Rock Band 3 Hands-On Preview - Man Up Son, It's Time To Go Pro
Written Sunday, September 26, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Believe it or not, I used to be a dab hand at the piano back in my youth. They called me the “white Stevie Wonder”... okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I did used to play piano, quite well in fact.
That was about 15 years ago though - yes, I am that old - and I've always wanted to get back into it, but I felt like a prostitute that's had her legs closed for a decade: rusty and full of cobwebs. When Harmonix announced that Rock Band 3 would be getting its very own keyboard peripheral, well, I suddenly had an excuse to pick up the mantle once again, especially with the pitch accurate ‘Pro’ keys.
When we were at EA's Guildford offices this week, we not only managed to get our filthy mits on the elusive keyboard, but even the Mad Catz pro-guitar. In short, we both sucked and rocked in equal measures. After being given the option of which instrument we wanted to step up on to the oche with, naturally we gravitated towards the keyboard with it being new and me squirming inside like a young school girl.
Although the new peripheral does have a Rock Band style mode to rock out with using just 5 keys and the traditional colour notations, for us, pro-keys was the way forward. Covering two octaves, we found that the Mad Catz created peripheral is probably best played on the adjustable stand (RRP £24.99, sold separately).
Playing pitch accurate notes in all the ‘Pro’ modes, the difference between difficulties is simple. The lower the difficulty, the less notes; the higher the difficulty, the more chords and sharps you'll be hitting until you ramp up to expert which is said to be an exact representation of the music you’re playing along to.
Being suitably rusty, we jumped in on easy with a relatively laid-back track: T. Rex and 20th Century Boy. The most notable issue that stuck out like a sore thumb for me was that with the heavy-on-the-guitar tracks, it was pretty difficult to pick out the ivory tones out of everything that was going on.
First track down and things were relatively simple from our perspective. On to the next track, we upped the ante choosing a harder track, and even opting for medium. This time around we had left our comfort zone and we were using both the ebony and ivory keys. Coming from someone who played the piano many moons ago, there are two challenges that you must overcome:
That being said, this is pro-keys and no-one said this was going to be an easy ride. After all, you're effectively playing proper music, which is the lure of the whole mode. Despite the growing pains and disorientating start, after 3 or so songs I started to find my groove and the peripheral and mode really starts to come into its own. Yes, there may be a steep learning curve, even for studious pianists, but it's simply some of the most engaging and fun times I've ever had in a music game ever.
While we were eased into the keyboard peripheral with a fairly easy track, unfortunately our time with the pro-guitar was not as forgiving. Straight up, straight onto Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody - 5 devilish stars of difficulty for the pro-guitar if you're interested.
Now maybe it wasn't the wisest idea to start ‘Pro’ mode on this song with the 102 button Mad Catz peripheral, but hey, it's a good song and we like to go with the flow. Even on easy, for the most novice guitarists like myself - I can play a few chords and White Stripes' ‘Seven Nation Army’ - it was a massive challenge. Seeing someone nail this mode though is as mesmerising as watching a real guitarist.
So, how it works is simple: each string is represented on-screen and each fret has a number. So if the first string shows a note with a 7 on, you hit the 7th fret on first string as the note passes. For me, that was more complex to grasp than the theory of relativity, and after fumbling through the track – on easy, mind – I end with a dismal 22%.
There is one noticeable hang up though that hasn't really been publicised, and that’s namely that while you may hold down a string not part of a chord on a proper guitar, you know, because it's further up the neck and is superseded by holding down a string on a fret towards the base of the neck. With the Mad Catz pro-guitar though, the peripheral recognises that button press and ultimately says you're wrong, which isn’t going to be ideal for existing guitarists who are already set in their ways. As a tool to learn the guitar though, what more could you ask for?
In a genre that has been long stagnating and lacking innovation, trust it to be Harmonix to give it the kick up the ass the genre needs. After only a short hands-on, it's clear that not only is Rock Band 3 becoming a revelation in the games industry, but with offering a supremely interactive learning system for a variety of instruments – drums as well – the pitch accurate ‘Pro’ modes may take the music industry by storm as well.
Plus, it has Echo & the Bunnymen on the soundtrack, what more could you want?
Rock Band 3 is scheduled for an October 26th and October 29th release in North America and Europe respectively.