Before we jump into the Pro offering, let's take a look at what you get if you just snag the game and drag out your old instruments. The soundtrack features 83 songs and retains backwards compatibility with all previous Rock Band music, save the tracks and DLC for The Beatles: Rock Band. The on-disc tracks favor a lot of keyboard to quickly bring support for the instrument up to speed, but there are plenty of amazing songs for other instruments here. Overall, I really like the soundtrack, but it could just be my personal tastes in music. Your mileage may vary.
The UI is extremely clean and powerful. Players can drop-in and drop-out at any time--even during songs--and each player can control his or her own personal options via sub-menus that can be navigated on any screen. Players can even swap the Gamertag associated to an instrument without having to log everyone in and out, which quickens the process of switching band roles on the fly.
Each player creates their own band and will always be working toward building that band's fame, regardless of how many people are playing. Each player will be completing career goals--i.e. Reach 8x multiplier on each instrument--and gaining fans. Now, everyone can advance their career without fighting over whose band gets to play*.
There are over 700 possible career goals, spanning almost every aspect of gameplay that Harmonix can track. It is not uncommon to complete multiple goals in a single song and a rewarding notfication pops-up for each. Apart from building fans through these goals, players can also embark on Road Challenges, which vary in difficulty and length, across several venues and songs.
In each venue, players will get an objective, which will earn Spades. For example, players could be directed to deploy Overdrive as many times as possible or deploy it while at max multiplier. Combined with the regular five-star rating on each song, players can also earn five spades per song. The goals aren't terribly difficult, but it does add some strategy. In my particular setup, the game would continually pick from a very small subset of songs, but it could have been because we had a keyboard going.
Well, let's talk about this keyboard. The peripheral is well-made and shaped vaguely like a giant comb. I don't ever want to play it as a keytar, but that's probably due to never wanting to play a keytar. On regular mode, players will utilize five keys, which correspond to the standard colored notes. Keyboard players can also take the guitar or bass track if they prefer or if no keyboard track is available. This helps alleviate some of the issues presented by switching between RB3 songs and older tracks with a keyboard present.
Time to dig into Rock Band 3's biggest feature: Pro Mode. First, let's get you singers out of the way. You're getting vocal harmonies and some pitch correction. Nothing else. Move along. Second, drummers get the best deal because every Harmonix song supports Pro Drums immediately. Go ahead and get the cymbals or use your MIDI kit because you get the most value out of Pro Mode.
Pro Keys are also excellent, but can be a bit tricky to follow as the game will not display the highways for the entire keyboard. It gives you enough warning as to when it will shift, but it can be jarring. If you're getting the keyboard, go ahead and give Pro a try, especially since regular Keys isn't that difficult for anyone familiar with rhythm games.
Pro Guitar and Bass are the heavy hitters here with a brand new 108-button peripheral or (eventually) a modified Fender guitar. Most Rock Band players, myself included, are primarily plastic guitar players and Pro effectively resets the skill level. I don't play guitar, so I cannot speak to how actual players will find Pro Mode, but I enjoyed my time with the mode. It can feel a bit like work at times--like learning anything--but it is generally fun and supported by all of Rock Band 3's on-disc songs. If an old track is loaded up, the Pro guitar can be used to play it, but you'll still have to strum every note and use the first five frets.
The trainers and lessons available for Pro instruments are helpful and provide a nice backing track to the notes you'll be asked to play. Lessons can be slowed down, repeated, and song-specific lessons are even available for the RB3 tracks. The missing link is that the game doesn't convey a lot of music theory. The lessons will explain a bit of theory--what notes you're playing and a bit of technique--but it quickly disappears when you're playing the game. This isn't a deal-breaker by any means if you look at it as teaching the mechanics and movements required for each instrument. Rock Band 3 definitely has its own musical language, especially on Guitar and Bass, but it works well for someone like myself who has no experience with a real guitar. It's cheaper than lessons, too.
I briefly touched on my biggest issue with the game earlier, but there is definitely a disparity between the RB3 songs and the existing catalogue due to RB3's additions. If you're in a group setting and want to play Pro guitar, bass, or keys, it will limit what can be played. I didn't expect Harmonix to be able to go back and add Pro to all of their old songs, but it does splinter the library's usability--at least until the RB3 DLC starts rolling out.
Rock Band 3 is easily the best entry in the series to date with its streamlined interface, career progression and goals, and Pro Mode. Admittedly, Pro might not be for everyone and it will require some extra money to experience. Regardless, the additional features and songs more than make up for the price of entry.
This review was conducted on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version along with the MadCatz Fender Mustang Pro Guitar, Keyboard, and Rock Band 2 drums with a cymbal kit. The content of this review does not cover the Nintendo DS version.
[*The Wii version supports concurrent profile progression. The PlayStation 3 version only supports a single login/band at a time.]
Here's my Rock Band 3 review:
IT'S ROCK BAND, BUY IT.