[Editor’s Note: This review is broken into two sections. The first, written by Alex Keen, covers Rock Band 3 from the perspective of a singer while also discussing what’s new and what’s missing from the overall Rock Band 3 package. The second section, written by Joey Davidson, is all about the keys. Joey picked up Rock Band 3 and the keyboard peripheral to run it through its paces from the viewpoint of a trained pianist. Enjoy!]
By Alex Keen
I picked up the latest iteration of Rock Band 3 and I was pretty excited to see what the boys and girls at Harmonix had in store. I was a skeptic with the release of Rock Band, I was a convert by the time Rock Band 2 came out, and I was charmed by their efforts with Lego Rock Band and Beatles: Rock Band. However, since my time with Beatles: Rock Band I had retired my band and left the genre behind. Would a return to Rock Band bring me back into the fold?
In case you care, I am not an axe man or drum slapper. I typically sing while playing Rock Band; primarily because no one else wanted to. I can handle the guitar and bass parts well enough and in an emergency I can cover drums. But, most of my time is belting lyrics into the mic. Despite that fact, I feel comfortable providing my insight beyond the experience of those other instruments (I did not have the opportunity to play the keyboard or the Pro modes).
On the positive side of things, the graphics have advanced quite a bit since Rock Band 2. You can see the evolution if you picked up Beatles: Rock Band. But the graphic advancements are even more apparent when you play the the same song in both games. Not only are the character graphics much better but the actually gameplay graphics have progressed quite a bit. Rock Band 3 is a pretty game to play and the graphics upgrade is quite substantial.
For online play I was glad to see that most bands are still looking for singers to help out – which means my skills are in demand. It would be nice to have a lobby system to see what’s available; however, I do understand that lobbies for 4 player games are often very hard to keep up-to-date. It was also a bit sad to see the Battle Modes go by the wayside – but, I don’t recall really spending that much time battling. It was nice to have but not sad to see go.
What did sadden me was the disappearance of World Tour mode. Instead of expanding on the World Tour mode to make things like hiring staff integral, Rock Band 3 just dropped it all together. So, instead of feeling like there was a narrative to what I was doing, I’m now just stuck singing through a set list hoping to unlock ultimately meaningless cut scenes. Couldn’t they have just released "Rock Band: Set List Manager" if that’s what they think player’s want.
Simply stated, Rock Band 3 doesn’t hold much new for singers. While Harmonix has integrated the three-part harmony feature from the Beatles: Rock Band, not much else is new for the solo singer. The only new experience available for the singer would be to play the keyboard and sing simultaneously. This should be outstanding for the budding Elton John in every household (if only there was more than one tune from the Piano Man). And yet, you still can’t log in to both instruments at the same time. Shouldn’t I get extra credit for multi-tasking?
Overall, while I am being a bit nit picky, my experience with Rock Band 3 has been good. Do I wish that there were better songs in the actual game? Yes. Do I wish there was a World Tour mode? Hells yes. Can I live without these two things? Sure. There will always be new DLC to add to my set list and the back catalog is extensive enough that I can always buy more. The lack of World Tour does concern me and I think it might turn off players like me that wound up spending more time playing alone rather than in a band. I don’t pretend to be in the majority here and I’m sure that this an excellent experience for Pro guitar players or keyboard players. But if you’re just looking to upgrade your Rock Band without buying a bunch of new gear, Rock Band 3 isn’t flawless but should entertain well enough.
Continue to page 2 for Joey’s keyboard review…
by Joey Davidson
Perhaps the most hype-driving piece of the Rock Band 3 puzzle, the keyboard peripheral ushers in a whole slew of playability for fans both old and new. For the veterans, the keyboard serves to break up monotony. For the new kids? It’s probable that most newbies ran out to snag the keyboard on day one simply because they themselves were pianists.
Place me in the latter group. I’ve been playing piano off and on since I was three years old. By no means a virtuoso, I’m a pianist with a history in, essentially, shitty lame music. My instructor refused to teach me much outside of classical standards. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart… the boring stuff. In fact, the highlight of my life as a student pianist came from Scott Joplin and The Maple Leaf Rag.
Yep. How awesome is that?
Rock Band 3 served as an institution for learning what Ms. Schaub wouldn’t teach me. Rock and Roll. I feel like I’m describing a potential Footloose sequel.
The standard mode of play for the keyboard is rather dull. Maybe it’s experience driving the boredom here, but five buttons to press and five fingers on my hand makes this one rather boring. I was able to dive into Expert within the standard mode after I played my first song. I rocked something like a 95% for an Elton John piece. The 5% missed notes came from awkward triads that have no place on a keyboard. You’ll rarely ever press three keys without spaces in between them… like, say, C-D-E all at once. Or, for those completely in the dark, your index-middle-ring fingers all at once.
But Pro Mode? Holy shit on a toothpick, it’s glorious. Have I learned how to play Centerfold yet on my real keyboard? Yes. Is it perfectly represented note-for-note? No. But it’s damn close.
The keyboard contains two octaves worth of notes. The action is responsive and relatively solid considering the price of the hardware and the manufacturer. Madcatz ain’t Steinway & Sons. I only had one real issue with the keys on the faux instrument, and that came from them rebounding too slowly for reggae.
Visually, playing the keyboard starts off tough. 10 white keys are represented on the screen at all times. That means six are always off screen. Music on the harder difficulties forces the note panel to actually slide right and left in order to display the key sequences. That means you’ll constantly be re-adjusting your hands and figuring out exactly where each note should be. After about a dozen songs, it should start to click. Elton John is still a pain in the ass after a few weeks of practice, but not as much as he was when this title dropped.
Perhaps my only complaint about the depth of Pro Mode on the keyboard is that sight reading isn’t an option. At E3, the Pro Guitar sections feature a blend of tablature and actual chord names. As songs rolled by, the real chord titles appeared next to the note sequence. No such thing for the piano. For those of us versed in reading sheet music, it would have been nice to see a scrolling set of measures.
Dismiss that and Rock Band 3 marks an exceptional evolution for music peripherals. You’ll actually be able to learn music with the keyboard, and that’s the best damn thing a music game has done since the genre’s inception.