To many Aussies, it may seem like the Rock Band series has skipped an iteration. We didn't receive Rock Band until its sequel was released in the USA, and that sequel, Rock Band 2, has never seen a local release. Of course, we've had the band-exclusive titles like Green Day and The Beatles to tide us over, but now we're finally up to speed with the rest of the world as Rock Band 3 lands at our shores. Does it make huge improvements to the formula, or are Aussies still best looking to the online stores for their new song content?
The biggest addition to the series is one we unfortunately can't review. Rock Band 3 brings a new 'pro mode' to the table which is perhaps the most revolutionary aspect as it takes your interaction with the plastic instrument knock-offs to a whole other level. We do not have access to the new 'pro' controllers, nor the wireless keyboard peripheral that has been added to the game's repertoire of instruments, nor even the MIDI converter which allows you to plug in a MIDI-capable keyboard or guitar into the game and has not yet been released in Australia. These are all expensive additions, with the keyboard rocking in currently at AU $138, the wireless Pro Fender Mustang guitar at US $150, and the Squier Fender Stratocaster guitar at US $280, expected to be released in March next year. The question you may be asking is, why would you pay so much for these devices?
Essentially, the 'pro' mode opens up the possibility of learning how to actually play the songs in Rock Band. For reals. The wireless keyboard controller can be operated in much the same way as the guitar, with colour coded sections, or it can be used to accurately play the notes in the songs. The Pro Fender Mustang has over a hundred buttons which correspond to guitar frets and chords, although it seems to us that if you were going to go to that extreme to learn guitar you might as well go the whole hog and look at the Squier Stratocaster, an actual stringed instrument that you could properly learn guitar on. Reports from others seem to indicate that the pro mode is extremely difficult, but a useful tool for those wanting to learn guitar or keyboard. A cymbals pack for the drum kit is also available, to add some more realism and difficulty to the set.
If you're coming into Rock Band 3 with a current instrument, or instruments, then we're more than happy to give you the lowdown on the software, as distinct from the new hardware that has been released. Rock Band 3 includes 83 songs, some of which have appeared before in other music titles, but all of which span decades from the birth of rock to present day. You've got everything from James Brown to Huey Lewis to Hypernova, and there's a great deal more variation than there has been in the past. So many classics have already been used in previous installments that it must have been a challenge finding more material, and while the new soundtrack is more pop-friendly, it certainly has a lot of its own classics. It's also geared more towards including the newer instrument, the keyboard, so we get songs such as 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen thrown in, too.
Structurally, Rock Band 3 is quite different to the previous two games. If you want to just play through the songs, then the quick play function hasn't changed and you're allowed to hop into any song with friends at the drop of a hat. However, you'll notice some additions to your usual track list with green highlighted 'recommended' songs. This is Rock Band 3's way of integrating the music store into the game much more, as you can now see awesome songs during regular gameplay which you could own, if you're willing to spend the extra dosh. It may be informative or annoying, depending on your point of view, but the fact is that there's a massive library of songs on the store and it's a method of drawing the player's attention to the content that's on offer.
The Career mode has radically changed. Rather than a simple 'world tour mode', the career mode now has over 700 goals for players to work through, that are presented in much the same way as achievements or trophies. These can be anything from trying out different instruments and mastering them, to achieving perfect star ratings on all of the songs. There's a tonne to get stuck into here if you're the obsessive compulsive type who likes to beat everything, but everyone else may find it all a bit insurmountable. If you're after a more definitive progressive structure to your music game experience, then the 'road challenge' mode is the substitute for world tour. On the surface, it appears to be quite similar to that mode, with venues that are locally accessible by subway, then by road, then by air as your band gets bigger and bigger. You level up as you collect experience points and unlock venues, items and clothes, and overall it seems like the focus has really shifted to the music - as you're never locked into playing something you want to play, just challenging you to become as awesome as you can on what you do.
During these challenges, there are several locations you visit during a single burst, that can consist of two songs at each. These are usually pre-selected, but are sometimes randomly sorted. In addition to playing through the songs, you'll also have additional requirements to earn spades, which are used to calculate your final score. These requirements can be something like accurately playing notes, to using overdrive as many times as possible. They're a nice addition but there's only a few of them on offer, and they repeat much of the time making them begin to wear after a while. Maybe there's only so much you can do with a game that involves hitting notes in time to the music. However, even this can sometimes be a little hazardous as we are sorry to report there is infrequent (but noticeable) slowdown in some of the songs, popping up when some of the weirder effects are happening in the background (and especially in Echo & The Bunnymen's 'Killing Moon'). These spots are annoying and can interrupt your flow to ruin your combo, but hopefully they're patchable in the future. Also annoying is the message which informs you of goals awarded appears exactly where the note track is in the centre of the screen, which blocks your view of gameplay and is something which should have been caught and fixed much earlier.
Other than the slowdown, Rock Band 3 has a very strong presentation with very well animated character models that have great expressiveness and lip-syncing. The effects on display during these music videos can also impress, with some song-exclusive effects such as 'Bohemian Rhapsody' striking a chord as totally awesome. Sound quality for the game is top notch, as you would expect.
The value of Rock Band 3 will most likely depend on how you view it yourself. If it's just a collection of new tracks, with a re-jigged career mode and deeper customisation, then go by our review score at the bottom of the page and enjoy the game for what it is. If you're planning on investing into the pro-side of the game, with the new instruments and learning a proper instrument, then the value may be far greater, and we unfortunately can't comment on how much greater that is. Regardless, Rock Band 3 is a great installment in the series, with a fantastic soundtrack and a couple of niggling flaws. But if you're an aspiring rock star ready to be tutored by a video game, then prepare to fork over some serious cash.