There are very few games which are day one purchases for me any more, Mario games definitely, perhaps Call of Duty too, but that’s more because it tends to be cheaper in the supermarkets on release than it does in the weeks and months after. But Rock Band 3 was also a day one purchase. I’d played both Rock Band, and Rock Band 2 a huge amount, and I’ve spent more than I probably should have on downloading extra songs. The extensive library of DLC for the series is its greatest strength. The fact that the songs released for the original Rock Band were still playable in Rock Band 2, and are still playable in Rock Band 3, means fans of the series will likely already have quite a few extra songs to play in addition to the on-disk content. The vast majority will also have transferred the on-disk Rock Band songs to their hard drives and will likely do the same for the songs on Rock Band 2, giving them well over a hundred extra songs. Even though it costs 800 Microsoft Points per game to do this it’s definitely worth it. For newcomers to the series it’s definitely worth getting hold of a copy of each of the previous games in order to do this, and possibly Lego: Rock Band too. It’s a shame you can’t do the same for the tracks on The Beatles: Rock Band too, I’d love to play some of my favourites off that without having to swap disks. But I don’t think you’ll ever be able to due to the licensing issues.
Whether Rock Band 3’s on-disk tracks appeal to you or not will obviously be a case of personal preference. For me, I found the selection to be really good. There are a few tracks I don’t like in the selection, but none I hate so much that I’d never play them under any circumstances, I’ll play them if I need to. There’s some proper classics on there, such as “Crosstown Traffic”, “Space Oddity”, “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” and, perhaps the pièce de résistance, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. There’s more recent stuff too, though I really don’t know why they put “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse on there, it doesn’t really fit in as a Rock Band sort of track. The way the main Tour mode is structured now you can easily avoid playing any songs you don’t like, in fact because DLC songs are integrated into it you can probably avoid the on-disk songs entirely, though I don’t know why you would. In the Tour mode you basically just play set lists in various places as your virtually band progresses from local unknowns to global mega stars, similar to in Rock Band 2. What’s different is you have more choice over what you play, and as well as earning stars based on your performance of each song you also earn spades for completing an additional challenge during the set. These challenges range from playing sections of the song accurately to deploying the Overdrive score multiplier as often as you can. Some of them are easier than others, and if you’re playing with two or more people some of them only count if you all do it at the same time, while others alternate between each player. So if you’re playing as a pair and one of you has it easy playing your instrument, but the other is having a nightmare on theirs, then you won’t earn many bonus spades, which can be a bit frustrating.
The character customisation has greatly improved since the last game. While you’re not going to be able to create a photo realistic version of yourself in the game, that isn’t really it’s style, you can create a fairly good cartoon like representation. Well I managed to anyway. There’s more clothing options than before as well, but I must admit that the inclusion of proper licensed band T-Shirts, which you have to pay Microsoft Points to unlock, left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I think they should have been free, perhaps unlocked by playing one of the band’s songs or something. At a stretch, I could probably accept them if they were free if you’d purchased some of the band’s DLC. But as they are, you pay for them separately, and they won’t be getting my money for them. There’s also a very large range of instruments your character can play, particularly guitars. There’s even a choice of several different microphones if you play as a vocalist. Which is nice.
The fundamental difference with Rock Band 3 is the new Keyboard and Pro Guitar peripherals. I’ve only had a little bit of a play with a keyboard, and I haven’t tried the Pro Guitar, so I can’t really comment on them. Perhaps someone will read this and offer to buy me the peripherals so I can try it out more, but that’s highly unlikely. I’m very tempted to get the Squier Stratocaster controller when it’s released next year, it’s essentially a proper electric guitar, but you can use it to play the Pro Guitar mode too. I’m still undecided. As these peripherals are new with Rock Band 3 the previous DLC is not supported, so if you want to play a keyboard part you’re limited to the on-disk songs, and some of those don’t have a keyboard part either, which is a little bit annoying. You can also use the keyboard to play the guitar or bass parts in a song, but obviously it’s not the same as playing a proper keyboard part. Incidentally, once you complete a challenge in the game, you can also use a guitar controller to play keyboard parts, I haven’t tried that myself.
Since this game came out there has been a huge development which threatens to undermine the future of the game’s DLC, which, in my opinion, is the game’s greatest asset. Viacom, the parent company of Harmonix, has announced it’s selling them off, and it’s possible that the Rock Band IP may be sold off separately, so it’s possible that Harmonix and Rock Band itself will have two different owners. If this happens it’s sure to affect future DLC for the game. At the very least it’s hard to see how the series’ weekly updates could continue seamlessly, there would surely have to be a period of acclimatisation for whomever takes over the game to reach the level of familiarity that the team at Harmonix has with the game. In the worst case scenario the updates would stop completely until the inevitable release of the next game in the series, the first under the new owners. If they continue to release DLC, I find it hard to believe the high quality of the charting will continue, at least at first. I think it will be very sad if Harmonix are split from their creation, it happened with Guitar Hero and that didn’t turn out so well, the general feeling is that the games have declined in quality since, and they’ve definitely been second best to the Rock Band games. But perhaps I’m getting worried about nothing, I don’t think there has been a clear message about this yet, just a lot of internet chatter. And we all know the internet isn’t the most reliable source of information. Except this site, of course.