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E3 2010: Rock Band 3 Hands On Impressions

by on 06/19/2010

This year at E3 Harmonix was showing of Rock Band 3 with all is new features and options. After watching a demo of Rock Band 3 we were able to get our hands on the game and the new instruments. One of the biggest additions to the Rock Band series is that they area adding a keyboard this time around. I got to play it and despite my lack of musical ability I was able to do fairly well even playing it on Expert. It is actually a lot like playing the Guitar or Bass but without the strumming since it uses just 5 keys. It took me a little while to get use to the finger placement and using my right hand but when the game releases I think after a few songs I’d have it down. I was surprised because I was not expecting keyboard to be so much fun, but I had a blast with it.

Harmonix is also adding a Pro mode for all of the instruments in Rock Band 3.  For drums this means that you must play the cymbals and not the toms when the songs plays that way. For Guitar and Bass you use the new 6 string Fender Stratocaster Pro controller.  It is a full functional electric guitar with built in additional hardware to function as an Xbox 360 controller. Playing guitar on the Pro setting in Rock Band 3 requires using the correct string and fret for the note. For gamers familiar with guitar cords they are listed on screen as the notes scroll along. Playing the new 2 octave keyboard on Pro mode requires using the full 25 keys. In Pro mode each instrument can still be played on Easy, Medium, Hard or Expert.  On the lower difficulties it is still fairly simple, but when you pare playing Pro Mode on Expert it requires fully playing the song just like yo would in real life on that instrument. To show this off Harmonix plugged the new Fender Stratocaster Pro controller into an amp while playing on expert. It was impressive to see the performer playing the game but hearing the song through the amp.   To help gamers new to really playing instruments there are hours of tutorials and instruction. Keyboard on Pro is actually the one I’m most interested in trying.  It looked like on Easy or Medium I could handle that level of challenge and still enjoy myself.

Because there are already over 1500 songs in the Rock Band Music Library Harmonix has added a song filter and recommendation options.  Instead of just having a massive list of songs to choose from you can quickly filter it down by decade, genre, length, difficulty, source and more.  Playing around with these filters was pretty fun as I was able to quickly find all of the Metal songs from the 80s that were short and easy to play.  Rock Band 3 also gives you the option to rate each song in your library from 1 to 5 and then uses those ratings for the random set lists and to recommend other songs you might like in their Music Store.  It is nice to know that songs I don’t like will not show up in the random set lists.

The final big thing that I got to try out was the ability to join in, drop out, or change difficulty mid song without effecting the rest of the players in the band.  Each gamer can join or leave at will and the game keeps going for the remaining players without pausing. I tried this out twice and it worked smoothly and cleanly.  I was able to switch from playing Bass on Hard to Expert mid-song while the rest of our band just kept going.  This ability to change leave or join carries over through all game modes. Even better is that you no longer have to sign in to do vocals.  Just turn on the mic and the game recognizes it and adds the vocal portion.

After playing a few songs and seeing a lot more get played by other E3 attenders I’m sold on Rock Band 3.  The keyboard and pro modes are great additions and the new in game options make it easy to play just the songs I’m in the mood for.

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