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Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360) artwork

Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360) review

"Rock Band 3 adopts a more complicated approach. You can start playing in a "Quick Play" mode, or you can go to a "Career" mode. Performance in one mode affects the options that you have in the other mode. Each song you play can earn you fans, and having enough fans allows you to increase the range of your tours, which eventually leads to more fame, more fans and more gear for your custom band."

You might suppose that I would find it easier and easier to review music games each time around, but I find that the opposite is true. It was a simple matter to see differences between Frequency and Amplitude, then from there to see how Guitar Hero and its plastic instruments were a big deal. It was also easy to look at Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and to recognize the refinement that made The Beatles: Rock Band a superior game. Yet with some of the more recent releases within the rhythm genre, the differences between new titles have begun to lose the impact they once had. That leads us to Rock Band 3, which was released so close after Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock that it would be a disservice to everyone if I didn't compare the two titles.

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, which was the first of the two games to arrive at retail, features a slew of rock songs that skew toward the heavier stuff: Slayer, Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Pantera, Soundgarden... that sort of thing. There's a definite theme.

Rock Band 3 features a soundtrack where the likes of Anthrax, Ozzy Osbourne and Rammstein are the exception rather than the rule. To give you an idea of how that plays out, let me just say that the song selection even expands to include a live performance from The Beach Boys. With that said, there are moments where some of the same bands make appearances, and on top of that there are a few songs that the two games share in common, including "Bohemian Rhapsody" from Queen and "Been Caught Stealing" from Jane's Addiction. It's difficult to identify a clear winner. The eclectic approach ensures that Rock Band 3 includes something for just about everyone, but the lack of focus leads to a project that doesn't cater to much of anyone.

That's not a problem that Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has, to say the least, and that other title also has a unique hook in the form of a slew of Rush songs that tell a mini-story about halfway through the game. It also has the concept of rock warriors uniting to save rock music. To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to that concept except to say "Hey, cool!" when my rocker became infused with the power of rock and started carrying his head around, but there are people out there who adore that sort of thing.

Rock Band 3 could very well bore such individuals. It features a band--which you can customize from the start, and then later modify with new gear that you find along the way--on the road to fame. You start by touring local venues, then eventually you do so well that a crappy old van is a justified expenditure, then a bus and so forth. It's a sensible approach to things, even if it lacks creativity. As a player, I couldn't help but root for my scrappy band mates. I wanted to see them find success on a local, national and eventually worldwide stage. The admittedly subdued approach was the one that I found more satisfying because I was more easily able to identify with my band, so ultimately I give it the edge.

Another difference between the two games is the way that they compel a person to replay songs multiple times. Both games feature well over 70 songs, which seems like a high enough number that you'd never have to play any of them more than once if you didn't want to, yet both games are designed to encourage replay. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock let players zip through a straightforward "Career" mode, and after that it's easy to go back through and tackle songs with new challenges--lots and lots of challenges--added into the mix so that the player has incentive to keep trying to improve his score. It's fun and easy to compare your own score with any that your online friends may have posted.

Rock Band 3 adopts a more complicated approach. You can start playing in a "Quick Play" mode, or you can go to a "Career" mode. Performance in one mode affects the options that you have in the other mode. Each song you play can earn you fans, and having enough fans allows you to increase the range of your tours, which eventually leads to more fame, more fans and more gear for your custom band. I appreciate the slew of unlockable content, but as I played I felt like my progress was more limited than my performances merited. I'd play through songs without missing notes while on the road, but then I'd have to stop and replay songs I'd already nailed until I got enough points to unlock new venues. Or I'd just play a bunch of personal challenges (gaining fans along the way), and then I'd have to play the songs again once my band started touring. The end result was that by the time I reached the somewhat repetitive grand finale, I had already played most songs 2, 3 or even 4 times. Some of the songs on the soundtrack really held up well in spite of the repetition, but others definitely didn't.

Rock Band 3 may be stingy when it comes to progression, but it does deserve props for the manner in which it handles difficulty balance. The developers behind Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock seem to think that players need to be either coddled or abused. The easiest difficulty mode is downright insulting. You don't even have to worry about finger placement, just strumming. And the last song is just as difficult to beat on the easiest setting as it is on the next setting. Higher difficulty modes quickly become more challenging, but there's not a setting that feels quite right unless you have a lot of experience within the genre.

What I grew to like about Rock Band 3 was its insistence that the player apply himself even on the 'Easy' setting, as well as the way that it makes progression from that point feel natural. I played through songs on 'Easy' mode first and I was surprised when I had to use all five buttons to play nearly every song included in the game. In the past, even with games like the recent Green Day: Rock Band, I've been able to limit myself to just the first three buttons by going with the less demanding difficulty settings. You can still ignore the final two buttons here and complete songs, but a five-star performance often demands more of the player. I found my skills steadily improving the more I played the game, and finally I graduated to 'Medium' play and the exciting challenges that it offers. That wasn't something that I expected to do when I first started playing, but it's clearly something that the developers had in mind.

Rock Band 3 isn't content to stop pushing the player in the obvious conventional ways, either. Though I wasn't sent any of the other instruments to try for myself, Rock Band 3 apparently supports a new "pro guitar," which in-game tutorials reference. There's an actual six-stringed instrument and players will need to start using frets and chords to clear songs. There are individual challenges to accommodate that new mode. I heartily approve, and I also approve of the new keyboard controller. I don't have one, but I've seen it in stores and some of the songs here, such as "Sister Christian," seem like they could be a lot of fun to play on a keyboard. If I weren't such a poor boy, I'd probably have ordered one by now.

What my experiences with Rock Band 3 (and to a lesser extent, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock) might mean for you, I really can't say. I personally found both titles to be extremely enjoyable. Their differences don't seem substantial on the face of things, and even careful consideration led me to conclude that the most important difference is song selection, but the two games truly are following different paths. This is quite possibly the best year we'll ever see for rhythm games and Rock Band 3 is a huge part of that. My suggestion: buy it.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 22, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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