Review: The Beatles: Rock Band

John, Paul, George, and Ringo – four young men who would unknowingly change the face of the music world forever. Regardless of your personal opinion as to the quality of their work, one cannot deny their influence on the way music has been shaped over the years. With infectious hooks, haunting melodies, and musical trips, the Fab Four have entranced us for years with a song catalogue that had never before been allowed to see its way onto a rhythm title, and for quite a while it seemed as though this was an event that would never occur – that is, until now. Though, sadly, John Lennon and George Harrison could not live to see it happen, the day has finally come that the Beatles’ music has been extended a warm welcome into the world of music gaming. Using what can arguably be called one of the most accessible music titles to general audiences, Rock Band, The Beatles have finally been immortalized in digital form, complete with their likenesses, voices, and even photographs, and they are ready to sing with you via the magic and intrigue of The Beatles: Rock Band.

If you’ve ever strummed a plastic guitar peripheral, tapped out rhythms on colorful plastic drums, or belted out tunes at the top of your lungs via Rock Band accessories, then it’s likely that you’re already familiar with Rock Band and the way it operates. Simply choose an instrument – guitar, bass, drums, or vocals, and rock out. Though we are speaking of Rock Band here, The Beatles: Rock Band can be likened to a Guitar Hero spinoff such as Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s or Guitar Hero: Metallica. What we have here is essentially the exact same game that you know and love, only with a fresh new coat of paint, Beatles-style. Each and every single detail has been preserved for you Rock Band purists who would not know what to do had something been altered, though there is the curious omission of beats to tap out via striking the microphone or A button for vocalists.
Still, that presents a bit of a quandary, as there are gamers who will be expecting something completely different, such as a Rock Band title that reinvents itself for the particular band it is spotlighting. To get this foolish sentiment out of the way right now, this game is no different from any Rock Band before it, and why should it be? Why change up a game entirely if you’re buying it for the music? You’re getting all of what was advertised without many of the nitpicky statements the populace may have made – Rock Band, with The Beatles!
With that out of the way, the first thing you will notice upon booting the game up is the fact that it’s a cornucopia of rich and vivid color, decadent illustrations, and clean design. There is a very playful mood about the menus and setup that lend a whimsical feel that emulates The Beatles’ obvious heavy drug usage, light and airy vocals, and even the depths of some of their darker pieces. From the trippy opening video sequence to the Beatles tunes annotating your menu choices, it’s immediately obvious that there was a good amount of time spent on making this Rock Band true to the Beatles brand of entertainment.
Story mode will see you playing a set of 45 songs encompassing the band’s fruitful (yet entirely too short) career, beginning from an early gig at the Cavern Club, all the way to a heartrending rooftop concert held on the Apple Records building. You’ll make your way through each story setting by completing every song within a setlist. Though there are a few lesser-known and enjoyed Beatles tracks included in this epic track list, I can’t help but feel that only the popular and radio-friendly songs were chosen, mainly to appease Beatles fans of all generations who have varying degrees of relations with the band’s catalogue. The game is riddled with instances where songs such as “Within You, Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” could easily have been replaced with a more enjoyable song to sing or perform the music for, such as “Hey Jude” or even “For No One,” though with the upcoming DLC albums I can understand why there were some glaring omissions made. Aside from the fact that you cannot please every Beatles fan with the song selections, I do feel that the Beatles’ extensive history of hits were represented well with these 45 songs.
It has been suggested that the game has been somewhat crippled by its failure to include artists inspired by the Fab Four or even solo efforts via each Beatle, such as Paul McCartney with Wings or even John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. To those who believe this to be true, I must say that I wholeheartedly disagree. I feel that Harmonix played the correct card in that creating a Rock Band game based entirely around The Beatles was the best move to make. Games that focus on one band plus their opening acts, similar artists, and other filler songs simply take the spotlight away from the band originally being featured. Take Guitar Hero: Metallica. Its draw is depending on the fact that diehard Metallica fans will be picking it up, not the casual Guitar Hero audiences, yet only a measly 28 songs out of the game’s 49 were actually Metallica tracks. Hardcore Metallica fans will know that the band has cranked out more than 28 “good” songs throughout their career, thus they felt (myself included) as if they were being cheated somewhat by paying full price for a game and receiving only half Metallica tracks.
Fans will purchase this game for The Beatles, not for their solo ventures or bands that the developers want us to listen to. I do not feel it would have been possible to capture the feeling of journeying along with these brilliant artists throughout their tumultuous career if I were being assaulted with songs that held no bearing on their commercial success. In a nutshell, you are essentially paying $60 for a disc full of Beatles songs, plus whatever DLC fees you will incur in the future via album downloads or single tracks such as “All You Need is Love.” I feel that this is an excellent deal, especially when you consider Rock Band’s individual DLC song pricing, and can definitively say that the exclusion of other artists was the best and most intelligent way to target Beatle fans everywhere without doing them a disservice.
Song choice aside, The Beatles: Rock Band is chock full of extras and unlockables to collect. In Story mode as you venture throughout the seven different stages, scoring higher on songs will net you different photographs documenting fun facts or historical landmarks in their career, complete with informative captions that can be read via the main menu. Aside from these, you can learn to play “Beatle Beats” via drumming to learn some of the fabled drum beats the band would rely on. There’s also a quick play in case you don’t feel like waiting to find your favorite Beatles song.
One brand new aspect that has been added to this volume of Rock Band is the ability to harmonize with multiple different vocalists due to the complex nature of the layers in several Beatles’ songs. For this you need other band members with microphones to sing several different harmony pieces throughout the song. This can be a bit difficult to acclimate yourself to, especially if you are only familiar with the main melody of any Beatles song. You do not play these harmony vocals any differently than regular vocals, but do not jump in believing you will be able to pull of a perfect score without at least a little bit of practice.
As it should be obvious, the sound is absolutely fantastic, complete with airy menu tunes, sound effects, and appropriate mood-setting comments made by the boys in the studio and on stage. As far as visuals go, this is quite the stunning game. You’ll find that The Beatles themselves have not received a startling amount of detail, following in suit with the regular Rock Band characters you can create and customize, but their cartoonish designs are what gives the game its personality. The obvious age progression from Paul’s impish grin to his more weathered, bearded look near the end of the band’s career was a nice touch as well. The song interface has been revamped as well, giving lyrics and guitar/bass/drum paths a nice new baby blue/yellowish color scheme, even replacing the combos with “Fab!” at a 4x value. This attention to detail sets Harmonix out from the rest. Sometimes the tiniest touches tend to mean the most.

The Beatles: Rock Band offers a warm and inviting experience to those who are new to The Beatles’ music or longtime fans who have been waiting for the chance to take up the mantle of their favorite band member and sing their hearts out to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Personally, this is one of the biggest things to happen to music gaming, and I am honored to be a part of it. While it may only come packaged with 45 songs and is devoid of any Beatles narration (impossible to a degree since only Paul and Ringo are left), this is one of the most complete and loving tributes to a band via video game that there has ever been. One can only hope that Harmonix gives featured bands of the future this kind of attention. Keep an eye out for album DLC, including Abbey Road and Rubber Soul coming out later this year, and let’s all get our Beatles on sometime via Xbox Live. The love you take is equal to the love you make – Harmonix, consider me absolutely enamored.

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