cymbal symbol comes up on the yellow track, you must play the cymbal instead. It seems simple, but it’s extremely tricky, especially when the symbols on the track are constantly changing back and forth from bars to cymbals.
I consider myself to be a pretty good drum player on Rock Band, and typically I can handle hard with no problem, sometimes even expert, but I got rocked when I played professional mode. It is definitely going to take some serious practice to get it down, but I’m eager to try out.
Unfortunately I did not get my hands on the keyboard, but my colleague Andrew Kauz did and he’ll be writing up something soon to talk about his experience with the game.
From what I’ve seen and played so far, I can honestly attest that Rock Band 3 really is making sweeping changes that could evolve the game from a band rhythm game to a band simulator game. Without trying out the professional guitar it’s hard to tell if it’s really going to work, but from what I’ve been shown so far, I have really high hopes.