Joystiq Top 10 of 2010: Rock Band 3

Earlier this year, Joystiq EIC Chris Grant and I were invited out to Sir Studios in Hollywood to see a secret unveiling of Rock Band 3, weeks before the embargo dropped for the public. To be honest, we weren't sure what Harmonix still had to offer beyond a new peripheral and a bigger setlist -- Activision had just revealed the silly Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, and it looked like the music game genre really was as done as all of the analysts routinely claim it is.

But the press conference that day (that kicked off with Huey Lewis' "Power of Love") was pretty astounding. On the ride back from the event, Chris and I couldn't stop talking about what Harmonix had done -- rethought everything that a Rock Band game was, seriously considered and reviewed every single problem with the genre, and really pushed forward the interplay of music and gaming. And when the game finally came out in October, it fulfilled all of the promises Harmonix made during that reveal. Rock Band 3 really is the pinnacle of what these rhythm games have become.

The keyboard is a great addition to the musical lineup, and it's very impressive that Harmonix has learned and adapted features from each of its previous titles, bringing in vocal harmonies from The Beatles, and even stretching the musical range thanks to the Lego spinoff. The ability to share playlists is a welcome update from Rock Band 2's Battle of the Bands feature, opening up even more ways to play the game online.

The Pro mode is an achievement as well -- finally, Harmonix has an answer to all of those goobers who wonder why you're spending so much time with a plastic guitar when you could be playing a real one. So far, the price has proved to be prohibitive (and we're still waiting on that Squier Strat), but for those who invest in it, Pro mode has the potential to connect the game's instruments with real music.

Where Rock Band 3 really stands out is in the in-betweens. With Road Challenges, the game was completely redesigned to let you and your friends play the music you love, the way you want to play it. The menus are so much smoother, and I'm still finding features in them -- things like restarting a song in the same place even after you've failed it, or setting up no-fail mode or lefty mode directly from the menu. There's an endless list of rewards to earn for the hardcore, and that sorting system helps you find what you want, from just a certain genre, to "short songs, with keyboard parts, on the Rock Band 2 disc, from the 1980s."

Speaking of finding songs, how wild is the Rock Band Network? Did you know that Parry Gripp has a few (great!) songs on there? And while, yes, the prices on song importing are annoying, it's impressive that in this age of licensing and streaming, Harmonix has convinced the record companies to let us have as many songs as we want, to play in whatever order and on whatever difficulty level we like, with any band member, online or offline.

That's been the mission at Harmonix from the start. From Frequency onward, it's all those folks in Boston have ever wanted to do -- connect great music with terrific games, and help music fans and gamers alike explore and discover both. That's why Chris and I were so excited after that initial reveal, and it's why many of us on the Joystiq team will still be playing this game far into 2011 and beyond.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2010 throughout the week! Stay tuned for more must-play picks, and take heed as each staffer stands atop a soapbox to defend those games that didn't quite make the cut. In whom will Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) find representation?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.