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The Beatles: Rock Band Review (With Video)

September 7, 2009 By Dennis Burger



Click the images below for bigger versions:
The Bealtes: Rock Band, "Boys"
The Bealtes: Rock Band, bonus features
The Bealtes: Rock Band, Sgt. Pepper
The Bealtes: Rock Band, "With A Little Help From My Friends"
The Bealtes: Rock Band, "I Me Mine"
I know what's about to happen. I'm about to sit here and type a thousand words or so, waxing left and right about The Beatles: Rock Band, how it fits into the current glut of music/rhythm games, whether it does justice to the band and their legacy, blah blah blah...

When really, what it all boils down to is this: if you like The Beatles, go buy this game. Now. If you like the Beatles and don't own a PS3 or Xbox 360 (or Wii, I guess), go buy one of those. Now. And then buy this game. Right after that.

Because, despite all the talk about how TB:RB is going to introduce (or re-introduce) a generation of rhythm-game-loving gamers to the brilliance of the Beatles' catalog, I predict that something far more interesting is about to happen. I think a bunch of my jaded old middle-aged friends are about to lower their noses a little and discover just how much fun we've been having at our regular Rock Band parties for the past few years here at the Burger Casa.

Not that The Beatles: Rock Band is just Rock Band with a Beatles set list, mind you. If that's the best that Harmonix (makers of the first two Guitar Hero games, as well as Rock Band and Rock Band 2) could muster up, they could have just released the 45 tracks found here as downloadable content for the core game. But for those of you who wouldn't know the difference either way, it's worth explaining what the basic experience is about. The description from my original review of Rock Band 2 still applies: 
At the heart of the experience is the guitar controller—a little plastic guitar with a strum-bar instead of strings and plastic buttons instead of frets. Hold the appropriate fret button and strum the bar at the right time as colorful notes flow down the screen and you’re rewarded with a guitar lick from a popular rock tune.
Add another guitar for the bass lines, plastic drums (which work much the same: beat the right plastic drum pad at the right time and the rock beat continues), and a really sophisticated karaoke element to the mix (think SingStar) and you’ve got Rock Band at its most basic.

But whereas previous Rock Band games were about pretending you are the band, the focus of TB:RB seems markedly different. Here, it's more about celebrating and exploring the music, about digging into some of the Fab Four's best tunes and seeing what makes them tick from the inside out. And as a result, some of the elements to which Rock Band fans have grown accustomed have been changed or eliminated altogether.

There's no character customization, for example. Our resident Ringo (my loverly wife) also informs me that improvised drum fills are missing. Sorry, folks: you've gotta play it just like Mr. Starkey played it. And in lieu of the jet-setting World Tour mode from RB2, we're now back to a sort of linear story mode, reminiscent of of earlier Harmonix games.

Of course, this means that you have to play through the tracks from the band's first few albums whether you want to or not. (Or you can skip the story and hop straight into Quick Play, but in doing so you'll be missing out on the great DVD-style bonus features you unlock throughout the linear game—photos, videos, even the complete audio of the first Beatles Christmas Record made for fan club members.)



Honestly, though? I wouldn't change a thing. Okay, I would add "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." Like, now. (Srsly, guys? You left off the single greatest song Lennon ever wrote by himself?!) But other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. The game is an unadulterated feast for the senses from beginning (without question, one of the coolest cinematics ever created for any medium ever) to end (which I won't dare spoil for you).

The character models are fab, the animation is stupendous, and the so-called "Dreamscape" montages that add a lot of visual flair to the later, studio-only tracks could easily be released as music videos. The little extras like studio chatter between the guys (stuff I've never heard before) before and after the songs also add immeasurably to the experience. And the new three-part harmony feature (which is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds!) adds a completely new gameplay element that truly enhances the fun, and definitely makes the purchase of two extra mics mandatory.

It's mostly for those reasons that The Beatles: Rock Band is incompatible with previous releases (except for the instruments, that is). You can't export the tracks found here and play them in Rock Band 1 or 2. And any Beatles downloadable content (DLC) will be for this game and this game alone. But given how different the experience is, at least emotionally, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, people have been asking me the same question about the game they asked about the new remastered CDs: "How does it sound?" Simply put, the music, which has been remixed to accommodate the nature of the gameplay (fail to strum your guitar controller or hit the drum at the right time and George doesn't play that note, or Ringo misses that beat), sounds so good I just want to lick it. Especially in 5.1 surround. Not quite Love DVD-Audio good, but really, really good, nonetheless. Even the crowd noises (especially on those songs played at Shea Stadium) sound great.

Perhaps my only serious complaint (aside from the lack of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," srsly!) is that, with only 45 tracks on disc, the game seems a teensy bit light at the moment. And unlike the core Rock Band game, we won't be getting new DLC every week. Abbey Road is scheduled for release in its entirety (the songs that aren't already included here, that is) on October 20. Sgt. Pepper's is slated for November. We should have Rubber Soul before the holidays. But after that, it's anybody's guess as to when we'll get new Beatles music and what it'll be.



But, as with previous Rock Band games, that simply means it'll get better as time goes by. And let's face it: it's not as if playing the greatest songs in the history of pop music over and over exactly constitutes torture. As short as the game is, its replay value is nigh-infinite, once you get to the good stuff. This isn't a beat-it-and-forget-it kind of game.

And as I hinted at previously, The Beatles: Rock Band is so much more than just a game, anyway. It's a new method of bonding with the Beatle's music that, in my opinion, deserves just as much attention from fans as the new stereo and mono remastered CDs. It's an active experience with and celebration of the music that's just as fundamental and emotional as sitting cross-legged in front of a rack of gear with eyes closed and really good headphones on. It's a beautiful tool for sharing the appreciation of these songs with friends who might not otherwise be inclined to really, truly pay attention to every note the way they ought to.



So, yeah, it took me, what, a thousand or so words to say what I originally said in four? Go buy this game! It's so good I needed four exclamation points to express my excitement. That's pretty huge for me. (Although, to be fair, one of those would have been part of an interrobang if I knew how to make one.)

The Beatles: Rock Band is available from 9/9/09 for $59, or as part of a deluxe bundle including Beatles-branded instruments for $249.99.

Comments

Well said and I whole-heartedly agree with the "Everbody's Got something To Hide..." exclusion. It's nice to hear a solid critical assessment from someone who really appreciates The Beatles' brilliant music.

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