Experience: The creators of Rock Band 3 have obviously been doing their homework. Harmonix/MTV Games not only expanded upon the tried-and-true formula behind the traditional music-driven video games, they have also thrown a bone to the naysayers who claim Rock Band is merely for those who are unable to play a real instrument. If you happen to fall in the latter category, it might not be a bad idea to attempt one of the latest additions to the game: the Pro Guitar controller. That little gem offers the consummate challenge to Rock Band veterans and may just deliver benefits to some genuine musicians out there. At the very least, those naysayers will delight in seeing a few unsuspecting gamers humbled.
Believe me when I say that I was one of those who at a little humble pie this time around. The first instinct was to go immediately into playing with the Pro Guitar or Pro Keyboard tracks. The keyboard bundle will allow you access to the Pro Keyboard feature or standard keyboard play immediately, but do note that the Fender Mustang Pro Guitar controller is sold separately. That being said, it's a worthwhile investment if you're craving something different that will translate into days (and possibly months) of game play. The Pro Guitar songs essentially guide you particularly when you get to the Expert level through playing a fairly accurate guitar track. Granted, there are buttons rather than your straightforward strings, but you do pick upon strings on the body portion.
When it comes down to the song execution on Pro Guitar, this is where the tenacious will be separated from the fair-weather gamers. Let's just say be prepared to fail on the Easy level. That's right. Fail. Even if you're a seasoned guitarist, you usually have a little time to review what notes to expect before actually playing a song. With a flurry of notes on the screen flying at you and the endless buttons with which to work, you'll be kept busy and more than a bit flustered at first. You'll certainly have a leg up with knowledge of chords and the like, but the Practice Mode will still be a huge asset. Much like a strict instructor, it waits for you to perfect one section before moving on to the next. It also shows you an excellent map of the guitar neck when you do mess up, making it easier to find the correct note. Given that this particular reviewer hasn't made it much further than Medium level on Pro Guitar so far, time will tell how draining Practice Mode becomes on Expert.
The Pro Keyboard feature will likely be more of a party favorite because it's simply much more accessible. While you still will need a few songs to get into the groove, you'll navigate the 15 white keys and 10 black keys in no time at all. When you throw in the fact that you have the option of making the keyboard into a keytar, it just sweetens the pot. That controller also is used for the standard keyboard game play, which is actually slightly lackluster when comparing it to the numerous keys you can use on the Pro Mode. The placement of the keyboard's overdrive button's is not the handiest (the end of the keytar neck), but after hours of practice this may be a non-issue.
While it will be the controllers that attract the most attention, one of the most thrilling aspects to Rock Band 3 is the new filter system. You can now sort songs by pretty much anything under the sun, including song length, the number of vocal parts, song ratings and song difficulty. You have the option of personally rating each song, with the higher-rated number showing up more frequently in your playlist. It all makes for a more seamless, quicker way of locking in to your song of choice.
The harmonies and drums are always a welcome addition that gives a few more options to those who might fear the guitar controller. And for those who still aren't satisfied with the Fender Mustang will get as close to the real deal as you can get early next year when Harmonix/MTV Games will release the Fender Squier controller, which is essentially an actual guitar that can also be plugged into an amp. We didn't get access to one at this time, but we're crossing our fingers that any kinks are worked out by its release date. // 9
Extras: Among the highlights is a more detailed character creation, as well as the standard challenges that have shown up on past games. To make things a bit more interesting for those at home, you can create new challenges yourselves that are based on specific songs of choice. There are 83 songs featured in the soundtrack (not to mention future downloadable content), but possibly the coolest addition for actual artists/bands out there is the ability to create your own songs for the Rock Band network. These personal tracks must be reviewed and eventually approved before making an appearance, but if luck is on your side then you'll earn a cut of the download sales. Oh, and you'll have your music heard by millions. // 10
Overall Impression: Rock Band 3 could be considered a few games in one. For those who just want to rock out, drink, and laugh with friends, sticking with standard play (at least for the guitar) is paramount. It's true to the original, but this time around you can navigate quicker and easier. If you're sick of the format and have scored near-100% scores on Expert for the past few editions to put it frankly the Pro Mode will kick your behind. It's the best of both worlds this time around, and some gamers who have never picked up a real guitar might just be ready for the real thing a few months down the road. // 9