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Rock Band 3 hands-on: shredding with the 102 button guitar controller

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Don't think for a minute that Harmonix has been resting on its substantial laurels while it gave us Green Day and Beatles Rock Band games. The team has been quietly working on Rock Band 3 for over two and a half years now, with the aim of pushing the music game genre into new territory. Way more ambitious than any Guitar Hero game, RB3 is attempting to bridge the gap between gaming and genuine musicianship. However, this may just be a step too far...

The problem is, there are two main camps. People either play it because they can't play real instruments, or they don't play it and moan about it because it's not as good as the real thing. The number of real musicians who play the game for the authenticity is surely a minority third group by comparison. So Rock Band 3 aims to bridge the gap and give you a wholly authentic musical gaming experience that will please everyone. So let's look at each instrument in turn and see if it can:

 

The 102-button guitar peripheral

From a guitarist's point of view, the 'one button for every fret for every string' does not play like a real guitar. The PR rep insisted I start on medium or lower, to get the hang of it, but playing reduced notes in such a realistic manner is counter-intuitive, especially on a classic like 20th Century Boy.

Then there's the problem of playing strings that aren't on the note sheet. On real guitar, I often use my left hand to mute strings I don't want to sound, so that I can attack harder with the right. Unable to detect the muted notes, Rock Band thinks I'm trying to play all the strings and so penalises me. It also penalises any kind of embellishment or artistic interpretation. So where at the end of Joan Jet's I Love Rock And Roll I would rake the pick over all six strings on the final chord, it says I'm wrong because it wants a three-string E5 and nothing else will do. Very frustrating.

Likewise, there's no way to bend strings (you can't bend a digital I/O switch)… and when you can't feel the string vibrating under your left hand, you constantly feel like you're picking the wrong string. It's a nice idea, but honestly, I can't help but feel you should either accept it's a video game and play with a standard 5-button Rock Band guitar, or play the real guitar part on a real guitar. Oh, what luck! Look at what we have here...

 

The Fender Squire Strat guitar peripheral

This baby doesn't have 102 buttons because it's literally an electric guitar (and thus the only peripheral that isn't made by Mad Catz - it's made by Squire to Fender's specifications). The second guitar I ever owned was a Silver Series Squire Fender Strat back in 1993, which I saw as my step up to a professional quality instrument. That means the Rock Band controller is a professional quality instrument too, converted for play on your console. All you need to do is plug in the MIDI converter (platform agnostic and sold separately) and away you go. That's pretty awesome.

 

Contrary to popular belief, the Squire doesn't use pitch detection when you play – it uses touch sensitivity in the neck that senses where your hands are, then recognises when you play each individual string. If it works, it will be nothing short of amazing. Sadly, to my utter despair, it was 'look, don't touch' for the demo as there are currently only three working prototypes in the world.

The production version will come out in 2011… and will cost 'more' than the button guitar's RRP. Squire Strats retail for around £130 in music shops and that's without all the Rock Band tech in the neck, so I wouldn't be surprised if the final model is somewhere around the £200 mark.

 

The keyboard

This is the peripheral that the team expects most people to buy with the game (it's £79.99 on its own or £129.99 as a bundle). The great thing about the brand new keyboard peripheral is that it's so advanced, it can be used as a real MIDI keyboard. Just plug it into your PC with MIDI sound software and you can use it to create real music. That really is bridging the gap between gaming and playing for real.


Above: It's a keytar! So you can pretend to be Jean Michel Jarre or some other keytar luminary

You can still play in the traditional five-note style, which is surely going to feel like cheating. I appreciate the point of the game is to let non-musicians feel like they're in a band, but playing five keys on a keyboard is hardly going to make you feel like a pro. It's even worse than those school excuses of 'I only play the white notes'.

That's not to say the unit itself is kiddified. While it only has two octaves spanning C3 to C5, it does feature a pitch shift wheel, velocity-sensitive keys (not to be sniffed at), a headphone port and a socket for the overdrive pedal, which we'll get onto shortly.

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22 comments

  • Jordo141 - September 25, 2010 2:23 a.m.

    @Hellhog Sorry to burst your bubble but you are not going to learn hoe to play real bass using the pro guitar...
  • jmcgrotty - September 24, 2010 8:39 a.m.

    "Is the pro guitar good enough to actually learn real guitar with?" I haven't tried them, but as was said I think, I don't imagine that it would be something you could learn real guitar on except the very basics. The potential problems I see are that not having string bending and palm mutes is a big deal if wanting to go from very basic user (think "twinkle twinkle little star") to middle-of-the-road user. Also, depending on how sensitive the buttons are, you could run into situations where you aren't properly learning how to do barre chords. If the buttons are very sensitive, you won't be hitting the barres on a real guitar with the same pressure. (Barres are when you have a finger that stretch across all 6 strings at once) None of this is saying that it is bad (or good), but it does seem to have inherent problems for anyone who wants to compare learning real life and the game.
  • Cwf2008 - September 24, 2010 5:07 a.m.

    120 BUTTONS?! WTF?!
  • QWERTYCommander - September 24, 2010 2:48 a.m.

    @spideralex Read my post.
  • ramenbox - September 24, 2010 12:55 a.m.

    Never tried such games before except for the one on PSP. I've a feeling this won't be very successful. They should just keep it fun and simple since these kinda games are usually played by people who can't really play instruments in real life. I'm not saying all. I know there are musicians who play such games too, I'm just saying majority don't. With such ridiculous prices and the amount of time and effort you need to invest in the 'pro mode', it's obviously better to just pick up a real instrument. Like what TheIronMaiden said, lifetime of musicianship is obviously way better. Sucks how you can't mute strings when their goal here is to bridge the gap between gaming and true musicianship. I'd rather play my guitar than spending so much on this even though the track lists are attractive.
  • DarkSpyroDragon - September 23, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    You know, I'm all for a video game that has the potential to really teach you how to play an instrument. I have nothing against it. I also have nothing against people who want to play games like this for fun. Its the reason why I started to learn how to play a real bass. Its when they start trying to charge you some astronomical price for plastic peripherals when I could be buying a REAL instrument for cheaper is when I have a problem. I admit, I do have problems with people who brag about how they can 5 star Dragonforce on expert and they get it in their head they are some kind of music master. If you can do that, you need to be learning a real guitar. I play for fun (on medium XD), not to prove how great a "musician" I am :/
  • sleepy92ismypsn - September 23, 2010 11:03 p.m.

    I already have the keyboard and game bundle pre-ordered. I can't wait. I just hope I'll be able to put enough time into it to get the most out of it. There's so many other games coming out. I had 6 games on my list for November until LBP2 got delayed to january 2011.
  • StrayGator - September 23, 2010 9 p.m.

    "The second guitar I ever owned was a Silver Series Squire Fender Strat back in 1993, which I saw as my step up to a professional quality instrument." Dunno. In Israel (lower average income, higher import penalty and less competition than western Europe) Squier is a generic name for entry level pieces of plywood.
  • spideralex90 - September 23, 2010 8:47 p.m.

    Anybody know what the pricing is for US? I want the full kit, but i might just buy the game + guitar. But the drums are so damn fun... this will be like 3 paychecks for me.
  • Lionzest7 - September 23, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    doubt I'll bother, kind of already have these instruments at home (I only play drums though). For that price though you can get an actual instrument. (keyboard/guitar)
  • n00b - September 23, 2010 7:20 p.m.

    what if you already have a guitar? can you just use the midi converter to work with it?
  • TheIronMaiden - September 23, 2010 6:53 p.m.

    I'm sorry but this is stupid. If people want to sink all of that money into a damn video game, go out and buy a real guitar and learn how to play! a Lifetime of musicianship is better than a game that will only bring you so many years of fun if that.
  • tuomotaivainen - September 23, 2010 6:50 p.m.

    I honestly hope this still works with the old Guitar and Drums. Cause I'm not planning on playing pro mode AT ALL. Granted I may be forced to buy the new guitar if I'm unable to buy a new "old" one....
  • QWERTYCommander - September 23, 2010 6:42 p.m.

    Okay, I converted £ to US $ using Google calculator and found out that that's more than $680!!! If I had that kind of money, I'd spend it on a little bit more than a video game. I might get the keyboard bundle. Full band? HELL NO.
  • musashi1596 - September 23, 2010 6:18 p.m.

    Seventh! Oh, wait. I forgot nobody cares which number post you get. I presume Lucas is still looking for his standing ovation. -- These peripherals would certainly be interesting to use, but as someone who lacks the dexterity to play a real guitar proficiently I'm guessing it would be out of my league.
  • Felixthecat - September 23, 2010 6:17 p.m.

    Meanwhile, I continue to save money by not buying RB3 and I play the proper Guitar like a man.
  • Hydrohs - September 23, 2010 4:59 p.m.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how the Pro mode works with the real guitar.
  • Channel4 - September 23, 2010 4:41 p.m.

    Not being able to mute strings with your left hand sounds incredibly annoying, but it serves me right for not learning how to strum properly i suppose. Is the pro guitar good enough to actually learn real guitar with? It seems like you'll have to already know the basics of playing guitar to be able play it, but if you already know the basics why not just keep playing real guitar? Could it be used as interactive tab?
  • Hellhog - September 23, 2010 4:34 p.m.

    I'm really excited for this game but will probably wait a year or 2 before picking it up. I really want to try Pro Mode Bass as I love the Bass (I actually almost took up Bass Guitar 2 months ago). The problem is that my drums have shorted out cymbal extensions. Basically, I need game with keyboard, I want the keyboard stand, Drums + Cymbals, Pro Guitar for Bass and Guitar. Way too much basically. Me and my friend actually thought about getting 2 games and sharing instruments.
  • garnsr - September 23, 2010 4:25 p.m.

    I don't care about the pro mode guitar, but I'm looking forward to getting cymbals for the drums. And hopefully we'll be able to have more than one singer on every song, like in the Beatles.

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