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Critical Reception: EA/Harmonix's  Rock Band 3

Critical Reception: EA/Harmonix's Rock Band 3

October 27, 2010 | By Danny Cowan

October 27, 2010 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Harmonix's Rock Band 3, which one review describe as "the greatest rhythm game ever made, and quite possibly the only rhythm game you need to own." Rock Band 3 currently earns a score of 95 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Joystiq's Griffin McElroy gives Rock Band 3 5 out of 5 stars.

"Though Rock Band 2 could be knocked for its lack of ambition, with its largest changes being focused on improving the user experience on a superficial level, the third generation of Harmonix's music platform has ambition to spare," he begins.

"Not only does it fix the few kinks left unsmoothed by previous entries into the series; it adds an unprecedented amount of new features to the Rock Band experience you, and likely your group of faux-bandmates, have come to know and love."

McElroy praises Harmonix's introduction of a keyboard peripheral. "It might be easy to assume that playing the basic Keys wouldn't be particularly engaging, considering playing the Bass and Guitar have always required the player to operate five mutlicolored buttons," he admits.

"Though the two styles of play may look identical on the screen, the Keys feel entirely different from the game's stringed offerings. Just as the guitar controller emulates plucking and strumming along with a real guitar, the keyboard emulates the satisfying percussion of banging on a real piano -- an entirely different, but equally compelling sensation.

"Of course, it emulates that feeling especially well in Pro Keys mode," McElroy continues, "where all 25 keys (sharps and flats included) must be played. The game breaks down sections of notes on the keyboard into clusters of different colors to help you become acquainted with following along with the track. Still, learning to read this new note chart is like learning to read a new language. though the difficulty makes it all the more satisfying once you finally figure out what your hands are supposed to be doing."

In comparison, however, the new Pro Guitar mode is much more intimidating. "Though your prowess on a real-life piano will almost certainly give you an edge when first trying your hand at the keyboard, any guitar skills you may possess won't give you much help here," McElroy warns. "Even if you learn the bizarre language of the Pro Guitar's note charts, you'll have a difficult time sight-reading a song you've never played before."

Despite the high difficulty curve, McElroy emphasizes that these new features make Rock Band 3 more compelling than any other rhythm game released in recent years. "[The] experience, already a relatively unparalleled source of enjoyment, is exponentially greater by the virtue of these new additions," McElroy claims. "Rock Band 3 is the greatest rhythm game ever made, and quite possibly the only rhythm game you need to own."

Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis also scores Rock Band 3 at 5 out of 5 stars. "As someone who's been enjoying rhythm games since they were little more than an exotic novelty for importers of Japanese video game delights, it's been an interesting journey these past 10 years watching the genre evolve into a full-blown cultural phenomenon," he begins. "Frankly, the only real slight I have against Rock Band 3 [...] is that I come away feeling like I've experienced the end game for the genre, as I'm having an exceptionally hard time figuring out where it can all go from here."

Davis notes that Rock Band 3's gameplay basics remain familiar, but are now refined and offer greater depth. "Rock Band 3 finds all of the basics from Rock Band 2 in place, with a career mode that lets you form a virtual band and take them on the road as they go from playing local bars to trotting the globe in private jets to play sold-out arenas," he writes.

"None of this is new, but what's significant is how it's all structured, as there's no longer any real distinction between progress your band makes in the tour mode or in random play. It all goes in the same bucket, which, in a way, kind of strips much of the gameiness out of the package, or at least keeps it from distorting the way you'd prefer to approach the game."

Davis explains: "There's a series of road challenges for the tour experience, with each challenge mapping to a specific regional, national, or international tour for your band. Part of what I really appreciate about the road challenges is that, while each stop comes with a predefined setlist, you're also always presented with alternate options such as playing random or custom setlists from specific eras, genres, or combinations thereof. Not once did I feel like I was facing a bunch of songs that I had no interest in playing, which is a huge step for such a mode."

Rock Band 3 also offers a number of song- and instrument-specific challenges for solo players. "There are goals for band achievements and specific instrument achievements, goals based on performance in specific sets of songs," Davis notes. "There are even sets of goals specific to downloadable songs, and the songs you can import from past Rock Band games. It provides all the sorts of objectives you'd expect and then some, so if you want those sorts of directives to help shape where you spend your time with Rock Band 3, they're there. They just don't get in the way when you just wanna get some friends together and rock out."

"With Rock Band 3, Harmonix has introduced the keyboard, the last of the common rock instruments, as well as a set of instruments that eliminate the distinction between playing a game and playing an actual instrument, wrapping it all up in a package that makes itself almost entirely passive to the way you want to play Rock Band 3," Davis says. "Like I said at the top, I'm not sure where else there is to go, but I don't really care. I'm having too much fun right now."

Game Informer's Matt Miller rates Rock Band 3 at 9.25 out of 10. "Harmonix was founded on the principle that everyone should have access to the joy of creating music, even if they never had the benefit of learning a real instrument," he begins. "The premier music game developer fulfilled its goal in developing Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but Rock Band 3 is a whole new ball game. While continuing to polish the experiences that established the Rock Band brand, this new installment also offers players the opportunity to take the next step and learn to play the instruments we've been pretending to rock out with for the last five years."

"The keyboard in particular has several songs that highlight its flexibility and fun," Miller praises. "I really like this newest peripheral; it's small and light, and can be played from a number of positions (lap, table, or strapped up like a keytar). I also admire the onscreen notation system that shows off the many keys that need to be played in pro mode. By the time you're rocking the highest difficulty on pro mode, you're playing the full right-hand parts to the songs in question. It's a thrilling sensation, whether you've ever played piano or not."

The Pro Guitar mode is also successful, according to Miller. "The new pro-guitar system is remarkable, even if the high cost of entry and steep challenge make it prohibitive for some players," he admits. "A phenomenal tutorial system introduces the basics of fretting, barre chords, and finger placement, along with all the other skills you'll need to play the world's most familiar rock instrument. Nothing replaces a real teacher, but Rock Band 3 does a good job of approximating the real thing."

"Even with a focus on these new toys, Rock Band 3 is still excellent with existing instruments," Miller assures. "I loved soaring through the guitar and bass parts with the old instruments; several of the songs have great solo lines, and there's a nice mix of rhythm and lead play throughout the setlist. Normal drums continue to be a blast, and the transition to pro mode with three additional cymbals is the easiest 'pro shift' to make, thanks to clear visual cues that distinguish cymbals and pads. Singers have a bunch of fun melodies to explore, and harmony vocals return from the Beatles game for all those wanna-be backup vocalists."

"In many ways, Rock Band 3 is a culmination of Harmonix's efforts to bring music to the masses," Miller concludes. "But it's also a new chapter in the franchise that starts the gradual merging of real and game-based music. Plenty of naysayers have already declared music games dead. Harmonix certainly hasn't gotten the message; this band is primed for a new tour."


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