I can see the target demographic angrily disagreeing. I can see a lonely pre-teen learning to play real songs with the game's toolset. Slow down David Bowie's "Space Oddity" to half speed, and you can play each section over and over until the game says you have it just right. I would've loved to see the robust keyboard and pro guitar matched with better training tools, especially considering their high cost, but what's here works. After some practice, I made sense of the interface, and my guitar-playing pals picked up on it quite quickly. Non-gamers remarked that it undid their hatred of the candy-colored Guitar Hero controller.
The rest of the game, meanwhile, delivers the finest fake-rock yet. The interface has been tweaked for faster loads and simpler instrument swaps—good for a huge group. Challenges now work all of the time, so players don't have to load a cumbersome "career" mode to, say, work on their "sing every song" goal. Even the little tweaks are impressive. Your in-game characters hang around in menus and overflow with personality. If you hit "pause," the game now rewinds songs a tiny bit so that nobody messes up upon returning. And simplified, 5-button keyboard parts can be played with the old guitar controller after reaching an in-game milestone. (I may have just saved you $80. You're welcome.)
Call me biased, but with keyboards are in the mix, the songs are just plain better. Flaming Lips, Elton John, B-52s, Spacehog, Blondie, and Echo and the Bunnymen are among the many synth- and piano-loving acts to stave off the crappier alternative/metal fare that gluts fake-rock games, and, by golly, their songs rock to play along to. (I was shocked when I enjoyed my parts in Huey Lewis and Doors songs... there goes my cred.)
But the biggest rush here is support for seven players at once: guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and three singers sharing lead and harmony vocals (a feature introduced in last year's vocal-loaded Beatles Rock Band). I filled my living room to the brim, warmed my friends up with a half hour of play, and then loaded Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The song, as expected, exploded once the choir section sang "for meeeeeee!"
I have my complaints: the aforementioned "pro" training quibbles, the lack of online versus modes, and some very boring keyboard songs (your on-screen avatar comes equipped with a lot of time-killing dance moves for a reason). But they're moot. Because of how the game scales, putting novices side-by-side with meticulous guitar-part memorizers, and because of the 2,000-song selection on Rock Band's online store, and because of the years-in-the-making tweaks that make the game so speedy to load and play, it's hard to think of a better music game, or a better 7-person party game, or a better response to those doubters who say, "Why not buy real instruments?". With this much content, Rock Band 3 is a real instrument.