Rock Band 3 Review

Ever since we saw Rock Band 3 at E3, I’ve been stoked to actually get my hands on the game. It looked really cool in presentations and demos, but would the experience hold up once it was in my living room?

On the surface, Rock Band 3 is another iteration in the quickly growing stale music game genre. However, below the surface, there is a whole lot going on here.

Rock Band 3 (PS3 [Reviewed], Wii, XBox360)
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games / Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 26, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

First off, there’s an 83 song track list that at first glance doesn’t impress all that much. For every “Crazy Train,” there’s an equally obscure song, such as “This Bastard’s Life” by the Swingin’ Utters. Once you get into the game, you’ll find to your surprise that the track list works pretty darn well. Also, the track library is now over the 2,000 song mark, so there are plenty of other options if your favorites didn’t show up in Rock Band 3.

Still, the core of music games is the gameplay, and outside of adding new instruments and two backing vocal harmonies (straight from The Beatles Rock Band), not much has changed on that front. You’re playing colored notes on a five-note runway, just like you always have. Unless you decide to play Pro Mode, which is a whole different animal.

Pro Mode actually teaches you to play the instruments, not just match some colored notes. By the time you get up to playing Expert Pro Mode, you’ll pretty much be playing songs note for note on whichever instrument you choose. This sounds simple, but the effect is profound: you can plug in a real guitar, place your hands the same way, and actually play the song.

However, Pro Mode isn’t for everyone, and Harmonix knows it. So, is Rock Band 3 worth it for the casual music gamer who will never even touch Pro Mode? What’s changed?

There are a few core changes to Rock Band 3, and almost all of them are good. First off, the addition of a player-specific pop-up bar that allows true jump-in, drop-out gameplay, access to game options and more is a major improvement over previous Rock Band titles. It sounds minor, but anyone who’s hosted a party and had to keep returning to the band select screen to change out band members knows exactly what I am talking about.

Career mode has been completely revamped. You’re still wandering the world, playing fixed or random setlists for fans and stars, but the way you go about it is very different than it has been in the past.

Rock Band is now about completing challenges. Each of these is a sort of mini-career that consists of a few sets, each in a different venue. You even get the chance to pick what sort of setlist you’ll be playing. At one venue, we had the option of a Random 80′s setlist, a Custom Metal setlist, or a Random Rush setlist.

Each song also has bonus goals tied to it, such as playing streaks when you’re in the spotlight, or keeping a streak going while overdrive is active. Successfully completing these results in extra points and new unlocks. No matter what mode you’re playing in (even training), your band will be earning points and fans that make these unlocks come that much faster.

Speaking of unlocks, there are a bunch of new outfits, instruments and more to customize your character. They’re all handled through a new interface that even allows you to tweak your character’s appearance more than ever before. As usual, that appearance carries over onto the stage, but now you’ll also see your character doing things in the menu background, appearing in cutscenes, and generally living that rock-and-roll lifestyle (like when you wake up on top of a hotel with a wicked hangover).

In the end, Rock Band 3 is all about investment, and I’m not just talking money (although you can spend plenty of that too). Jumping into all the new instruments will run you $250 minimum, so you need to make a decision about how hardcore you want to be with this game. If you’re looking to learn to play your favorite songs on guitar, or you just want an awesome new challenge, this could definitely be the game you’ve been looking for.

The one thing missing from Pro Mode at this point is a huge song selection. For example, there are currently only 63 songs that feature keyboards. There are a ton of songs that are already in the Rock Band library that would be great for keyboard charts. We know that Harmonix has plans to refit some existing DLC for Pro Mode, we just don’t know when that will be.

If you’re not making the jump to Pro Mode, what you’re getting is 83 new tracks, a stylish interface and career mode overhaul, and a bunch of new outfits for your characters. You won’t be getting as much out of the game as if you play Pro Mode, but it’s still worth picking up.

All in all, Rock Band 3 represents the pinnacle of the music game genre to this point. It’s a tight, polished experience that showcases everything Harmonix has learned since they started with Guitar Hero. It’s so good that Harmonix could likely just spend the next few years releasing DLC for it, and no one would have any complaints.


  • Pro Mode will in fact teach you to play an instrument
  • New interface may be the best feature
  • New track list has some great songs


  • More obscure songs than past Rock Band titles
  • Pro mode instruments are prohibitively expensive
  • Pro mode song list somewhat lacking

Score: 95/100



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