It seems like a really, really long time since the first Guitar Hero dropped back on the Playstation 2 back in 2005. The genre has really come a long, long way since then and has skyrocketed in terms of its actual role in the music industry, but has been steadily declining in sales. A major part of this was the three-steps-beyond-milking proliferation of Guitar Hero games by Activision since 2008, which absolutely disillusioned many fans to the genre as a whole. The Rock Band series, on the other hand, has been fairly tame in terms of the number of games they have put out. Debuting in 2007, there have been, at most, two titles released per year in the series and even within the spin-off titles like The Beatles: Rock Band, Harmonix has brought the genre forward in terms of the evolution in gameplay. So let me just go ahead and praise Rock Band 3 by saying that it is a game that can be likened to Final Fantasy I or Super Mario 64, in terms of completely revolutionizing a genre. The only problem is that when a series as hardware-intensive as Rock Band reinvents something…it comes at a steep price.
As you can tell from the scores above, the problems with Rock Band 3 do not lie in the gameplay. Rock Band 3 still has the play-along-to-the-flying gems system that remains fun, and it offers a hefty eighty-plus song setlist. One of the biggest additions to RB3 is the keyboard, which ups the number of people playing instruments to four, and offers just as much fun as playing guitar or bass. RB3 also makes standard the three-person harmony singing originally found in The Beatles: Rock Band, which adds a great deal of fun and offers the potential for seven-person multiplayer.
The centerpiece of RB3, however, is Pro Mode. Pro Mode allows you to honest-to-goodness-play real music, with real instruments (though you can also get controllers that simulate the experience). The keyboard controller is expanded from the gems dropping to directing you the individual keys to play. Pro Guitar and Bass is done using either a Mustang-inspired guitar controller, tricked out with a neck with over one hundred buttons simulating a real six string, or an actual Fender Squier guitar modified for use in-game (though this isn’t due out until 2011). This converts the gems into scrolling tabs, telling you where to fret on your guitar. With the drums, you can either get the well-proliferated Drum Cymbal kit, or pick up a midi converter that allows you to hook up an actual midi drum set, making the game designate whether to hit the specific snare, high hat, cymbals and so on.
Really cool, right? The problem is all this new, cool equipment is a serious punch right in the wallet. The keyboard will run you $80. The Mustang will cost you a steep $150. That Fender Squier? $250. Then $30 for the midi converter (which doesn’t come out until after Christmas). The game is still $60, by the way. Oh, and all my friends that already play real guitar will be sad to know all those tabs in the game are locked away, only available if you have the Pro controllers (would’ve been nice if they threw us a bone!).
So, Rock Band 3 does a whole bunch of really cool things. The problem is the same thing that came up way back in the original Guitar Hero…it’s #%(*ing expensive, but even more expensive than back then. There’s a lot to love about Rock Band 3 and there’s been some awesome DLC already released…it’s just that to get the full experience, you’re going to need to drop some major dollars. I’m planning to pick up a Squier guitar controller when it comes out. But for most people, this is going to be just another rhythm game, and if they really want that, Rock Band 2 is right there.