Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Rock Band 3

Platform: PS3 (also on Xbox 360, Wii)


Publisher: Electronic Arts/MTV Games

# of Players: 1-7 (Online/Offline)

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: A

Like a bottle of cosmic aspirin, Rock Band 3 is the wonder game that does it all. It's an instant party starter, getting fans of nearly any type of popular music up and grabbing whatever peripheral is available for their chance at virtual stardom. It's a virtual (and growing) encyclopedia of rock featuring 80+ bands and a whopping 1600+ tracks that can be downloaded (with more to come, no doubt). It's got a stellar edit function that allows you to tailor the songs, gameplay and overall experience to your liking through a bunch of game types from casual to pro. Speaking of, (and yes, it's about time), it's got Pro Mode, which beefs up the challenge immensely while allowing actual musicianship to be a bigger part of the game.

One big addition many will find superb is the new keyboard support, and even if you don't think you'll need that extra peripheral, trust me... you'll be shelling out for one soon enough. Once you get tinkling those plastic ivories that controller definitely won't find itself taking up space in a closet, that's for sure.
If all that isn't enough to fiddle around with, RB3 even wants to teach you how to play real instruments (but not quite in that creepy Sebastian infomercial kinda way, fortunately). There are a few hitches in the game in online and offline play regarding just how many people can play together ouside of All Instruments Mode (which will hopefully be patched shortly), but overall, this is THE music game of 2010 thanks to Harmonix' dedication to their baby as it continues to grow.

I won't even bother mentioning other music games in this review just because Harmonix has hit the ball so far out of the park with RB3 that it's going to be a game of catch-up next year for everyone else trying to emulate this year's formula while these guys step it up again. The amount of tweaks to the formula plus all new elements here are staggering to the point that new players might feel a little overwhelmed at first. However, that feeling lasts for around the time it takes to set everything up (you DID invite a few friends over, right?), step up to your instrument of choice (and they DID bring their gear if you're not deep-pocketed enough to swing for a whole bang setup, right?) and ROCK the freakin' walls down. If the neighbors are complaining, that's probably because they've bruised their precious instrument or microphone-holding hands from banging down the door to join in on some of those jams.

Then again, you may want to keep it civil just so the police don't get involved (although no one can party like a cop with a plastic guitar, or so I've heard). Once you start playing through the game, no matter your skill level, it's hard not to be floored at how well everything meshes. Band Customization options are a bit more polished and deep, but not overdone to the point of distraction. Sure, you'll have a blast whipping up your virtual band mates, but Harmonix wants you to get into the gameplay and rock out with your socks out.
Hell, your socks will probably fly off and catch fire after some of the more intense tracks, but as they say... that's rock 'n roll. Whether you're jamming solo or wrapping the room up in three-part harmonies with a few friends, the game keeps delivering the goodness over and over again.

Both veterans and newbies will love the drop-in/drop-out gameplay (which makes bathroom breaks during marathon sessions actually doable without killing the fun). There's also a "no-fail" more that lets casual players get their rock on without worrying about screwing up a great track. This might actually do more to get folks who'd never play a music game to give RB3 a whirl, particularly if they've been hesitant to do so in the past. From our time with the game, even a few folks who didn't quite see the appeal of "pretend playing" with nice-looking plastic instruments suddenly loosened up and wanted to hop in on the action. Rock Band 3 is indeed, some sort of great unifier of the masses. Despite a few of the usual real-life idiots that can funk up any gaming experience, online play, from what I experienced, is quite smooth and fun. You'll easily find people to play with or against no matter what time it is.

I haven't touched Pro Mode much, but it's great to see that you're NOT just dumped into a super-realistic mode with no breathing room. There are difficulty levels just like the regular game modes, but even so, it's still an eye-opener for new players. I've only barely touched the mode because i don't have the latest guitar controller and want to dive in at my leisure and see if this learning thing is indeed possible. I used to own five guitars when i thought music was going to be a part of my future. I never learned much except a few basic chords (good for Ramones songs) and hell, it would be nice to actually be able to learn a lot more. Not that I'll be the next Jimi Hendrix or anything...

Anyway, the presentation, sound and overall aesthetic here is flawless. You're pulled right in from the opening movie and the gameplay picks up the pace as you tailor set lists to your musical tastes. Want a cakewalk session with nothing but easy stuff to play? Knock yourself out. Want a super-challenging time that will test your fingers? Go for it. As noted already, the flexibility here truly makes RB3 one of the most accessible game experiences in any genre to date with the only caveat being the cost of all those extra peripherals you'll want.

Actually, my only other gripe here is with the lack of bundles this year other than the keyboard. Sure, Harmonix and EA have figured out that a LOT of RB fans already have a nice setup, friends who have their own peripherals or a mix of the two. On the other hand, total newbies will need to fork over a hefty amount of cash (pr plastic) if they want a complete 4-piece band or worse, a bigger 7-piece setup (if they have the space). Then again, if you have THAT much room for a 7-player RB3 setup... money isn't probably a big worry. While I haven't gotten the chance to use any of the new guitars yet (the old ones here still work perfectly, and I can't afford updating just yet), that REAL Fender Squier Sratocaster looks like a must-buy... but it's not out in stores until next year. I've heard a few grumblings about the new Mustang controller, but as I haven't touched it yet, I can't comment on how it feels.

That Keyboard, however... is awesome. I'm no Little Richard or anything, but just seeing the 25-key beauty made me smile and want to play through a few songs (no-fail on, of course). Yeah, it's a dream to use and in the hands of someone who's a keyboard nut, lots of songs in the game are a hell of a lot more fun to play as well as watch. Meanwhile, back at the jukebox, in addition to the planned weekly DLC, the wonder drug that is RB3 lets you import tracks from Rock Band and Rock Band 2, the AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack, LEGO Rock Band, and Green Day: Rock Band. I think you can nab any other DLC and add it to the set list, but I'm still diving into the game and uncovering so much great stuff that my head is spinning.

The HUGE question from this point is: What next? It'll be extremely interesting to see which popular as well as obscure bands start showing up as more and more players of different ages and musical tastes get into this already huge franchise. Actually, I'd LOVE to see an URGH! A Music War DLC or standalone disc, as that was one of the best live concert movies I've ever seen (and yeah, I saw it during it's initial VERY limited run here in NYC).
I'm sure Harmonix KNOWS all about URGH! as well as other fine music films in addition to taking suggestions, hints and any other advice on what to include in the next update or future editions, so I'll leave the pickings to them (OK, one suggestion - PLEASE poke into Wall of Voodoo's back catalog - "Tse Tse Fly" or "Animal Day" ,"Back In Flesh" (pretty much any track from Dark Continent, actually) would make for some fun additions to the RB catalog.

In case you haven't gotten the point yet - Rock Band 3 is a pretty damn amazing game overall. It's not a" play and put away" deal or a quickie cash-in on last year's entry, but one of those games that you'll buy, play and keep for a while thanks to the accessibility, new content and stellar production values. Absolutely a must-purchase game, especially if you've the space for a few friends and their plastic (or real) peripherals, thick walls and very understanding neighbors.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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