The Beatles: Rock Band Review

Dan Webb

British rockers, The Beatles, are true testaments to the phrase that "music is timeless." 49 years ago, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr formed The Fab Four in Liverpool, England and along with it changed the face of music for years to come. Never really sticking to a genre, The Beatles dabbled with folk music, psychedelic rock and really gave progressive rock the boost it needed to become mainstream. Here we are now, 28 number one hits and one billion units sold later, and Harmonix, MTV Games and EA are able to tell the story of the Fab Four in what is the true Beatles experience, The Beatles: Rock Band.

The Fab Four rock the Ed Sullivan show.

As the name suggests the game is essentially Rock Band with The Beatles music. Go figure! However, the game has been suitably changed to fit in with everything The Beatles stood for, and that includes renaming the traditional Rock Band "Overdrive" feature to "Beatlemania," and including three part vocal harmonies. The newly renamed Beatlemania function is more than just a name change and also includes a new visual, trippy flowery effect to signify when it’s in use. Other than that, the game remains largely unchanged, except when you get in to Abbey Road that is... more on that later though. The only major addition to title is easily the vocal harmonies, allowing players on the same Xbox – not over Xbox Live which no doubt is a shortcoming – perform three part vocal harmonies on a vast majority of The Beatles songs. The mechanic itself works pretty well and it pays homage to the impressive three part vocal harmonies that The Beatles were so fond of.

The main staple of The Beatles: Rock Band is most definitely the game's less than comprehensive career mode that maps the career of the British rockers from their first gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, right the way through to that infamous rooftop gig on the Apple Corps building. Other notable venues throughout the game include the Shea Stadium, playing the Ed Sullivan Show, the Budokan in Japan and of course Abbey Road Studios. Unlike other Rock Band/Guitar Hero games though, the songs in the career mode are structured on a time-line, so the difficulty can chop and change from one song to the next.

Harmonix hit the nail on the head with the atmosphere they've created in the stadiums from hysterical young girls in the stands to police tackling runners on the pitch at the Shea Stadium, but that's nothing compared to the superb scenes they've created in the Abbey Road Studio "dreamscapes." Considering that The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, Harmonix needed a tool to make the Abbey Road Studio sessions that much more appealing and they've done that perfectly.

Welcome to one of the stunning dreamscapes.

The dreamscape scenes that take place throughout the Abbey Road songs are a sight to behold. Whilst the Fab Four kick off each song in Abbey Road, the studio walls melt away to reveal a song-appropriate, drug-fuelled landscape. Each song has a unique dreamscape that takes place in Abbey Road, for instance, Octopus’s Garden takes place under water amongst the fishes, and Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows is clouded in a translucent trippy haze. Each dreamscape is a fantastic realisation that does The Beatles' music proud. If anything, they are that visually appealing that they'll often be quite distracting as you can't help but take your eye off the note chart to see what wonderful picture they are creating.

It's not just the dreamscapes that stand out visually, but also the in-game character models of the Fab Four are fantastically realised – although the lip syncing seems a little robot like to me – and the short cut-scenes that paint the picture of The Beatles’ career offer a fresh and exciting design. The visual aspect really excels though with the game's awe-inspiring opening and ending cut-scene that shows the perfect Beatles-esque art-style, incredible imagination and a jaw dropping delivery. Simply stunning and enough to send shivers down your spine.

Part of the allure of The Beatles: Rock Band is most definitely that it provides the definitive Beatles experience. As you work through the career, players can unlock genuine Beatles photographs from every song. Unlock enough photographs and you unlock a special audio/video unlockable that gives a great look behind the scenes of the Fab Four's career. You can also unlock photographs in the game's "Challenge" mode; a mode which essentially asks you to play one of the set lists from the game from the first to the last song, taking multipliers and Beatlemania power from one song to the next. You'll even find genuine audio samples slipped in over the game’s loading screens which is definitely surreal… but in a good way of course.

The track list as always is where the music game battle is won or lost, and despite missing a few of The Beatles’ key tracks, The Beatles: Rock Band has a simply amazing set list that really gives the band the credit they deserve. The main Beatles anthems are there, including Day Tripper, I Feel Fine and Ticket to Ride. The slower classics are all present and correct, including Something and Don’t Let Me Down. The more obscure and off-beat tracks are there, including Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and I Am The Walrus. Harmonix even cover the classic George Harrison anthems as well including I Me Mine and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The fact still remains though, that at the end of the day, you only get 45 tracks for your hard earned cash instead of the more traditional 80 plus and whilst we can understand licensing costs may be high, that's not really our (or a consumer) problem.

A general fear regarding the game pre-release was that The Beatles catalogue wouldn't provide that much of a challenge for veterans of the series, and that the songs would offer rather repetitive riffs. A problem that I didn’t really notice, but then again, I feel out of my comfort zone on expert difficulty. Repetition however isn’t a problem. Yes, there may be some riffs that you'll repeat a number of times, but no more so than any other rhythm game out there. The simple fact is, The Beatles: Rock Band is all about the music and is an enjoyable experience, even if you can "full combo" every song, the experience is actually playing the songs... and not owning the hell out of it.

Other than the superbly delivered career mode - which you can play as part of a band locally or over Xbox Live - the game also has a few competitive and non competitive online modes. The traditional Band Play is present if you want to rock with some friends on completely different sides of the world without doing the career, or if you want something a little more competitive, you can fire up the game’s "Score Duel" and "Tug of War" modes. The names are as they sound, choose a difficulty and play against an opponent on the same level and on the same song in a bid to be deemed the king of The Beatles. Tug of War is a competitive, alternate based game mode where you must outdo your opponent, whilst Score Duel is a competitive points based game where you play exactly the same note patterns.

Flower power rules the world once again.

For a game that places a certain emphasis on accessibility – you can turn a no fail mode on after all – the achievement list seems to cater towards the die-hard fans of the series and leaves those in the middle ground wondering what they’ve done to anger Harmonix. Get a gold star (amazingly high score which is pretty much 100% or there and thereabouts) on a lot of songs on expert is doable for series addicts/veterans/nuts, but what about everyone else who played and purchased the game to enjoy the music? The 100% Helter Skelter on drums is just insane and I fear even the best drummers may struggle on this one. Mix in some local only Triple and Double Fab vocal harmony ratings and the vast amount of points are too far from reach for the vast majority of us. Still, other than that, they do show a certain level of creativity with the achievement names, so credit given where credit due. All things factored in though, the list is uninspiring and unbalanced.

It's fair to say from the off, that The Beatles: Rock Band is the true Beatle experience if ever there was one and it’s enough to give any Beatles fan a gateway into music games, but more so, games in general. Harmonix have captured the lifestyle, music and influence of The Beatles from the unlockables, cut-scenes, the impressive dreamscapes, right the way down to the Beatlemania effects, the vocal harmonies and the track list. The game should be a definite purchase for non Beatles fans as well as hardcore Beatles nut jobs like myself and apart from a fairly small set list with a few notable exceptions missing *cough* Help *cough*, the game is pretty flawless, but nothing new of course.

A great balance of tracks from start to finish. Our only qualm, but a small one at that, is that there are only 45 tracks and there are some tracks that we’d have love to have seen make the grade.

Utterly brilliant dreamscapes – albeit a little distracting – and a jaw dropping opening and closing cut-scene make up the majority of this game. The singing Beatles can look a little robotic at times but maybe that's just me being anal.

It’s a Rock Band title with a Beatles twist... it does exactly what it says on the tin. The vocal harmonies do work very well and that's really the only notable addition.

The career mode is brilliant and offers the perfect Beatles experience. However, delivering the tracks in a time-line makes for a wonky difficulty scale that can go from one extreme to the other.

Aimed at the super hardcore Rock Band players, pretty much leaving everyone else longing for what might be. Uninspiring, unbalanced and straight up mediocre.

I’m going to be short, sharp and straight to the point here... buy The Beatles: Rock Band right now. You won’t be disappointed. It may not have 80 plus tracks, but the 45 it does have are right on the money. Roll on the DLC. In the meantime, I’m off to re-mortgage my house in preparation for it..

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