Rock Band 3

Well that was worth the wait. Rock Band 2 was released over two years ago now – unless you live here in New Zealand, of course – so its inevitable sequel has had plenty of time to be highly anticipated. Combine that with the music game sales that are currently in freefall, and you have a situation where Rock Band 3 needs to be an absolutely amazing title in order to be considered a success.

Can you guess what I’m about to say now? That’s right: it succeeds, at least when it comes to the game itself. How it'll do at retail is anyone’s guess.

 
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Now, this game is big, and there are several key parts to it. Besides the keyboard peripheral, we were unable to get our hands on the new hardware, which means we couldn’t judge the new Pro modes for drums or guitar. To that end, this review will focus on the main game experience itself. As soon as we can give the new instruments a good thrashing, we’ll post a follow-up review with our thoughts.

I’m gonna rock ‘n roll all night…

The big bullet point features will be explored shortly, but first I wanted to heap praise on the most basic of things: the track list. Maybe Harmonix just read my mind, but the hugely-eclectic-yet-still-somehow-awesome lineup of songs matches my tastes almost perfectly. You’ve got Dire Straits and The Who mixing it up with Rilo Kiley and Faith No More, with a light sprinkle of The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”. Oh, and also: “Freebird”.

The 80+ songs on the disc are a good starting point, but I would seriously recommend getting more. Hopefully by now you already have previous Rock Band titles, in which case you can export their songs for a small fee.

RB3 is tailor-made to support large song collections (I think we have about 430 now?) and is all the better for it. Its predecessors were a bastard to navigate if you had a decent collection, but you can now set a ton of filters to sort through songs as you please. It’s perhaps not as quick as I might have liked, but being able to only find keyboard-supported songs with three-part vocal harmonies is a godsend.

You’re the piano man

The big new addition to the game is obviously the keyboard. Now you can have a tinkle on the old ivories in about 65 of the songs on the Rock Band 3 disc.

The hardware is basically a little keyboard. It’s two octaves wide, but is in nearly every other respect a real MIDI keyboard that you can handily add a strap to and turn it into a keytar. The build quality is surprisingly good – it’s got a very solid feel to it, although I wouldn’t recommend throwing it about the room.

Now, I’m pretty proficient at all the Rock Band instruments, which comes from far too much play time. So it was very weird playing a new addition where I sucked. On the other hand, playing even simple chords was much, much more fun than I had anticipated. I had a huge cheesy grin on my face while I blasted through Walk of Life, Midlife Crisis, and other keyboard-enabled songs. Seriously, I’ve no idea why it’s as fun as it is, but it’s more than welcome in the ever-growing collection of plastic instruments in our house.

In normal mode, you only use five keys, in much the same way as a guitar. Unlike the guitar, however, you can have a finger on every key all at the same time – so if you’re used to shifting your hand up and down a fretboard, you will need to recondition yourself here.

Switching to Pro keys is where things get a little crazier. I played John Lennon’s “Imagine” on Pro Medium, and while I struggled initially, I did end up playing it pretty well, without going to a single tutorial. I suspect that after running through some more practice modes, I’ll switch to Pro mode more often. But in the meantime, be encouraged by the fact that the keys are a lot of fun on any setting.

Some witty song line that references the interface

One disappointment I have is that the core gameplay remains largely untouched. Then I sit and wonder, “how on earth would I improve it myself?” I can’t come up with anything other than a vague “Improve interaction between vocals and rest of band”.

Instead, Harmonix has improved everything around the core experience. This, somehow, makes the actually game playing feel a lot fresher and more fun. Let’s break it down…

First up is the Overshell. All this means is that every player has their own menu that they can interact with at any time. Sounds like a small thing, but choosing your own game settings etc without breaking the flow of things is amazing. It’s now extremely fast to get going on a song or setlist (helped out by much faster loading times) which is as it should be.

Just as importantly, people can now drop in or out at any time during a song. They can also change their difficulty on the fly, toggle ‘No Fail’ mode, or even change instrument. Every time you unpause after making a change, the game rewinds by a couple of seconds, allowing you to slip back in easily without dropping a note.

There are dozens of these thoughtful interface upgrades throughout RB3, and they make the entire experience seamless, fast, and – crucially – easy to navigate when intoxicated.

Play the game

Here’s an impressive feat: RB3 actually made me give a damn about anything other than Quickplay mode. Instead of one overarching career mode, you have hundreds of setlist compilations you can tackle at any time. They’re quick and easy to get in or out of whenever you are in the mood – unless you choose some of the longer setlists, of course.

Regardless of what mode you play, you’ll earn fans, which in turn unlocks new items to dress your characters in, and new cutscenes featuring your band members getting drunk at a rooftop party and so on.

The reason this stuff works is because it permeates absolutely everything you do in the game. This isn’t so good in a party setting because it makes everyone suddenly want to spend a thousand years making their own characters, but otherwise it’s great – Harmonix has obviously looked at the achievements phenomena and decided they wanted some of that.

…And party every day

With keyboards and the addition of three-part vocal harmonies (finally!) you can now rock out (in a fake, plastic-y way) with up to seven people at once. This is fantastic (you should hear our epic renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody) but it isn’t perfect.

To play with the full lineup, you need to turn on All Instruments Mode. However, in this mode vocals aren’t scored at all and are locked on Easy, which is a shame. It has something to do with a limited number of profile sign-ins being allowed at one time, which sounds a bit suspect to me.

This doesn’t hamper things when you’ve got lots of mates around, however. One thing to note: with vocals on top and four lines of instruments below, you’re going to want a big TV to see anything. I don’t even want to think about how this might look on an old CRT. Anyone brave enough to try that? Shout out in the comments.

This is radio nowhere

The Rock Band Store is similarly improved, and much faster to load and navigate this time round. As I said, it’s highly recommended that you flesh out your song collection, but it will put a dent in your wallet. Interestingly, ‘recommended’ songs appear among your normal collection – when you click on them, it asks if you want to purchase them in the store. Potentially a nice feature, but I’m very glad you can disable it.

One thing that really sucks: the new store puts Rock Band Network songs front and centre among ‘normal’ songs. The only problem is that we aren’t allowed to access them in New Zealand. This is most likely due to the fact that no Microsoft XNA-based products (such as RBN-authored songs or Xbox Live Indie Games) are licensed to be sold in the region. And that in turn may have something to do needing to get stuff rated. Who knows!?

Regardless, we’re missing out on some great stuff. It’s ironic that us New Zealanders can’t play any Flight of the Conchords tracks.

I’ve taken my bows

Do I sound overly gushing? Tough, this game deserves it. Without a doubt, it’s the quintessential music game. Yes, if you go hard out it can be an expensive experience, but the nice thing about Rock Band 3 is that it scales. Got old instruments? Just buy the software. Then down the line you can consider grabbing the keyboard. Feel like learning a real instrument? That in turn will cost you more… but then, so would a real instrument. RB3 can be whatever you want it to be – and impressively, it remains fun in any configuration.

I don’t know how this game will do in the sales charts, but personally it’s turned me from a music-game-weary cynic into a fresh-faced jammer once again. I’m not sure how long that will last, but for now I’m loving it.


Rock Band 3
"The ultimate music game, bar none"
- Rock Band 3
9.5
Excellent
 
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


 

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Comments Comments (19)

 
Kate
Posted by Kate
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 9:43 AM
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Can't WAIT to have a go at that keyboard!
 
 
 
Ruptunex
Posted by Ruptunex
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 11:47 AM
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Neither. Keen for pro drums also. Any word on when NZ will be getting the Squier?
 
 
 
Ron NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Ron
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 11:54 AM
1
4 November 2010, 11:47 AM Reply to Ruptunex
Neither. Keen for pro drums also. Any word on when NZ will be getting the Squier?
No word yet, at $249USD pricetag I'd assume it'll be $600+.
 
 
 
The Oreo
Posted by The Oreo
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 12:09 PM
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The RBN store being visible here gives us some tiny hope that we'll get it some day. Also because all the RBN songs have just been shifted from the Indie Games category in the US to the Game Add Ons category on Xbox.com and the marketplace, so there's no more need for the XNA. Really hope MS gets onto giving it to everyone.

Also, I want keys! I've just been using my MIDI keyboard at home to play along with Pro Keys charts on Youtube. Its just not the same...
 
 
 
Phoenix NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Phoenix
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 12:46 PM
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4 November 2010, 12:09 PM Reply to The Oreo
The RBN store being visible here gives us some tiny hope that we'll get it some day. Also because all the RBN songs have just been shifted from the Indie Games category in the US to the Game Add Ons category on Xbox.com and the marketplace, so there's no more need for the XNA. Really hope MS gets onto giving it to everyone.

Also, I want keys! I've just been using my MIDI keyboard at home to play along with Pro Keys charts on Youtube. Its just not the same...
I wasn't aware that they had shifted, but it does sound like thats a cosmetic thing, and they're still created and distributed using XNA. We're actually waiting to hear back from EA New Zealand regarding Rock Band Network. Rest assured, we're trying to see what we can do!
 
 
 
djkicks NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by djkicks
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 2:39 PM
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Question; how do you activate overdrive with the keyboard? Random keyboard solo like the drum fills?
 
 
 
thejuror84
Posted by thejuror84
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 5:04 PM
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I have the full set up, pro drums make drumming that much more fun I must admit, and with drums being my favourite way to rock im happy there.

Pro keys really are something else difficulty wise though, not that ive ever played piano but just getting your fingers used to it is a big thing. A quality peice of hardware though and hopefully keys are added to previous songs in the future (particularly queen and NIN to start with)
 
 
 
Phoenix NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Phoenix
On Thursday 4 Nov 2010 5:33 PM
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4 November 2010, 02:39 PM Reply to djkicks
Question; how do you activate overdrive with the keyboard? Random keyboard solo like the drum fills?
There's a touch strip for pitch bending (similar to the whammy bar on guitars) and a fairly easy to hit button beside it which activates overdrive.
 
 
 
emetic NZGamer.com VIP VIP Silver
Posted by emetic
On Friday 5 Nov 2010 4:40 AM
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4 November 2010, 05:04 PM Reply to thejuror84
I have the full set up, pro drums make drumming that much more fun I must admit, and with drums being my favourite way to rock im happy there.

Pro keys really are something else difficulty wise though, not that ive ever played piano but just getting your fingers used to it is a big thing. A quality peice of hardware though and hopefully keys are added to previous songs in the future (particularly queen and NIN to start with)
Hey, so may I ask where abouts you got your pro instrument setup? I presume some kind of Amazon.com or having a friend send them over?
 
 
 
jol123
Posted by jol123
On Friday 5 Nov 2010 4:47 PM
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I didn't know that Rock Band Network wasn't accessible on Xbox 360 in New Zealand. Although PlayStation 3 only gets 5 RBN songs a week, they are definitely available on the New Zealand PlayStation Store (and yes, the Flight of the Conchords tracks are good fun). Hopefully they will get this sorted for Xbox 360 soon.

I'm also enjoying Rock Band 3 with keys. I ordered keys from amazon.com (one of they few video game related items they will ship to NZ) and it cost me about NZ$150 including shipping (so a good $50 cheaper then the NZ RRP) and it got here in less than a week. It would probably be even cheaper now as when ordered the NZD was at about 0.75 USD, and now its at about 0.79 USD.
 
 
 
jol123
Posted by jol123
On Friday 5 Nov 2010 4:51 PM
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Yep, the current quote is NZD 142.37 for the Xbox 360 version including shipping at amazon.com .
 
 
 
The Oreo
Posted by The Oreo
On Friday 5 Nov 2010 7:26 PM
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Hmm, really tempted to get one off Amazon. Expected delivery date is December 1st though. Not sure if I want to wait that long for it to arrive...
 
 
 
emetic NZGamer.com VIP VIP Silver
Posted by emetic
On Saturday 6 Nov 2010 4:00 AM
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Cheers, Jol :D
I tried ordering the midi adaptor thing from Amazon and it wouldn't ship to my address. I guess they must block some things and not others, eh.
 
 
 
thejuror84
Posted by thejuror84
On Saturday 6 Nov 2010 11:57 AM
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gamepro.com.

Great service
 
 
 
Tekkennut
Posted by Tekkennut
On Saturday 6 Nov 2010 6:31 PM
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Great review Tristan, Downloaded the demo to give it a crack and it does feel fresh and new. Will definitely grab it later this month. Although will endeavour to buy it from as cheap a place as possible. :)
 
 
 
McPhisto
Posted by McPhisto
On Sunday 7 Nov 2010 12:43 PM
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4 November 2010, 12:46 PM Reply to Phoenix
I wasn't aware that they had shifted, but it does sound like thats a cosmetic thing, and they're still created and distributed using XNA. We're actually waiting to hear back from EA New Zealand regarding Rock Band Network. Rest assured, we're trying to see what we can do!
Everyone spread the word and make some noise about the Rock Band Network! I want to both play and author songs for it and actually be able to purchase them. ;)
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 10 Nov 2010 10:13 AM
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So it turns out that if you want DLC, you have to get RB3 as the older two games have joined the realm of unsupported software.

A shame too as I'll be passing on this one simply due to the fact that EA have decided not to support it properly in New Zealand. The attraction was the pro guitar and we're not getting it, so... meh.
 
 
 
BathTub
Posted by BathTub
On Friday 12 Nov 2010 3:14 PM
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We are getting pro-guitar in NZ, MA sent out an email this week including it. And Gamewhizz apparently will bring the squier in next year, but we will see.

AIM doesn't appear to have anything to do with profile restrictions. Because 3 players have to log into AIM as soon as you hit Guitar/Keyboard/Bass. It's a bizarre limitation that I hope is improved.

Keyboards are awesome, and Barnes and Noble is a great place to buy as they used very fast UPS shipping. and still 50 bucks cheaper than Mighty Ape.
 
 
 
Soyerz NZGamer.com VIP VIP Silver
Posted by Soyerz
On Wednesday 17 Nov 2010 4:32 PM
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The Keytar looks so awesome. Too bad it is far too expensive...