Earlier this week, my brother and I picked up a copy of Rock Band 3 alongside a Rock Band 3 keyboard. In the past, Rock Band launches have been monumental to us. For the first game, we pre-ordered our bundle four months in advance and were at the store just as the courier dropped of the shipment of Rock Band bundles. For the sequel, we lined up at a Walmart before midnight to get the game as soon as possible.
For the third? I kind of just went to the store and picked stuff up. I can’t speak for my brother, but my interest has waned dramatically in the genre. However, Harmonix is one of my favourite developers, Rock Band is one of my favourite game series and I get the impression that they’re trying to make this the ultimate music game.
We should start with the most obvious addition: the keyboard (or keytar if you play it with the strap). The most sought-after addition to the series is brought to you by Mad Catz, who have worked really hard to shift their focus from cheap peripherals to high-end products. They turned the corner with the TE line of Street Fighter fightsticks and now have the rights to all of the Rock Band instruments. The overall build quality of the controller feels very good and more solid than the standard Rock Band guitar. While the keys are not weighted, the action of the keys feels comparable to any non-weighted keys you’d find on a real keyboard. This controller features 25 keys, which is well short of a full 88, but it should be sufficient for even the most talented of piano players within the context of this game.
Speaking of the number of keys, I may have overestimated my skills when I immediately jumped into Pro Mode on medium difficulty. In Pro Mode, the game requires you to use all of the keys on the keyboard, which can be daunting for someone who has never been formally trained to play the piano or someone who skips the keyboard tutorial in the game (blush). It’s also a steep learning curve to interpret a note highway with over a dozen lanes. My gut says that the majority of Rock Band 3 keyboard players will never use more than the traditional five lanes, but if you want that challenge (and buy the extra hardware), Pro Mode is an exciting addition to all instruments. It’s also worth noting that you can use the the keyboard to play guitar or bass parts, which works better than i thought it would.
How about the game itself? Based on the few hours I’ve put into it, this one appears to be a quality effort. To compliment the addition of a keyboard, roughly 3/4 of the soundtrack features keyboards. Also, a number of songs support harmonies, which was a feature originally implemented into The Beatles: Rock Band. This opens up a lot of great songs for the game, including tracks like “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner and “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” by the Doors. Don’t think that the other instruments are hurt by the addition of the keyboard though. Every instrument gets its chance to shine throughout. I haven’t played everything the game has to offer, but my favourite song of the moment is surprisingly, “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s.
As with the previous installments of the series, you have the option of importing your older tracks into Rock Band 3. Every Rock Band disc (except for The Beatles) can be ripped to your hard drive and all of the songs you’ve downloaded through the Rock Band store still work here. Having access to almost every song you’ve ever purchased in one game without having to switch discs is a feature that Rock Band has handled better than any other music game on the market. I love being able to pop Rock Band 3 in and have access to hundreds of other songs from Rock Band, Rock Band 2, Green Day: Rock Band, Lego: Rock Band and all of my other downloaded tracks. Unfortunately, not every song from Rock Band 2 carries over to Rock Band 3. Due to licensing issues, “Battery” by Metallica, “Spoonman” by Soundgarden and “Any Way You Want It” by Journey didn’t make the trip. Personally, I can do without the first two, but “Any Way You Want It” was one of my favourites from Rock Band 2. Losing that song is a shame.
All the bells and whistles aside, Rock Band 3 is still Rock Band, a formula which you may totally be burnt out on by now. If you are completely burnt out on music games, I’m not sure that all of the improvements to this game will bring you back in. However, if still have any sort of interest in the genre, or are considering this for Pro Mode so that you can learn keys, guitar or drums, I think you need to give this one a shot.