Remember the first time you heard the first album by a band and was blown away by it? Remember those worries you had that their second one wouldnâ€™t be as great as the first, then relieved and stunned when it turned out so much better? Now, remember when they became more established and decided that their new album had to be different? You were tense. You were anxious. You wanted to love it with all your heartâ€¦ but despite all the good and merit of it, it just didnâ€™t work as well for you?
Rock Band 3 is that album.
While Harmonixâ€™s latest entry into the music/rhythm genre really is a big leap over the past titles; they improved a lot of areas and added some excellent new features & instruments that really streamline the experience and even give players a chance to learn the ins and outs of real instruments. Though I havenâ€™t had a chance to play the Pro Guitar or Pro Drums, I have been playing the Pro Keys mode with the very solid & fun keyboard controller, and itâ€™s been quite the experience. I grew up playing the saxophone instead of the piano, so learning how to hold my fingers properly and adjusting them to the chords is quite a difference, but still rewarding. The game also features a great training program, and the no-fail option for songs means you can work on your skills at your own pace & not get completely discouraged when you mess up.
Harmonix also made the game much more party-friendly than the first two, with an easy drop-in, drop-out system, which allows you to avoid playing songs you either canâ€™t, or wonâ€™t play. The game also gives you a great deal more in terms of choosing songs: in career mode your gigs usually give you several setlist possibilities & themes, so youâ€™re not always stuck playing something you donâ€™t enjoy. You can also organize your songs by your favorites, your best vs. your worst, etc. While this greater choice is commendable, it often feels like itâ€™s the exception rather than the rule.
Despite the greater choice in song setup, Rock Band 3â€™s customization feels much more limited than in previous titles. The create-a-character mode actually has more parts and ways to customize your rockerâ€™s face and body, which let me make my hard-rocking, hard-drinking, British alter-ego, Jimi Hatt, look far more like me than in previous games. Much like in past Rock Band games, I also started out with crappy clothes, but I knew that with time and money Iâ€™d be able to get my awesome outfits again.
I was wrong.
Now I know musicians generally donâ€™t make a ton of money, but Rock Band 3 went a whole step further and simply eliminated money from it. Instead, you unlock new outfits by playing well & finishing the many challenges the game offers (sing above 90% on expert, play 20 downloadable songs, etc). In theory this could be a good thing, but itâ€™s implemented terribly. Quite a few of the really awesome-looking outfits are only unlockable by beating certain songs with high percentages on expert while playing Pro Guitar or Pro Drums. Now, I donâ€™t have a Pro Guitar or a Pro Drum kit, and even if I did, it would take a long time before I would be good enough to unlock these outfits. Sure unlocking them would be a thrill, but realistically itâ€™s never going to happen. This means Iâ€™m stuck wearing a few outfits while drooling over the stuff that I could get in previous games by playing enough gigs.Â The sense of accomplishment has been changed, and definitely not for the better.
Likewise, the element of gaining fans seems to be diminished. At the end of sets in the other games you get awarded cash and fans, and seeing your fan base slowly rise with every session was awesome. In Rock Band 3 theyâ€™re still there, but the overall tally seems much more subdued and I find myself not caring about them anymore. This might be acceptable if I was still making money, but the game feels more about the music than getting the traditional accomplishments I expect out of a video game. I love playing the songs, but outside of getting a good percentage score, thereâ€™s not as much sense of accomplishment in Rock Band 3 as there was in 2.
On the plus side, the songs are quite varied and can showcase all of the instruments well, even if theyâ€™re not all in the same song. Plus, any game that includes the late Warren Zevonâ€™s â€œWerewolves of Londonâ€ and The J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” scores extra points in my book. Graphically theyâ€™ve sharpened a lot of the images & added more effects, but these games are really about the music, and thankfully Rock Band 3 doesnâ€™t disappoint there.
Sadly, despite the great setlist & legitimately useful new features of Rock Band 3, the game just isnâ€™t as much fun as its 2008 predecessor. The pieces are all there, the new ideas are great, but thereâ€™s enough missing from it to make me hope this is just a stumble in my favorite music gameâ€™s career.
Overall (not an average): 8/10