Rock Band 3 First Look and Hands-On

BOOM widget 363167 The final appointment for many during the annual pre-E3 Judge's Week was a first look at Harmonix's Rock Band 3. In speaking with other journalists over appetizers, the prevailing theory was that RB3 would include a keyboard peripheral. It does. That isn't all, though.

First, the keyboard peripheral. It's made by Mad Catz, now the official peripheral maker for RB (this will be important), and unlike the rumors, is not a keytar, but a scaled-down keyboard. It just happens to be usable as a keytar if you so desire.

There are many more keys than notes during normal gameplay, with sets of keys corresponding to a "green" note in-game, for example. Hitting any keys from the green set will count. Songs like Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" fit in quite nicely with the new instrument.

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Additionally, vocal harmonies come over from The Beatles: Rock Band, bringing the total number of players possible to a ridiculous seven on songs that support the keyboard and harmonies.

On the music side, RB3 will come with 83 songs on the disc and support importing and backwards compatibility for all retail releases and DLC except songs from and for The Beatles: Rock Band. The song list will also be sortable and filterable by even more flags. For example, players may choose to show 'songs from Rock Band 3, that have keyboard parts, that are under 3 minutes long, than I have rated highly'.

The bombshell came after the keyboard was introduced and it's called "Pro Mode". If you, like me, were wondering what Harmonix could do to improve upon Rock Band 2 worthy of a purchase, it's this. Each instrument will have a pro mode option, but it isn't just another difficulty above Expert.

On keyboard Pro, each key on the peripheral will be used. The zones are gone. Notes will fall and correspond to a single key. On drums, Pro Mode adds 3 cymbals and requires them to be used to hit specific notes. On guitar, well, you're going to need a new peripheral.

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Mad Catz will be creating a controller that simulates 6 strings and 17 frets. This means there are 102 fret buttons and six "strings" that can be individually plucked. In-game, notes will fall along one of the six strings with a fret number requiring players to correctly press the right fret button and pluck the corresponding string. It is insane.

I got to hold a prototype of the Pro guitar and it feels good. The "strings" are easily pluckable, but aren't quite as taut as real guitar strings. The fret buttons feel good and are spaced well. Picking out individual buttons is about as difficult as finding the right string and fret on a real guitar.

It wasn't playable at the event, but Harmonix showed us the Expert Pro chart for Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark" and it is mind-blowing. You are literally going to be asked to play every single note. Don't worry, different difficulty levels will be available on Pro to ease players into the new mode. It will also be used for Pro bass play. Pro is completely integrated in the game and can be chosen on a per-player/per-song basis (if supported).

Expect more on the game and Pro Mode as E3 kicks off next week. It's safe to say, however, that even after the short presentation Rock Band 3 is poised to change rhythm games all over again.

Announced Tracks:

2000s:

  • Metric - "Combat Baby"
  • Rilo Kiley - "Portions of Foxes"
  • Them Crooked Vultures - "Dead End Friends"
  • The Vines - "Get Free"
  • The White Stripes - "The Hardest Button to Button"
  • Phoenix - "Lasso"
  • Ida Maria - "Oh My God"
  • Juanes - "Me Enamora"
1990s:
  • Jane's Addiction - "Been Caught Stealing"
  • Smash Mouth - "Walkin' on the Sun"
  • Spacehog - "In the Meantime"
  • Stone Temple Pilots - "Plush"
1980s:
  • Dio - "Rainbow in the Dark"
  • Huey Lewis and the News - "The Power of Love"
  • Joan Jett - "I Love Rock and Roll"
  • Night Ranger - "Sister Christian"
  • Whitesnake - "Here I Go Again"
  • The Cure - "Just Like Heaven"
  • Ozzy Osbourne - "Crazy Train"
1970s:
  • Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
1960s:
  • Jimi Hendrix - "Crosstown Traffic"
  • The Doors - "Break On Through"
Developed by Harmonix, Rock Band 3 is coming to PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS later this year in the "Holiday 2010" season.