[Editor's Note: This review covers the basic Rock Band 3 experience available on the disc, excluding the keyboards, pro guitar, and pro drums. Separate coverage of those instruments and their related modes will be forthcoming.]
There’s a moment that seems to occur with every rhythm game player when he or she begins to wonder, “Am I done with this game?” You know, the setlist has grown boring, you’ve hit a wall with your preferred instrument, or you just don’t feel like whacking around on a plastic drum set anymore. It happens, and it threatens to make you declare, “I’m done with this.”
Enter Rock Band 3, a game more vastly different from the current genre offerings since, well, Rock Band. However, when so many of those additions are expensive and complicated, is the standalone disc experience still worthwhile for players looking for more than a new set of songs?
It’s no secret that Rock Band has evolved into more than a game–more than a simple product on a disc. Now, we keep huge libraries of songs on our hard drives and have a variety of ways to experience them. It’s a platform of its own, and with around 2100 songs as of this writing, it’s enormous.
That said, with 83 songs on the disc, it can make the package seem somewhat lacking for those who have no plans (or no financial ability) to purchase any of the new instruments. However, the story becomes a very different one as soon as you’ve launched into the game, as all of the upgrades to the game’s modes and its interface quickly make this feel like a brand new game.
Immediately, the new song sorting features make themselves absolutely indispensable. Once you’ve imported your Rock Band 1 and 2 libraries, you’ll likely find yourself with anywhere between 200 and, well, 2000 songs depending on how many songs you’ve downloaded. Now, you’re able to sort the songs in great detail. My personal favorite is sorting songs by my own given rating, which shows the songs I like at the top and hides the crap at the bottom. You can also filter by source, difficulty, and many more criteria. It may not be able to sort in exactly the way you want, but it’s far better than scrolling through everything like before.
The way you play Rock Band 3 is also quite different from the past iterations. It’s far easier to get players and instruments going, as each players now has his or her own menu which can be popped up at any time. This allows for easy drop in/drop out play, quick difficulty changing, and changing of settings.
One you begin playing songs, you’ll see that the game is set up quite differently. For one, there’s no unlocking of songs through a career mode; every song is available right from the start, and there’s no real “career mode” at all. Instead, your career section serves more as a built-in achievement hub showing you various challenges and statistics related to all of your activity through the game. For instance, there is a variety of challenges related to each instrument, and players can play these challenges in order to get familiar with the game. Playing the first pro drums challenge, for instance, will give you an easier set of songs that will ease you into the pro drums.
Typically, though, you’ll be playing the game by picking a song or a set list and playing in quickplay mode. And, honestly, the game is better for it. While unlocking new venues and songs in previous games seemed fun, the way Rock Band 3 is set up proves just how cumbersome and annoying that structure was. Here, it’s all about playing songs, and while the “rock challenges” mode gives you setlists and asks you to complete certain challenges (such as deploying overdrive as much as possible or getting multiple note streaks in a row) they’re more focused and more fun.
As for the songs themselves, Rock Band 3 obviously has a slightly different approach thanks to the keyboards peripheral, and you’ll notice that most songs chosen do have keyboards in them. However, that isn’t the only change in the approach to song choice. For the most part, songs now seem chosen mostly because they are simply fun. Even a huge number of the songs that I don’t like at all are still quite fun to play, which was never the case for me in the past. The variety in song genres and difficulties is still present, but this is easily the most fun setlist of any rhythm game. Sure, there are some songs that really aren’t very fun to play no matter what instruments you’re using, but they number very few.
There’s also the added depth of an entirely new instrument and the new pro modes to give each song more lasting appeal than with any game prior. While I won’t go into too much depth on the pro modes here, they’re absolutely a legitimate reason to be interested in Rock Band 3, as the experience is truly quite different, though to varying degrees depending on the instrument. What is certain, though, is that each instrument adds another deep layer to the game, allowing you to play each song many, many times before you get bored of them.
It’s unfortunate that the game is such a massive investment, as the software itself is sixty dollars, with an addition ten-dollar charge required just to transfer over your Rock Band 2 library. If you happen to need any instruments, including the pro instruments, you could end up spending $700 for everything you need–multiple microphones, pro guitars, drums, keyboards. There’s currently no good way to get all of the pro stuff in any sort of cost-saving bundle, so you should be prepared to spend a lot of money on this.
However, if you do commit, you’ll find that Rock Band 3 is the best music game ever made. More than just giving you a new set list, it changes the way you experience your songs, and it does so for the better. If Harmonix succeeds in fully supporting the keyboards and new pro modes through their future DLC (and hopefully updates of past songs), this will be the only music game you need until Harmonix finds a way to bring about yet another paradigm shift.
Dozens of tweaks make the presentation here quite remarkable. The interface still isn't perfect, but it's far closer.
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The songs in Rock Band 3 are the most fun yet, and a variety of minor changes make this a far more playable game than previous entries.
This is easily the best rhythm game set list ever. You won't like every song on here, but you'll likely find yourself loving some songs that you expected to hate.
There's the opportunity to make this game last a long, long time, but it will come at an incredibly high price. Still, the basic experience offers plenty of play time.
Rock Band 3 is the perfect music game for those hoping to increase their music appreciation and maybe pick up some real musical skill along the way.