I’ve been an avid fan of the Rock Band series ever since I played the original game two years ago. I later purchased a copy of my own, bought all the necessary fake plastic instruments, downloaded songs in the hundreds and “rocked out” with friends in my tiny dorm room on weekends. The music game genre continued to mark its territory in the videogame industry as I struggled to reach the elusive orange fret button on the “Hard” difficulty level. There were over 15 different titles released on multiple consoles that incorporated new peripherals, paid tributes to bands like Metallica and the Beatles and had themed set lists with themed art styles. However, the musical “Simon says” formula seemed to age with each new game with no changes made to the existing gameplay mechanics. Fortunately, Rock Band 3 marks the first big step forward for rhythm games since the original Guitar Hero, by introducing a slew of new features while keeping the game’s accessible fun intact. Harmonix, the minds behind the music game phenomenon, has taken great care in crafting Rock Band 3, resulting in a product that is polished in nearly every aspect. The set list features 83 songs that span several decades of music history and includes artists such as The Doors, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and Paramore. If you own copies of any previous Rock Band titles – with the exception of The Beatles: Rock Band – you will be able to import songs from these discs onto your hard drive. In addition, the Music Store offers an extensive library of over 2,000 songs available for download including music from R.E.M., Nirvana, Flight of the Conchords and many more. You are more than likely to find a favorite or two among this vast selection of tunes. New to the series this year is the keyboard peripheral and the Pro mode, which present a bold new way to experience Rock Band. The keyboard is a well-designed addition to the series that has a few minor shortcomings. 63 of the 83 songs on the disc support the instrument but imported and downloaded tracks do not. Harmonix plans to remedy the situation by releasing updated versions of already available songs in the near future that include keyboard. The second problem is that in order to take full advantage of the new keyboard, players must be ready to tackle Pro mode. Players are given the option of switching to Pro mode at the beginning of every song. However, this new setting requires an optional set of instruments in order to play: the 102-button Fender Mustang guitar and the cymbal add-on pack for drums. The Mustang alone costs $150 while the additional cymbals retail for $40. I opted to explore Pro mode using the keyboard that was labeled Pro-capable out of the box. While keyboard on the regular setting plays like a guitar with five fret buttons and no strum bar, it’s an entirely different beast on Pro, requiring all ten fingers and an understanding of scales, flats, sharps, majors and minors. The game takes you through an extensive tutorial that attempts to teach you the elementary details of how to play instruments such as keyboard or guitar in real life. It also helps you learn Rock Band 3’s notations for chords and notes, which are different from the five-color highway that’s used to play every song. Pro mode succeeds in making Rock Band a fun single-player experience but fails at making the option accessible. Pro mode’s steep price and even steeper learning curve will likely ward off casual gamers who prefer the traditional Rock Band experience. I was able to stumble through a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with fewer missed notes than expected on the Easy difficulty in Pro mode but got a migraine trying to navigate the keys for harder songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The feature is exhilarating because it’s a completely new beast, similar to what the first Guitar Hero game was when it was released. Though challenging, players will no doubt feel accomplished when those notes start matching up. The developers have done an excellent job with the presentation in Rock Band 3. Static title screens with rock-themed backdrops are replaced with dynamic menus featuring scenes from your fictional band’s career. When you create a band, you are treated with a scene of your band getting together and coming up with their name. As you fulfill goals and progress through your career you will see your band buying a van, throwing lawn furniture out of penthouse verandas and walking on stage in front of a sold-out stadium crowd. It’s a cool touch if you love customizing and creating bands like I do. Rock Band 3 is packed with new features and has a slick presentation but at its core is still one of the best social gaming experiences on the market. With the addition of keyboards and support for up to three vocal harmonies, a total of seven players can be playing at once, both online and locally. If you’ve already mastered Expert and grown tired of the music game genre, pick up Rock Band 3 for its Pro mode. If you’ve never played a Rock Band game, it isn’t too late to join the tour.