Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
In building upon the foundation of the previous Rock Band games, the major innovation in this third mainline iteration of the series is the introduction of a ‘pro’ mode that allows players to learn how to play the guitar, keyboard and drums and play note charts that authentically replicates the songs note for note. I believe its a logical extension of the direction that the Rock Band franchise was heading and the last evolutionary stage of the genre itself. Instead of recreating an approximation of the music playing experience, the game now gives you an opportunity to learn the instruments themselves. Of course, for those people who aren’t interested in taking on such a challenge, the game still lets you play in the same format of the previous games.
Rock Band 3 has over eighty songs in its setlist with an entertaining and colorful mix of comptemporary and classic artists. Personally, I was particular pleased to see in the inclusion of Hewy Lewis and the News and The Beach Boys. The game also allows for the importation of (most) songs from the previous games and integrates them directly into the career mode and challenges as well. A great new addition to RB3 is the 5 star rating system, ala iTunes, which helps prevent you from having to play through songs you don’t like and increases the likelihood of your favourite tracks appearing in the career mode. In this game, its also good to see a focus on allowing the player to customize the experience to their prefrence as much as possible.
Rock Band 3 also has a fantastic integration of community leaderboards throughout all of the game’s various modes. After completing every song, you are given the opportunity to compare how you performed with people on your Friends List as well as the entire Rock Band community. There are literally hundreds of challenges to play through as well, offering both bite-sized and major milestones to unlock. These can range from small scale challenges such as successfully completing a modest setlist of Eighties songs to daunting challenges such as successfully completing all the songs in the game on Expert difficulty. Its this range of challenges that give the player reasons to keep coming back. Completing the challenges themselves also unlock new outfits and instruments to add to your customizable avatars.
While the basic mechanics of the gameplay haven’t changed too much, the strength of the Rock Band franchise remains its peerless range of songs. With over 2,000 tracks to play and the on-going weekly addition of major artists such as John Lennon, the BeeGees and Bon Jovi, the biggest strength of this series remains its versatile catalogue. No matter what your taste, there really is something for just about everyone in this game.
Which is why the news that Viacom wishes to sell Harmonix and the Rock Band brand is so disappointing. Will the new owners of the brand have the deep financial pockets and commitment to supporting this genre? Will Harmonix find a way to respark the popularity of the genre itself to boost their flagging sales? It certainly doesn’t help that the distribution of this game outside of the U.S continues to be absolutely abysmal.
As happy as I am to see the game where it is today, with songs from many of my favourite artists, I would love to see this franchise reach a level of sustainability that they can continue to release new content each week for years to come. The Rock Band franchise remains one of my favourite games of this console generation and it would be a shame to see it come to an end. Will there ever be a Rock Band 4? What will become of the music genre as a whole? We probably won’t have to wait too long to find out.