Harmonix has long set atop the music game pecking order, and Rock Band 3 is another very strong effort. The traditional music gameplay we've enjoyed for years is as good as ever, and arguably the best it has ever been. But the inclusion of an entirely new instrument and the well-marketed Pro mode additions are Rock Band 3's true focus.
There is much to talk about in regards to what's new on the Rock Band 3 disc alone, from the refinements to the user interface to the new track list and the revised progression system. A new overlay is the biggest change to the UI. It allows each player to adjust settings, difficulty, or drop in and out with ease. One of the more tedious tasks in previous Rock Band games was moving a gamertag from one instrument to another. This chore is much easier in Rock Band 3; if I’m logged in on guitar and want to swap to drums, I just plug in the drums, push start, select “swap to DjinniMan” on the overlay, and I’m ready to do my Animal impression. While this is a great addition, swapping multiple gamertags isn’t nearly as smooth, and requires one player to sign out before the swap will work. This still interrupts the flow of the experience, but not nearly as much as before.
Rock Band 3’s track list is quite impressive, with eighty-three songs on disc. Each song is unlocked from the beginning, so there’s no need to play through a career in order to find your favorite. The list is quite eclectic, and very different from other Rock Band games. There is a definite pop rock feel to the list, probably because of the inclusion of keyboard tunes. You’ve got the Beach Boys and Huey Lewis on one end, but there’s still bands like Slipknot and Anthrax on the other. I found the setlist very, very strong, but I must confess I am a big fan of 80s music. Your own opinion may vary. Of course, all your previously downloaded songs are available, and exports from any non-Beatles Rock Band disc work just fine too.
World Tour mode has been removed from Rock Band 3, though you can still create your own band and customize it to your liking. The main progression through the game is measured by Career Goals, which function very much like achievements or trophies. Fans are earned by meeting these goals, which include tasks like getting a long note streak, or playing an instrument for the first time. While there are special set lists available to help you meet each of these goals, you can still get the classic road tour feel by taking on Road Challenges. These short tours take the band through a handful of cities, playing at one venue in each location. At each venue, you can choose a preset list of songs, or from two alternatives. These alternatives are typically either random songs from a particular genre or decade, though sometimes you can choose a custom list instead. I found this to be a very nice alternative to the lack of choices offered in Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock.
During Road Challenges, you have more to worry about than merely earning stars. Spades are a new currency in this mode. Each star is worth a spade, and the band can earn up to five more per song. Each set list has a different requirement for earning these additional spades; some ask for all players to nail as many sections as possible together. Others require you to maintain Overdrive as long as possible, or even go as long as possible without missing a note when you are in the spade spotlight. While these are nice additions to the formula, they don’t really change the way you play. For the most part, you earn spades the same way as you do stars: hitting the notes accurately. You are awarded gold, silver, or bronze ratings for each Road Challenge by meeting spade thresholds; these ratings are tied into Career Goals.