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Rock Band 3 First Look [E3 2010]

This one is a game-changer. While Rock Band 2 may have felt like a moderate level of increase from its predecessor, the difference between Rock Band 2 and 3 is night and day. Everything has been changed to focus around the top level gameplay that pushes you on the route to being able to play real songs on real instruments. One of the best quotes of the presentation was that Harmonix has been working towards this game over the course of their entire life-span. It absolutely looks and feels like their magnum opus, and after seeing how much work they’ve put in to the third chapter of the series I have to say my interest in music games is not just reinvigorated, but feels brand new all over again.

Walking into the MTV Games booth we were sat down in front of a red curtain, spotted along the top with a series of large LCDs. The show started off with a montage of everywhere Rock Band has been featured over the past few years, i.e. Talk Shows, Pop Culture, TV Series including Eric Cartman’s rendition of “Poker Face.” As soon as it was completed the curtains parted-way to show a group of 7 super-talented musicians from Harmonix playing Rock Band 3 live on stage. That’s right, I said 7. Along with the standard bass, guitar, vocals, and drum set up that we’re used to a keyboard and 2 back-up singers joined in. 

Live Demo - Rock Band 3

After their song selection and a thoroughly earned round of applause the game’s introduction began. Backing out into the music selection menu the first thing that I noticed was along the bottom of the screen each player 1-4 has their own menu system that can be opened during any part of the game (main menu, character select, music select, campaign, party mode, during a song, etc.). Everything about their design of the third outing for the franchise feels intelligent. It’s obvious from the first look of the game that they have been listening to their fan base over the years, and making the game everything that we wanted. 

Navigation is a big thing that was in need of a tweak, and the guys at Harmonix have done just that. Along with the already mentioned easy of drop-in/drop-out gameplay the guys have installed several new features to make getting into a game and the song you want as quick as possible. Firstly, Rock Band now has a catalogue of over 1,500 songs. By the launch of Rock Band 3, they plan to have added another 500 songs as well. That’s 2000 songs that you could be navigating if you’re keeping up with the weekly DLC, disc content, and other such nonsense. To address this Harmonix has made several new filters to help you get to your favourites as easily as possible. 

Rock Band Complete Set-list

While on the song selection screen you’ll not be able to jump to a filter selection. Options for narrowing down the songs that show-up included: decade, song length, difficult, option for vocals/harmonies, location (game/DLC), genre, pro-support, and of course songs featuring keyboard support. There’s also a new rating system in play much like iTunes where you can add your personal rating for each song. Using this system the game can help suggest songs to build personal playlists.

Yes the previous games had set lists too, but nothing as expansive or impressive as Rock Band 3. Aside from the fact that the game will help you build them, there’s the option to title your personal set-lists and store them. You can have multiple lists ready on the fly to jump into your favourite songs whenever. You can also build your lists on the Rock Band site so that when you get home your new set-list is waiting for you. The most interesting part though is that now you can also share your set-lists. You’ll be able to send your friends personalized set-lists, along with the option of challenges. This means that the weekly challenges that Harmonix has been putting out through Rock Band 2 can now be created by users themselves and then shared with their friends over PSN/XBL. 

The second part of making things as quick and fun as possible for people with groups is the new “Road Challenges.” This was an addition that Harmonix has made to the gameplay for the thousands of people that like to get together with their friends and have themselves a jam session, but maybe didn’t want to go through the entire set-list, or try and play through an 8 hour story mode, or got bored of picking songs/lists for themselves. Basically the idea is of 2-4 hour “Mario Party” style gameplay. Your band will progress through a “tour” together completing a series of song challenges together. It sounds like a great way to keep things moving while mixing things up and providing that sense of accomplishment. 

Rock Band 3 Full Set

Of course the biggest news from the announcement of the game though was the new Pro-Modes for guitar, drums and keyboard. In the pro-mode you’ll be given a series of new challenges that help to better bridge the gap between playing a game and playing an instrument. In the drum pro-mode you’ll be able to use those cymbal accessories from Rock Band 2 to vary the play-style. There are now new icons that will stream down showing you whether you’re hitting the pad or the cymbal as well as what color. 

In the keyboard pro-mode you’ll use all 25 keys. The color stream shows you where your hand should be, and then the highway will shift left and right to guide you on moving up and down along the board. The button icons that come down the path will be the actual keys that you hit, and everything in pro-mode is pitch-accurate. That means if you’re playing pro-mode on the hardest difficulty setting for a song, you really are playing all the proper notes and learning the song! 

The guitar’s pro-mode was the best example of the cross-over to playing real music during the demonstration. Gameplay changes up by now showing you numbers instead of a button icon. The number flying down the highway corresponds with the number of the fret your hand should be on. The six lanes on the highway are no longer represented by different colors, but different strings. This shows you where and what to hold down, and what to strum. It may take some getting used to, but when you get it you’ll be able to play a song. The best example of that was having one of the Harmonix reps playing out a song on Pro’s highest difficulty setting and switching the guitar mid-song from game out-put to an amplifier, letting us hear that he was playing the song accurately direct from the guitar controller of the game!

Rock Band 3 Merch

The demonstration was mind-blowing, and afterwards we were all treated with the option to play the game. Unfortunately the pro guitars weren’t available, and the lines for keyboard were about 2 hours long… so I didn’t get to go hands on with any of the swanky new stuff quite yet. But I will let you know that everything looks great, and the set list is pretty impressive for this game. Definitely something that music geeks and gamers alike can get excited for.