As with most music games, Rock Band 3 is an excellent cooperative experience. Teaming up with a group of friends is as fun now as it ever was. Vocal harmonies, like those of The Beatles Rock Band, return, and with the added keyboard, you can play co-op with a band of seven members. This is the best in the genre, by far, and Harmonix should be lauded for pushing the limits of what can and can’t be done in a music game.
However, the total experience isn’t quite as good for a large group due to some limitations that I can only assume are due to hardware issues. Anytime all four instruments are used, the game prompts you to enable “All Instruments Mode”. In this mode, the vocals no longer get a controller, and are presented karaoke style, with no scoring, overdrive, or even difficulty selection available. Additionally, all venues shift to a music video style background, which can be repetitive and distracting. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface; after all, who has seven players around except for a big party where you don’t really care about scoring anyway?
But there’s more to it than that. All Instruments Mode is required anytime you want to have keyboards, guitar, and bass, even if those are the only three parts signed on. This limitation is a bit puzzling, and frustrating. Another issue is that you can’t go online in All Instruments Mode, so if you join a band online with guitar and bass in it already, you cannot play keyboards at all. You can do so if there is only one guitar or one bass, but it’s a bummer nonetheless.
And then there’s the issue of keyboard parts. Keys tends to be very dry, with long empty sections in many songs. Most songs on disc in Rock Band 3 have a keyboard part, but not all of them do, and when you add in your exports and DLC from previous games, none of which have keys parts, a keyboard player will often find themselves with nothing to play. You can pick the bass or guitar parts on the keyboard, but only if that part isn’t already being covered. Guitar Hero 5, released over a year ago, allowed doubling up of instruments. If this was implemented in Rock Band 3, the lack of keyboard parts would be solved. I can think of no other area in which Harmonix trails Activision in music game innovations, but “mix and match” gameplay like that of recent Guitar Hero titles would solve many of the co-op problems in Rock Band 3.
Even with these problems, Rock Band 3 is still a top-tier title. The core Rock Band experience has been tweaked and adjusted to a high level that is very close to perfection. Teaming up with friends to rock the house is still awesome. But All Instrument Mode’s shortcomings and the lack of mixing and matching instruments are perplexing. It’s clear that the major focus of the game is on the new keyboard instrument and the various Pro Modes, almost to the detriment of the cooperative elements. In the end, Rock Band 3 is a major revolution to the music game genre, and possibly the best music game yet, but there’s still some room for improvement as far as co-op is concerned.
The Co-Op Experience: Drums, Bass, Guitar, Keyboard, Lead Vocals and Harmony vocals are all available to play. Drop-in/Drop-out support through all game modes.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.