E3 was big this year with a ton of awesome games to see and a lot to be excited about. For me the top of that excitement heap was far and away Rock Band 3. With news of a new instrument and play mechanics that could teach you how to actually play it sounded like Rock Band 3 was going to knock it out of the park and take the whole music genre to the next level. After going through the press presentation and seeing multiple people play (I foolishly opted to get video instead of getting instruments in my hands) I have to say that such impressions were very well founded. I have no idea what Guitar Hero is going to do next but I doubt it will move the conversation forward this drastically or at all. With a ton of competition out there, Rock Band 3 looks very much like it will keep the Harmonix brand in the top position.
When I got back from E3 a friend of mine asked me if Rock Band 3 was going to be the same as the last one with new songs. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing shows that like the new Pro mode and the addition of Keyboards into the mix. The keyboard itself is pretty much a keyboard. Rather than the instruments of the past that are shaped like the real thing with buttons, the keyboard is a keyboard with the gem colors across the top to let you know what keys to hit. Of the 83 songs shipping with the game, most involve the keyboards but instead of trying to insert a bunch of keyboard parts into songs that have none while at the same time managing to be compatible with the songs from the previous games as well as all the DLC Harmonix has allowed bass and guitar parts to be played with the keyboard. So if you are REALLY in love with the peripheral you can keep using it even on songs that don’t have keyboards. I am not sure why you would want to though because you can drop in and out with different instruments between songs without having to back up to the main menu so switching out instruments is really easy. The keyboard can be played on a flat surface like a stand or you can use it with a strap over your shoulder for some keytar action.
The Pro mode takes the whole experience to the next level and acts essentially as a tutorial for basic instrument skill and if you get good at the mode you will be able to take those skills to real instruments. The standard guitar has buttons on the fret board but the strumming area has individual strings for more realistic strumming. Like the keyboard, it has a midi out so you can use it as a midi instrument. The Fender Squire guitar, on the other hand, takes things up a notch by basically being a guitar that can sense finger position on the fret board and strumming information without using any sort of buttons at all. You can also plug this guitar into an amp and play through the amp while playing the game. That is pretty sweet.
So okay, those were the guitars and what they can do but it doesn’t answer what Pro Mode actually does. As mentioned above, Pro Mode essentially allows for a much more realistic playing experience with skills that can cross over to real instrument playing. For the guitar this means notated guitar and bass parts, which is simulated with the Mad Catz Mustang guitar and fully realized with the Stratocaster Squire guitar/controller hybrid. For the drums it means hitting the specific toms and cymbals as opposed to just the approximation you would hit previously. For keyboards, you play across the two octave range and are obviously hitting proper notes on the keyboard.
Pro Mode can be played on easy which just gives you basic notes to play in a way not dissimilar to the standard gameplay but which more accurately correspond to real instruments. As you move up the difficulty level cords are added and much more difficult and specific pitch accurate notes are added. Pro Mode can be played concurrent with other modes as well so if you are in the campaign and you are playing with your friends and you want to go Pro and they don’t that is fine. You can rock Pro while they play the standard way.
So Pro and the addition of keyboards is the biggest addition to the mix but Harmonix did not stop there. An added Party Shuffle allows the players to set up the length of their experience without just going down a quick play list or getting into the campaign. You can drop in and drop out from any screen in the game and do the same with changing difficulty. The campaign is robust with more than 700 new goals and rewards for digging in deep. They have also stuck in some social networking features to work with Twitter and Facebook. Pretty much any sort of experience you want to have from knocking out a quick song to doing a full campaign to having a Rock Band party will be available.
The overhauled menu system makes all of the above even easier as it is isn’t a matter of changing menu screens over and over. All of this is handled as on overlay so you can see your band mates walking around their home town in the background. This helps for all of the on the fly changes you can make through out the game without having all the players remain completely motionless and not touch the controller while whoever is trying to change something does their business. The song selection is simplified as well as you can pick and choose the sorts of songs you want to play according to length, difficulty, instruments, type and pretty much anything you want. With a number of songs creeping up to 2,000 (if you were to have all of the ones that are available), this sort of easy search is very much appreciated.
So obviously if Harmonix can deliver everything they have promised Rock Band 3 is going to be a pretty big step forward for a genre that has been weakened by too many iterations with not enough innovation. From what I saw at E3 and given the developer’s track record, I am very confident that they will make good on their promises. I went in really excited to see what Rock Band 3 had to offer and I came out very impatient for the holidays.
Oh and here is the announced song list so far:
· Metric, “Combat Baby”
· Rilo Kiley, “Portions for Foxes”
· Them Crooked Vultures, “Dead End Friends”
· The Vines, “Get Free”
· The White Stripes, “The Hardest Button to Button”
· Phoenix, “Lasso”
· Ida Maria, “Oh My God”
· Juanes, “Me Enamora”
· Jane’s Addiction, “Been Caught Stealing”
· Smash Mouth, “Walkin’ on the Sun”
· Spacehog, “In the Meantime”
· Stone Temple Pilots, “Plush”
· Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark”
· Huey Lewis and the News, “The Power of Love”
· Joan Jett, “I Love Rock and Roll”
· Night Ranger, “Sister Christian”
· Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again”
· The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”
· Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”
· Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
· Jimi Hendrix, “Crosstown Traffic”
· The Doors, “Break On Through”