Rock Band 3 Hands-On

New peripherals, features, and a goal to disrupt the music games business: Harmonix is nothing if not ambitious with its upcoming rhythm game.

Let's face it: Rhythm games don't really hold the allure that they did a couple of years ago. Both The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5 failed to live up to expectations from a sales standpoint, leading many to wonder if the bloom is permanently off the fake band video game rose. Nonetheless, developer Harmonix is still firmly committed to the genre as well as its Rock Band franchise--so much so that at a presentation introducing the game to the press last month in Los Angeles, Harmonix producers claimed this game will be a "disruptive title" in the music category. The jury is still out on that claim, but from the looks of things, it's clear that Harmonix has put a lot of thought into the features for Rock Band 3.

Perhaps the most noticeable addition to the game is the keyboard peripheral, which is, obviously, used for songs that include piano or keyboard parts. While the keyboard peripheral isn't specifically required for the game--you'll be able to play the keyboard parts in a song with a guitar, if you like--playing an actual keyboard on songs like Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" or Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" (two of the 20 or so songs featured during the Rock Band 3 demo) was a kick. While the keyboard is limited in size--two octaves, to be precise--it should be noted that the peripheral itself is a proper instrument (complete with an MIDI output), which has some larger implications for the game that we'll address a bit later.

As with the rest of the Rock Band instruments, playing keyboards is easy on the lower difficulty settings, provided you've got the right-hand position. After placing your right thumb on the equivalent of "middle C" on the keyboard, the note highway gems are tied to the five subsequent white keys, and as with the guitar parts, you'll sometimes be pressing two or three notes together to form chords. Our limited facility with the keyboards kept us from trying any parts above medium difficulty with any sort of success, but it's clear that some parts will be tricky from the get-go.

To demonstrate the keyboards in action, as well as the harmony vocals that have been brought into the game from The Beatles: Rock Band, a group of Harmonix producers took the stage to play Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Judging by its inclusion in the next Guitar Hero game, as well as in Power Gig: Rise of the SixString, this makes it the must-have song for 2010's crop of music games. The on-stage group members gave it their best with Freddie Mercury's multilayered vocals and complex arrangements, and the result was a strong, if not necessarily note-perfect, effort. Vocal harmonies will be all over Rock Band 3, and several of the songs that were playable in the demo version featured those harmonies, including "Sister Christian," "Here I Go Again," "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News, and "Walkin' on the Sun" by Smash Mouth, among others.

Those new songs will be a handful of the more than 80 tunes that will be included on the Rock Band 3 disc, and those 80 songs will add to Rock Band's increasingly huge content library, which is well over 1,000 songs strong now (and quite a bit more if you count the work coming out of the Rock Band Network). That much content can make for an organizational nightmare (we've all scrolled and scrolled when searching through our RB catalogs, looking for the next song to play), which is a fact that Harmonix developers are taking into consideration with improved filters and set list tools that should make those songs easier to find. For example, you'll be able use filters to show only new songs or only songs that are of a certain length (to prevent that annoying guy at your Rock Band party from selecting the epic "Green Grass and High Tides," only to fail once the guitar solos begin). You'll also be able to rate songs so that they appear more or less often when playing random set lists, as well as save and share set lists with your friends. Taking that idea one step further, you'll be able to create custom battles in Rock Band 3 and share them with your friends.

Road challenges are a new feature in Rock Band 3--described by Harmonix's Dan Teasdale as "Band World Tour" crossed with "Mario Party." The core experience is still the same as Band World Tour--heading on tour with your bandmates to play shows and earn as many fans as possible. The twist here is that different gigs will have different circumstances and requirements to succeed. For example, at one gig, the audience might have been "treated" to a terrible opening act, and it will up to your group to win the audience back by using lots of overdrive during your songs. At another show, the audience might be filled with pencil-necked rock critics, and you'll need to play more accurately than you might have otherwise to please that tough crowd.

In addition to the challenges, the game will feature lots of goals surrounding a player's skill on the instruments. That's part of the approach in Rock Band 3's Career mode--the goals measure your skill on each of the instruments in the game, and you'll have an awareness of your relative skill on all the instruments as you go. Every goal you complete in the game will earn you fans, and those fans will earn you new items for your band…things like your van, which will further expand your touring capability.

Harmonix developers have something special in mind for the truly hardcore Rock Band fans this time around. If expert difficulty has become passe for you, you'll have an entirely new level of skill to choose from--known as Pro mode--which will be tied to the guitar, drum, and keyboard parts in the game. When playing Pro mode, you'll have relative levels of skill as well, but the ultimate goal is to better translate the gameplay conceits of note highways and gems into real musical terms. The easiest explanation for Pro mode comes with the drums; if you have a Rock Band set that includes cymbals, you'll see different-shaped gems coming down the highway that will indicate cymbal crashes.

On keyboards, playing in Pro mode shows a very different note highway, one that indicates every key on the keyboard peripheral. Though the parts start easier on the basic Pro level, by the time you ramp it up to the highest difficulty level, you're playing the actual keyboard parts as they are played in the song. The limited range of the keyboard means you probably won't get many two-handed parts going, but that doesn't take away from the technical difficulty of the notes you do have. Because there are so many keys to be represented and the note highway can only display so many notes, you'll see arrows onscreen that will indicate the screen needs to shift left or right to show notes that are higher or lower than your current position. It makes for a sometimes inelegant display, but those who dive into Pro keyboard mode will probably acclimate to it.

As with the keyboard, playing Pro mode on guitar will be much closer to playing a real guitar, and Mad Catz is releasing a specialized controller you'll need to play this mode. With 17 frets, six string controllers, and 102 buttons on the neck, it's tailor-made for Pro mode guitar and will let you play full chords across the neck, as well as the insane solos note-for-note just like a real guitarist. Once again, the note highway changes significantly for this mode, showing different gem shapes to indicate chords. At expert level on Pro mode, you're playing the exact same notes that Randy Rhodes belted out during his face-melting solo in "Crazy Train." As a result, this mode won't be for everyone. However, for those looking to find a bridge between fake guitar in Rock Band and picking up an axe and hacking out some tunes, Pro mode just might serve that purpose.

Whether Pro mode is as disruptive to the music game business as Harmonix claims remains to be seen, but it's nice to see the company looking to encourage more in the way of real musicianship with Rock Band 3. There's more to learn about the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo--including a hands-on with that Mad Catz guitar and Pro mode gameplay--and we'll be following the game throughout the rest of the year leading up to its release this fall.

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221 comments
epicmoustache
epicmoustache

It's a interesting idea, they have to bring something new to the table... it could be awesome. Why is a bad thing that gamers could learn something from the game.. rather than tapping away at a controller to get amazing at it you could properly learn to play songs - more incentives for parents to shell out the pennies for younger kids too :) I like the idea, could be really fun

epicmoustache
epicmoustache

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Hydrolix
Hydrolix

I don't get the hating either. I play real guitar and I enjoy rock-band with friends who are not musicians. I think it will be fun to now be able to combine the two. Plus, this looks like an easy way to learn new songs for guitar. I dislike deciphering tabs.

Dux30
Dux30

i dont understand people who hate on the fact that the game will teach you how to play the guitar. I can agree the Mad Catz guitar with buttons for frets will not be the same as the real deal. With that being said, the stratocaster guitar by fender for rock band 3 is a real guitar. You can play it on and amp and it has real freats and real strings. So how is playing a "real guitar" and looking up the tabs any different from this as long as you buy the stratocaster?

noirsake
noirsake

Hmmm I guess I'll wait till people think they're good at guitar then watch them cry because their fingers hurt after I tell them to play the same song they played on the video game on my REAL guitar... hehe *prepares for multiple thumbs down* :D

vega13mv
vega13mv

what's up with everyone hating on the new guitar thing? I think its awesome that theyre making new stuff to make the game harder and at least feel more authentic. I dont think anyone has been taking these games so seriously as to believe that they are actually playing the guitar. From what I've seen, most of the hate seems to be coming from actual guitar players who suck at the game, not the other way around.

Fajonkel
Fajonkel

Eh. I think we have enough instruments personally. Plus I've never been a fan of these kind of games. Same enjoyment i get from any other game, but buying peripherals. Not worth it.

ichc1000x
ichc1000x

This game is going to dominate Guitar Hero!!!!! I'm looking forward to it! :D

InredibleMrH
InredibleMrH

i really dont like the concept of the rock band pro thing. its gonna make a bunch nerds think there better at guitar then people who play the real guitar. rock band should be a game not a musical teaching device. being a real guitar player im gonna get it to just to laugh at it.

Sk8rlink
Sk8rlink

I like rock band, but... this pro mode will just get fanboys into thinking they can actually play something on a real instrument, I mean it's a fun game, but people have to understand it's just that a GAME, not close to the real thing, yeah you can get 100% on Panic Attack on expert Guitar, but I bet you can't even play something as simple as the Clash's Should I stay or Should I go on real guitar, I don't wanna diss anyone, but people remember GAME not the real thing, if it makes you wann grab the real thing, then thumbs up to harmonix, more music, a better world. PS I really like RB I'm in no way hating it. Peace

supernaught360
supernaught360

@8shadowmaster8 The Mira is hands down the most versatile guitar I own, or have owned. I'm gonna get a flame top eventually. Believe it or not, I actually prefer it to the Custom 24 because it has a wider frequency range (though the Mira isn't as warm/chunky sounding). My only complaint is I would prefer a toggle switch instead if the slide selector for the pups. You'll do yourself a great favor to get one, because there's usable sounds at absolutely every setting between 1 -10 on the knobs, and the stock pickups do everything, man.

8shadowmaster8
8shadowmaster8

@supernaught360 Gotta love PRS. I only got a Epiphone Les Paul "Custom", argueable as good as a Gibson. Always wanted a Mira though. (just might be getting it soon) Also, I approve everything in said post.

supernaught360
supernaught360

@ GabuEx I would seriously consider revoking the comment of "instant feedback" regarding real guitars vs phony ones, unless you consider a virtual crowd worthy of your attention? EVERY musicial instrument offers "instant feedback" in the form of creating/duplicating music. Bottom line: if you wanna stand next to me and my PRS Mira plugged into my Mesa Triple Recto with your synthetic phony guitar (and playing) while discussing the merits of using a toy that you turned to because you "didn't have time" to do the real deal, I think I could ably exhibit the rewards of time well spent with an actual instrument vs a toy and some polygonal fans. I bash it because people like yourself are convinced (glaringly wrong) that playing that toy is anything in the same dimension as the real thing. If you wanna check me out, my YouTube channel is 0allfornaught0 (zeros at the beginning and end) - maybe when you create something interesting on your plastic toy, we can do a YouTube collaboration?

SalFlame
SalFlame

@Jrock7 Dude, a Squier Stratocaster is already a guitar. You know that, right? Just saying. It's not a new name, they'd just integrate the gaming junk into the guitar and make it playable in games. Interesting to think about how they're going to tackle this. If they succeed, horray. If they fail, horray. It's a win-win ish scenario!

Jrock7
Jrock7

Falmar and Ozzie234 - Fender is working on making a real guitar and being able to use it in the game. Called Squier Stratocaster I think. For legal rights game companies can't have systems playing actual guitars, unless they want a lawsuit. Or another lawsuit from Gibson I should say. Downside you'd have to buy the new guitar, I'm sad I can't use mine, but I'll buy the new one when it comes out, not a huge loss.

spleen_zen
spleen_zen

I agree with Falmar that it would be a great idea for Harmonix, or at least Mad-Catz, to create a controller/adapter that would allow real guitar owners to connect their guitars and use standard electric guitars to play the game. It would encourage more players to use the pro feature and save EA and/or Fender the hassle of replacing faulty guitars (does anyone remember the issues with the black and white Fender RB guitar?).

Falmar
Falmar

they should have added a connect ur guitar to controller port cable/feature, its not that hard to get it done...

Ozzie234
Ozzie234

I like the key controller and the pro mode of it. Great way to learn for real here kids. But, I doubt a "fret button" type of controller ever could simulate the real thing, despite having six "strings" to strum. Why didn't they go all the way and use a real guitar-like controller instead?? It's possible.r

Jerrymiru
Jerrymiru

WOW... Makes me wonder if they are going to include some 80's songs too since a lot of them used a keyboard. I mean, aside from what was already mentioned.

Trogeton
Trogeton

it should be called DLC Band.. I mean there are like 50 songs on the game and then over 200 dlc songs coming out..lol and NO new features in the game... now that's what I call milked

Slash_out
Slash_out

I like keyboards better than guitar. So I always wanted to learn to play one over a real guitar. If with RB 3 I can get a little bit closer to a real playing experience, then I am all for it. Nothing better than to play a game you already enjoyed and learn something else at the same time you always wanted to learn, right?

dr3b
dr3b

Think I might just buy a guitar.

ZachBobBob
ZachBobBob

I've always said gh or rockband needs a keyboard...didn't think it'd work..im still not sure :/

ballsackeristic
ballsackeristic

@raev92 Yes Muse! Neutron Star Collision please?? And about the game, it looks awesome. Looking forward to the "Pro" thingy.

aliababoa
aliababoa

I believe the piano is going to fail .

Genexi2
Genexi2

Leave it to Harmonix to push the rhythm gaming genre forward.

The_Hotness
The_Hotness

I guess it's a combination of both then. =\

The_Hotness
The_Hotness

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

themovi3nut
themovi3nut

I just hope you can get this in Australia, but then again what about Guitar Hero 6 that means I will have two drum kits and two guitars!!!.....what will I do!?!??!

BaBaBaBen35
BaBaBaBen35

Make an adapter and just let me plug my real guitar into my Xbox please.

lookin_boy
lookin_boy

OH AND CALL OF DUTY SUCKS. YOU WANNA PLAY PRETEND WAR WHILE A REAL ONE IS GOING ON F U LOL

lookin_boy
lookin_boy

Lol fartknockers XD play air guitar its FREE

Weddum
Weddum

The people complaining about this type of game are the same people that complain about sports games. You can't just get a bunch of people and play as a band whenever you feel like it, same with a sports game you can't get a team of people and play something whenever you feel like it. That's where these games come in. I'll wait for the final product and try it in a shop somewhere before I have an opinion of this new setup they have.

raev92
raev92

cool...now that we have a keyboard can we get some MUUSE!!!

souperman24
souperman24

great...now were going to have little rapper kids thinking theyre all cool cuz they think they know how to play guitar, then well have some girls who think the rapper kids are all cool cuz they dont know the difference....thumbs up if you agree

IIFoxmanII
IIFoxmanII

@lookin_boy Your ignorance astounds me. The majority of Rock Band/Guitar Hero players play to have casual fun or to challenge themselves, not to emulate professional musicians. Also, many players possess the knowledge of how to play real instruments. For example, I, myself, can play the drums and piano as well as enjoy the video game Rock Band. Do you go around to articles about Call of Duty and tell people to stop playing fake war and to enlist in the army because it's the same price or cheaper?

rtalmadge
rtalmadge

Sounds cool. I play guitar myself and I think the biggest problem with guitarists, myself included, is that as a whole we are bad at reading music.. if they could find a fun way to teach that.. we'd be in there. Pro mode sounds really fun... I can press those 5 little buttons on the neck a lot faster than I can the first 5 frets of my guitar... having 102 buttons to mess around with will be a fun way to get used to playing the higher frets on a guitar. All in all, its going to be something fun to mess around with.

armedvigilante
armedvigilante

@ dkdk999 thats why we use tabs studying and trying again by looking at a tab is better learning then rushing the notes down screen at real time over and over agian sure you will learn but not nearly as fast

sonic5678
sonic5678

The Burning Questions: I have a left-handed guitar already, can I get some sort of adapter to allow me to use that? Will there be a lefty version of the Strat that they're bringing out?

dkdk999
dkdk999

i play a real guitar but don't you think this game could make you better at guitar? i mean being able to see on the screen witch string and fret something is on and react just like that has got to be pretty freaking hard. I couldn't do that.

lookin_boy
lookin_boy

People still play this game? Here's a useful tip! Learn to play real instruments for about the same price as all these fake guitars and drums cost in total XD

armedvigilante
armedvigilante

another thing the pro guitar is $150 itself with that money you could buy a beginers guitar that you can use in the real world not just a video game

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

If you can teach kids real instruments in game format then it's great.

armedvigilante
armedvigilante

keyboard is cool but guitar pro is just a stupid idea im a guitarist and learning guitar on a fake guitar off a video game let alone not even the right notes (i checked it sounds similar but its not the same) is just a joke get a real guitar, with that you can actually play it not think your a hot shot who can play guitar becuase you did on your plastic button masher

JoeBeetle1
JoeBeetle1

grimtendo - I agree that Harmonix has one up on Neversoft GH but we have to look at several thing, 1)The different market audience and what the public wants 2) What the publishing comapny wants. Some folks out there just want to hit the old game style or those wanting something more choice ininstruments. I'm glad to see we have choices but it will cost ya. I think overall Harmonix is the winner no matter who distributes there games. I think the developer focus is better except for the Beatles title, flat line. Harmonix created this genre but I think EA is a much better publisher comparied ego bustin maniacs at Activision i.e. Infinity Ward cluster F'K.