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PAX 2009 Impressions: The Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles: Rock Band comes out on Wednesday, but for those lucky enough to make the trip out to PAX, they got a chance to test out the game in full before it hits store shelves. Located way in the back of the expo hall floor at Harmonix's large booth, the game was easily one of the more popular stops on the show floor. But the question is, did Harmonix's latest title live up to the hype it had gotten at E3 and just about everywhere else since then?

As a side note, our editor, Ken Edwards, wrote up his review of the game around the same time I was on the PAX show floor playing the title, so be sure to check out his excellent review of the game as well.

At its core, the game is still classic Rock Band. Sure, some of the names may have changed (Overdrive is now Beatlemania, for example), but there's only one new major mechanic in the game: the three-part vocal harmony. It wouldn't be a Beatles game without it, and Harmonix have done a great job implementing the vocal harmonies. While the lead singer is responsible for doing his job, those on the backing vocals only need to stay in harmony with the lead singer, but if they are able to complete phrases, they can earn a nice bonus.

Singing along and playing guitar at the same time is indeed much, much harder than it looks. That's mostly due to the fact that vocals are on the top part of the screen while notes are on the bottom, which can lead to quite a tricky situation if you're playing two instruments at a time. On the other hand, the vocal harmonies could let two other friends join in the game to sing the parts you should be singing.

Ken did not get to check out the Höfner Bass controller, but since I play bass in Rock Band, I made sure to do just that. It did feel different in my hands than the normal guitar, thanks to a slender neck and smaller body, but it's a beautiful replica and works great for bass players since … well, it actually feels like a bass guitar should. Some of the buttons are placed differently due to the shape of the controller's body, but I had no problems picking it up and playing it with minimal problems. Like Ken, I hope they sell the Höfner separately because I think a lot of regular Rock Band players might be interested in picking it up.

The game's backgrounds look fantastic. Paul, John, George and Ringo come alive in the colorfully-animated backdrops, thanks to a great job by Harmonix replicating the Fab Four's looks as they changed throughout their career.

At the end of my playtime, I did have a quick chat with Harmonix's Alex Navarro and had a few questions for him on the future of both The Beatles: Rock Band and Rock Band itself. While there's certainly more downloadable content coming, Alex said it was unlikely any of the solo work of The Beatles' members was coming as DLC, mostly because the game itself is about The Beatles, not necessarily the individual works of the group's members. As for whether The Beatles: Rock Band was a sign of things to come, a la Guitar Hero: Metallica and its brethren, Alex said that was also unlikely, unless there was something as strong as The Beatles that would necessitate a separate game being made. He did, however, share my opinion on one thing: that even if they didn't get their own separate game, Rock Band needs a whole lot more Queen in it.

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