Rock Band 3 Review at E3

June 22, 2010, By Alex Ion

I got the chance to check out Harmonix / MTV’s Rock Band 3 demo at E3. It’s hard to compete with all the spectacle at E3, but the Rock Band 3 booth was hard to miss, built as a sold-out concert hall, where press were lined up outside at all times of the day, on all three days.

Rock Band 3 at E3 booth

Once inside, seven (yes, SEVEN!) devs perform a Rock Band 3 number, featuring both the new guitar and the new keyboard. Both keyboard and guitar are MIDI input devices, and I’m looking forward to the accordion or ukeleke hacks that are sure to start appearing online.

The beloved basic playstyle of matching musical notes on your instrument while your avatar rocks out on the screen has not changed, but the new Rock Band offers play options for the casual players, with a No Fail mode and the ability for players to drop in and drop out midsong. For a Rock Band party night, there’s a new option to play through a band’s tour, creating a challenge that can be completed in a night. And for competitive players, Rock Band 3 uses Facebook to issue challenges to friends or share set lists and scores.

Rock Band 3 at E3 stage

The new Rock Band promises backwards compatibility with your existing Rock Band songs, as well as new songs for a total of over two thousand possible songs. Players will be able to search their songs by category – decade, number of vocal parts, song length and more – and build set lists. You can create a setlist of high-energy candypop songs for a Rock Band party, or make an truly evil list of impossible songs to challenge your friends.

But the most fascinating feature, for me, was the tie-in to musical lessons. The keyboard can be set to various difficulty levels, to accommodate brand-new players basically keeping time and matching colors, to higher difficulties that carefully mimic the actual chords and subtly teach piano skills (without all those mind-numbing scales and musical drills).

Rock Band 3 at E3

The same is true for the guitar, which can be played on Easy settings for casual players, or used to teach real chords and fingering positions. The color matching system still appears on the screen, so no sight reading or musical background is really required, but budding guitarists will notice the names of chords appearing to the left of the colored dots.

One of the ways to play Rock Band is using a real electric guitar, that can also be plugged into a regular amp, and played, well, like a guitar.

I had the chance to check out the game for myself, and I can’t say that I was anywhere near as skilled as the performers who opened the show, but the controls are quite easy to master, and lend themselves well to casual or party play. And for the musically inclined, Rock Band 3 blends the boundaries between playing a game and playing an instrument.

This is a guest post by Meg Stivison who has spent time at E3 last week. Meg blogs at if you want to check her out.

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