Posted by Chris Scott Barr on Sep 28, 2009

Review – The Beatles: Rock Band (Xbox 360)

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To say that I’m a fan of rhythm games such as Rock Band would be an understatement. I’ve owned each game, a bunch of instruments and bought tons of DLC. I will however admit that the games are starting to grow a little stale these days. New songs are great, but the excitement just isn’t there like it used to be. I can’t remember the last time someone had a Rock Band/Guitar Hero party, and it’s no longer the staple of my weekly gaming sessions with the gang. So the question is how to renew interest in the genre. Activision has chosen to simply release as many Guitar Hero titles as possible, which proves only to increase the number of discs you must swap to play. Harmonix, on the other hand, has decided that band themed games might just do the trick.

Yes, we’ve seen standalone band-themed games already. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Metallica weren’t exactly a failure in my book, but they just didn’t feel complete. Sure, the models seemed alright, and there was some story included. However, the fact that the games were littered with songs from other artists just turned me off. If I buy a game with a band’s name on it, I really expect to be playing their songs, not stuff from people they toured with.

This isn’t even Harmonix’s first venture in the single-band titles. If GH:Aerosmith didn’t feel complete, then I wouldn’t even call the AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack a game. Hell, they even call it a ‘Track Pack’. This was a standalone title that featured a measly 18 songs from one live performance. There were no new character models, no special venues, no story, nothing. The only reason this was worth buying was because you could then import the music into your Rock Band library and play it without inserting the disc. The music was good, but nothing that couldn’t have easily been DLC.

So with two band-only titles out there that weren’t exactly marked with high praises, why would Harmonix give it another go? Because this time they had one of the greatest bands in the history of rock to work with: The Beatles. Nothing against AC/DC, but when you have the opportunity to create a game based around The Beatles, you’re going to put every ounce of creative ability to work on it. Harmonix did just that, and it paid off.

Being in my mid-20’s, The Fab Four stopped making music together well before I was even born. That didn’t stop me from growing up hearing their songs, and knowing people my own age who were struck with Beatlemania. Of course growing up in a musical family also gave me a deep appreciation for what the group contributed to modern music.

Now that I’ve rambled on for a good long while, lets just dive into the game. First, let me say that The Beatles: Rock Band is first true single-band game game in the genre. It includes only tracks from the group, exquisitely detailed character models of each member, and some of the most beautiful venues to be seen in a rhythm title.

This is the first Rock Band game where they have included playable characters based on real people. I have to say that they pulled it off rather well. The level of dedication to detail is obvious, and the the fact that they worked closely with Paul, Ringo and the widows of George and John is apparent. There are no people in this world who know the movements and details of each person than these four. The different costumes and hairstyles used throughout the game are certainly a nice touch.

When I play Rock Band, I pay very little attention to what’s going on in the background. Sure, my customized character is there rocking out on a stage, but I could really care less while I’m playing. As a spectator, it does very little to keep me entertained. This is most definitely not the case here. Each of the venues is a beautiful reproduction of the most famous Beatles performances.

Of course the group eventually stopped touring and became a studio band. Since there were no real venues to use, Harmonix instead opted to create what they call ‘Dreamscapes’. These fantasmical visual representations of each song are awe-inspiring. The imagery used strikes an emotional chord on par with the music it represents. Usually I don’t enjoy being the person in the group waiting out a few songs so that someone else can play. However, I made it a point to sit out for a while just so I could truly appreciate the visuals.

The game has 45 Beatles songs to play, which is obviously its biggest feature. I can imagine that narrowing down the selection was one of the more difficult parts of the design process, as there are so many great ones to choose from. For the most part, I’d say that they did a good job, though there were a few more obscure ones that I could have passed on, and plenty that I wish they’d have included. There will be plenty of DLC, so no worries there. I’d also like to state for the record that Yellow Submarine has been banned from being played in my house. It’s an iconic song that really had to be included, but no one I played with (all huge Beatles fans) wanted to play it a second time.

As for the gameplay itself, it plays pretty much like Rock Band 2. A game with ‘Rock Band’ in the title that plays just like Rock Band, big shocker, right? There are some noticeable differences. First, the ‘No Fail Mode” is found on the same page where you select your difficulty level. As a bonus, if anyone selects Easy, then No Fail Mode is automatically enabled. This was done largely in part because they’re aiming this game at casual players that may or may not have ever played a rhythm title. It does nothing to hinder the enjoyment of the game, and even instills a bit of confidence in newcomers.

Of course if you’ve been playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero for a few years, you’ll probably discover that the songs are relatively easy. I’m really not sure what else to say here, except that Harmonix stayed true to the music. Every song is beautiful and amazing in its own way, and they did nothing to artificially increase the difficulty. Honestly, you spend less time concentrating on wild guitar strumming, and more time just enjoying the music.

The biggest change comes in the way of how vocals are done. In order to stay true to the music, you are allowed up to three vocalists on each song. You get to select whether you’d like to sing the Solo parts, or Harmonies. Each has a separate line to follow, and specific lyrics to sing. When I first heard about this, I was rather indifferent, as it just meant more people poorly singing along to the music. However, after playing for a while, it really does add a new dimension to the game.

As for extras, there are plenty to be found and unlocked. One particular one that I thought I should point out is the “Realistic” mode that can be found in the options. Now how would one make a Beatles performance more “realistic” you ask? With a crowd that is so loud you can barely hear yourself play. That’s no joke, The Beatles complained about that very thing when they toured and the guys over at Harmonix gave them a little hat tip with this feature.

I could probably go on about this game for several more paragraphs, but I’ll wrap this up now. There is only one question you have to ask yourself. Do you love The Beatles? If you answered ‘yes’, then I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy this game. Not only will you enjoy strumming, drumming and singing along with these classic tracks, but you’ll be re-living the music in a whole new way. If you’re not a Beatles fan, then this probably isn’t the game for you. It’s fun to play along with, but 45 songs from a band you don’t particularly care for is bound to get old fast.

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