Let’s just stop for a second to appreciate exactly how much Harmonix has accomplished. From their modest offices above a drugstore in Boston, this development team managed to turn music-based videogames into a worldwide cultural phenomenon not once but twice – first with the addictive action of Guitar Hero and again with the full-band magic of Rock Band. That’s not just impressive, it’s downright miraculous.
But more impressive still is the fact that, rather than rest on its truly remarkable laurels, Harmonix decided to challenge itself to not only reinvent the genre for a third time but to redefine what games themselves can accomplish. The result is Rock Band 3, and, more specifically, Pro Mode. Unlike the classic Rock Band gameplay – which features just five brightly colored notes – Pro Mode challenges you to play note-for-note accurate recreations of actual songs on a handful of surprisingly realistic plastic peripherals – including a Mad Catz guitar with 102 functioning buttons.
As you might expect, this is a hell of a challenge, one that’s requires serious commitment and patience. But here’s the good news: It works. Or at least, it did for us. The game comes armed to the teeth with music trainers that cover everything from picking single notes to strumming basic chords to nailing every note in a specific song, and though we were naturally a bit intimidated at first, we actually had no problem adapting to the relatively gentle learning curve.
Above: Pro Mode, as explained by Harmonix
By the end, we truly felt as though we had learned and accomplished something – an exhilarating feeling that not many games could inspire in its players. But be warned: Along the way, we endured a fair amount of frustration as well. The trainers can be overzealous at times, leaving little room for sloppiness (especially on the slightly oversensitive guitar). Fortunately, the actual songs somehow feel more forgiving, and once we really began honing our skills, the incredible rush of nailing the songs made all our suffering totally worthwhile.
If it still sounds too intimidating, you’ll be happy to know that even on the very manageable easy and medium difficulty settings, Pro Mode offers an experience that’s distinct from but not necessarily any more difficult than the tradition five-button gameplay. If you’ve already maxed out your skills on Expert in Rock Band 2, think of this as a new, slightly more technical way to enjoy rhythm games... even if you don’t want to learn how to play guitar for real.