Harmonix waited two years to unveil a new edition to the main “Rock Band” series.
The company didn’t spend the time resting on its laurels. It released “The Beatles: Rock Band,” “Green Day: Rock Band” and the band-friendly Rock Band Network, and managed to release downloadable content every week since the original game came out in November 2007.
Harmonix also spent the two years since the release of “Rock Band 2” fine-tuning the brand in anticipation of the next release in the series.
That time has come with the recent release of “Rock Band 3,” which manages to bring both sweeping changes and innovation to the series along with delivering the same gameplay that has made the series successful.
For the casual music gaming fans, “Rock Band 3” is much of the same. The game adds 83 songs to the “Rock Band” library, which now totals more than 2,000 songs combining game releases and downloadable content. Nearly all previous content is portable to this game, with the exception of the songs from “The Beatles: Rock Band” and a few other select tracks.
The tweaks are subtle but effective.
It’s easier than ever to move in and out of gameplay, and the game menus are more streamlined. The game adds vocal harmonies that debuted in The Beatles’ game, and it includes specific challenges that add some difficulty to the gameplay.
The story mode isn’t special. Your band travels through different challenges, playing through set lists. You can play the challenges alone, with friends locally or across Xbox Live.
But two other changes take the genre to another level.
“Rock Band 3” adds a keyboard peripheral to the mix, which allows for more variety in the genres represented. You’ll use the keyboard as piano for songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and like a synthesizer for ’80s songs.
The keyboard plays more like a real instrument than any of the other peripherals, and you can even use the keyboard outside of the game with an adapter.
The other new innovation, one that presents gigantic possibilities, is the addition of pro guitar mode.
This allows users to simulate actual guitar playing provided you drop the $150 on the pro controller. The controller has more than 100 buttons, and actual strings. The developers claim that with practice, this new mode will actually teach you how to play the guitar. The lines are blurred now for those people who wonder why anyone would play a plastic video game guitar rather than just learning how to play a real one.
The addition of pro guitar is noteworthy now, but it could mean huge things for the genre in the future. I imagine this could open the door for user-created content and homemade song authoring.
“Rock Band 3” is a tremendous achievement on its own right now, but the game could be the trailblazer for what music games can achieve in the future.
Harmonix deserves all the credit for not simply sitting around during the past two years, but rather taking the most logical (and exciting) step for a genre that had started to grow stale.