I haven’t posted about music games since the E3 Guitar Hero/Rock Band coverage as there are many better sources of news (Plastic Axe, for instance), and tales of Guitar Heroism don’t make for fascinating reading (“… so I pushed the red button, then the green button, then the red button again, then the red *and* yellow buttons, and then I was supposed to press the orange button but I missed and pressed the yellow button…”) The triple whammy 12 months ago of Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band and Rock Band 2 within a short space of time was really the saturation point for me, combined with a smidge of DLC and imports from previous games they gave me more than 300 songs to be working through on guitar, bass, drums or vocals, which is Quite A Lot. I’ve been dabbling on and off, especially when a particularly nifty bit of DLC comes along (like Flight of the Conchords, woo!), getting a few more dollars or trying for a few more stars in the various tour modes and challenges, but the white light and white heat of hot-rocking excitement has cooled to a comfortable numbness. Can the big guns rekindle the flame with Guitar Hero 6 (aka Warriors of Rock) and Rock Band 3 now out in the UK (yes, even the Wii version, simultaneous with the 360 and PS3 releases and the same week as the US instead of 14 months later)?
“Not really” seems to be the answer, both personally and nationally. The impact of the biggest new feature of Rock Band 3, “Pro Mode” featuring (more or less) real keyboards, drums and guitars, has been somewhat lessened by delays, lack of availability and price (£70 for a keyboard, £110 for the button-based Pro guitar that’s in short supply if available at all); the peripheral I’m really interested in, the Squier stringed guitar, has only just got a release date (March 2011) and price ($280, plus it needs a $40 MIDI controller) for America, no word for the UK (I’m hoping they don’t just switch the $ for £, if they release it at all). Without Pro Mode Rock Band 3 is pretty similar to Warriors of Rock, Yet Another Guitar(/Drum/Vocal) Game, slightly spruced up from the previous instalment, a bunch of new songs but not necessarily a vital “must buy” unless there’s anything on the setlist you’re really desperate for.
I decided to hold off on Warriors of Rock and let it drop in price a bit, and with sales turning out to be somewhat disappointing it’s already getting cheaper. Without the Squier I was in two minds about picking up Rock Band 3 straight away as well, but a free Doors 3-pack of songs available for the first week of release clinched my order, putting me in pretty select company with 294(!) other Wii players (I’m not sure if the figures are bricks and mortar shops alone, but any way you slice it those aren’t brilliant release weekend sales).
Rock Band 3 is… like Rock Band 2, but a bit better. Particularly welcome on the Wii is SDHC support and the ability to export tracks from previous games, only Rock Band 2 and Green Day Rock Band at the moment but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they might manage to license Rock Band 1 and Lego Rock Band as well. An extensive series of achievements (or goals, as they are in RB3) offers plenty of incentives for those into that sort of thing (I need to lure three others along for “Bohemian As Intended” for playing Bohemian Rhapsody with a band of at least four). Graphically the note tracks and lyrics are all perfectly clear; the band members seem to have taken a slight backward step since Rock Band 2, especially when you’re trying to design a female character. I’m not sure if they’re bungeeing into the Uncanny Valley, but I had to drop the female bass player I’d whipped up as her strange zombie features freaked me out; it’s hardly an issue during songs as you’re fixated on the note track anyway, but the between-song tour vignettes were a bit peculiar.
I’m not really sure about keyboards; I suspect they could be fun on some songs, but maybe not £70 of fun, I’ll try and have a go on someone else’s to get a better idea. Maybe if the peripheral comes well down in price it would more of a possibility for an impulse buy. It’s the Squier guitar that, for me, has the potential to really elevate Rock Band 3, so I’ll be looking out for some more reviews and concrete information next March to see how well it works.
Looks like Bill Harris was right with his obituary for music games, despite Activision’s pledge the the Hero franchise will return. I think they might be heading the way of the flight sim: once ubiquitous, now sometimes dragged out for some casual multiplayer fun but mostly limited to a handful of enthusiasts with piles of expensive specialist hardware.