Review: Rock Band 3

Review: Rock Band 3

The people who made music games great have delivered their best game yet. Harmonix, the developers behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band, have tweaked, polished and re-engineered the Rock Band presentation, while also adding all-new ways to play.

Rock Band 3 introduces two major innovations to the multiplayer music game: the option to play keyboards alongside guitar, bass, drums and vocals, as well as brand new “Pro” modes that transforms the genre into more than just musical imitation. Rock Band is now a musical education. Players can now play along with songs note-for-note, offering a substantial increase in challenge for virtual guitar players, bassists and drummers. Of course, there’s an all-new set list – one that’s appropriately keyboard heavy& – and the option to play more than 2000 available songs.

Ideal Player

The Rock Band or Guitar Hero fan who’s looking for any reason at all to come back to music games. The plastic guitar enthusiast (with patience) who might just want to figure out how to play one of these songs for real. People who understand why karaoke is fun.

Why You Should Care

Your dreams of playing a keytar and a video game at the same time can finally be realised. There are great party songs on this disc, like Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”, Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and Def Leppard’s “Foolin'”. While not every Rock Band 3 song comes from the 1980s, it seems the best ones do.

Keyboards?! Hell, yes, keyboards. While the instrument may not be as natural to play or empowering to play as a plastic guitar, Rock Band 3’s keyboard is an incredibly enjoyable addition to the line-up. The instrument’s inclusion is complemented well by strong soundtrack contributions, including fun songs to play from Queen, Yes and Foreigner. Playing keyboards to songs you might normally sneer at, songs written by Smash Mouth for example, can often foster a better appreciation for them, turning them into Rock Band 3 favourites.

Any keyboard gotchas? Not every song has a keyboard part in Rock Band 3 and (currently) none of the songs you may have purchased beforehand feature dedicated keyboard note charts. Some have keyboard players tapping only a few notes per song. Fortunately, keyboard fans can tickle the ivories along with guitar and bass lines, if they’re desperate. Also, Pro Keyboard is pretty damn challenging – but in good way.

How does the Pro instrument feature work out? Pro Keys, which spans all 25 keys of the controller, and Pro Drums, which maps cymbals to a drum controller add-on, are the easiest of the instruments to learn in Rock Band 3. Harmonix offers a deep and helpful set of tutorials to instruct players how to play these more complicated versions of songs, as well as a multiple difficulty levels for Pro players. The progression from drums and keyboard to Pro Drums and Pro Keyboard is less daunting, less complicated than Pro Guitar, an expensive and intimidating endeavour.

Is it worth investing in a Pro Guitar controller? Only if you’re serious about learning how to play or find Expert difficulty beneath you. Pro Guitar is work. Rarely during my Pro Guitar education did I find myself having what we’d call “fun”. On the contrary, attempting to learn how to play guitar via a proprietary controller that boasts 102 buttons was frequently frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking. While the hardware is well constructed and the tutorials thorough, coming to grips with the complex interface and Harmonix’s method for displaying chords is no mean feat.

Can it really teach me how to play music? If you stick with it, sure. “Learn A Song” mode breaks down songs into manageable chunks for anyone willing to put in the practice to learn “Free Bird” or the devilish “Walk of Life”.

What if this Pro stuff doesn’t interest me in the slightest? If you’re purely a Rock Band party player, this iteration is still a must-have. “All Instruments Mode” opens up the game to a whopping seven players – keys, guitar, bass, drums and three vocalists – at a time. It’s also easier than ever to get a room full of people into the game, playing how they want to play. Rock Band 3 introduces the “overshell”, which gives every player their own menu with which to tweak settings, turn on “Lefty flip” or “No fail mode”. It also makes it easier to swap instruments between players on the fly, should you want to keep playing but swap from guitar to keys.

And what if I’m more of a solo artist? Rock Band 3’s career mode is better than ever. While much of it is simply a stringed together series of set lists, broken down into “Goals” and “Road Challenges”, your progression as a band is tracked across all modes. You’ll gain fans and unlock new items whether you’re playing music in quick play, diving into tutorials or playing dedicated challenges. Furthermore, those challenges are simply stuffed with mini-achievements to tackle. Best of luck getting 100 per cent on this one.

How’s the soundtrack? It’s an eclectic mix. Judge for yourself. There are plenty of brand new tunes, a handful of old, and rarely will you find anything that’s not pure joy to play along with. Rock Band 3’s library regularly surprised me with its ability to transform set list apathy into song playing delight. There are a handful of brilliant, classic selections, plus a few songs that may surprise players with their entertaining note charts. And there’s also Phish.

Rock Band 3 In Action

This is Harmonix playing Rock Band 3.

Sample some of Rock Band 3’s included tracks in this song trailer.

Rock Band 3 senior designer Sylvain Dubrofsky explains how keyboards work in Rock Band 3.

Doobie Brothers “China Grove” on Pro Drums.

Yes “Roundabout” full band on Expert.

The Bottom Line

Rock Band 3 offers something for every type of rhythm game player. For the more casual aficionado of music mimicking, Harmonix and MTV Games deliver a more streamlined interface that makes Rock Band more party-friendly than ever. For the hardcore plastic guitarist and drummer, Rock Band 3 puts the challenge into overdrive, with a legitimate music instruction tool for wannabe musicians looking to learn the fundamentals (or their favourite songs). Add keyboards, vocal harmonies and a strong, diverse soundtrack and we’re ready to certify this one double platinum.

Rock Band 3 was developed by Harmonix and published by MTV Games for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, released on October 26. Retails for $99.95 for game only. Rock Band 3 wireless keyboard costs $138. Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar costs $288. A copy of the game and new instruments were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through more than half of career mode, played all songs, tested all Pro level instrument trainers.


  • *sigh* Any idea when the pro mode guitar will be released in NZ? I’ve looked around and asked around, and so far, there’s no mention anywhere in retail stores. All I get is mention of the keyboard ;(

  • This game was a definite buy for me (moving on from RB2) from the time they announced it – it’s just a shame that the instruments are so darn expensive in Australia.

    I mean, even with the crazy shipping costs, the keytar costs less to ship over from the US than buying it outright, and I’m due to get it at the same time the game comes out.

    As for the remaining instruments, I’ll to search on eBay for the drums, while I highly doubt that the Fender Strat controller will come out here at any reasonable cost. Guess I’m looking at importing that too.

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