Thanks to the inclusion of new instruments, pro mode and a solid soundtrack, Harmonix crafted one of the best rhythm games ever made, as well as one of the best titles of its generation.
How do you improve the Rock Band formula? The numbered games on the series brought plastic instruments to people’s living rooms and newer entries focused on some of the most popular bands (The Beatles, Rock Band, AC/DC and so on.) By the time everyone was playing Rock Band 2, the gameplay seemed pretty much perfect, but the third entry had the difficult task of improving that. Thanks to the inclusion of new instruments, pro mode and a solid soundtrack, Harmonix crafted one of the best rhythm games ever made, as well as one of the best titles of its generation.
In terms of modes, you have the usual suspects. In training mode, you can practice songs in their entirety or specific sections which allows you to learn instruments, songs or play in drum freestyle. Players can also customize their bands (logos, name, instruments and clothing of members) using dozens of unlockable items that you acquire as you play. As you’d expect, you can also use pre-made characters or create one from scratch. The main mode is called Road Challenge and as the name suggests, you travel around the globe with your virtual band accepting challenges that encourage you to play a series of songs in a particular way. Some of these challenges encourage you to play sections without making mistakes, activate overdrive as many times as possible and so on. As you complete these challenges, you get stars which attracts more fans. As you get more medals, you unlock achievements and accessories to customize your band members.
There’s also the store where you can see all the available songs, albums or packs that are available for purchase. Importing songs from previous games in the series is also a possibility, but at this point, the licensing deals on most of those games have expired, so you’ll need to do a quick online search to find out which soundtracks you can import to Rock Band 3.
There’s also an online mode where you can play with up to three other players and while some might enjoy this mode, Rock Band 3 is at its best when you’re playing with friends in the same room, so while this is a nice diversion, you should invite some people to your house and play together. Playing online works remarkably well when you can find other people in the lobbies and while there’s some lag here and there, it rarely ruins the fun.
One of the best parts about Rock Band 3 is that the game allows you to use brand new instruments and to those who have been playing the series since its inception, this might seem like the shot in the arm the franchise needed. You can play keyboard for the first time in the series and as you’d expect, the soundtrack features a bunch of songs that have keyboard tracks. There’s also pro instruments (pro guitar, bass, drums and keyboard) and even though this is a compelling idea some fans will appreciate, if you’re going to invest in the time and money to learn these instruments, you might as well go the extra mile and invest in a real guitar, bass, set of drums or keyboard. To be clear, not all songs support the new instruments.
As you can see, there are several modes to choose, but a rhythm game is all about its soundtrack. Luckily, the setlist in Rock Band 3 is terrific. Those who have been importing soundtracks from previous games in the series and have amassed a large collection of tracks over the years will get more out of this game, but those who have this disc will still be entertained for weeks. Overall, there are 83 tracks to choose from and they include songs from a variety of artists, including Blondie, T. Rex, Chicago, Marilyn Manson, The Doors, Queen, The White Stripes, The Ramones, Queens of the Stone Age and for the first time in the series you can play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. As you can see, Rock Band 3 features a wide selection of genres, so there’s something here for everyone, including some songs in non-English languages.
Rock Band 3 is such an improvement over its predecessor that you have to wonder where developer Harmonix might go next with the series. But regardless of what the developer is doing with newer entries in the series, the third entry in the Rock Band 3 brings so many innovations to the formula we’ve gotten accustomed to and it does that so convincingly, that I see myself playing this rhythm game for months and months.