By now you are likely to know what to expect from a Rock Band game, and I am sure you know if you are a fan of The Beatles or not. You could say that Harmonix and EA took a chance in releasing a band-specific game to compete with Guitar Hero 5, but when that band is one of the most successful and acclaimed bands in history, the pool of casual and hardcore (music) fans out there is pretty large.
It goes without saying, but the older you are, the more you will get out of The Beatles: Rock Band. Maybe this is the game to finally get you into the music/rhythm genre?
While The Beatles: Rock Band does sport a nice upgrade to the core Rock Band 2 interface, the aural and visual embellishments of this game stand apart from the plethora of other options on the market. Presented in chronological order (mostly), from The Cavern Club in 1963, to the Apple Corps Rooftop in 1969, you are treated to 45 tracks from The Beatles amazing career – no filler here. The selection of tracks in the game are pretty good, but I can think of three off the top of my head that should be included: "Hey Jude," "Let it Be," and "Yesterday."
Three chapters of the game are set in the Abbey Road Studio, and include "Dreamscapes" that represent the figurative and literal meanings of the songs. Dreamscapes were a means to an end for the game, and they nailed it. After all, how do you represent a bulk of the catalog after The Beatles stopped touring? The end result is sublime, psychedelic, and everything in between. Each starts out with the Fab Four in the Abbey Road Studio, then quickly transform into a music video of sorts that truly captures each song, from an octopus’s garden in "Octopus’s Garden" to those crazy animal suits from the Magical Mystery Tour album for "I Am The Walrus." They look great and add much to the experience of The Beatles, which is what this game is, more than anything.
The game's interface features a lot of small tweaks, such as allowing you to turn on Lefty Flip or No Fail Mode on the fly, without having to dig into an options menu. The biggest graphical change comes in the muted color palette of the note gems, it is a nice touch that feels right for the game. The only issue this color change presents is when Overdrive is activated, it is easy to miss Green and Yellow notes as the colors blend into the Note Highway, which turns yellow when you use Overdrive. It means you may have to pay more attention to the notes falling than in prior games, but I still miss Green notes once in a while because the shades of color are so close together.
Rounding out the new gameplay features is the game's vocals, as songs have two or three harmonies. This means in one song you can have a three-part harmony, something The Beatles were known for, and it is pulled off well. Technically, it is an achievement for the game, and singing them is no small miracle either. Each singer has their own indicator on screen, with harmony vocals showing up above the scrolling track. This will of course require three microphones. It is a good thing those Lips mics are now compatible, because unlike previous Rock Band games, an Xbox 360 headset does not register as a mic. It seems clear this was a move to sell more microphones, and leaves you without a hands-free option to play an instrument and sing at the same time.
The single-player and multiplayer parts of The Beatles: Rock Band are similar to Rock Band 2, with Quick Play, Tug of War, and Score Duel modes, all with offline and online variants. Story Mode (also playable online) is where most time will be spent, progressing through eight chapters of music, from the Cavern Club, Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, Budokan (it is a little odd seeing American teenagers in a Japanese stadium, but you are not here for the screaming girls) then on to Abbey Road Studio and finishing up their all-too-short career on the Apple Corps rooftop. Instead of money or fans, gaining stars in each song rewards you with photographs and videos from Apple Corps archives. The photo captions share quite a lot of information, actually, and one of the videos is of the unreleased Christmas Record from 1963. These unlockables will push the Beatles fan in you to five-star every song. Story Mode also has Chapter Challenges, which require you to make it through a full set in one go, unlocking more photos from the Apple archives.
Replacing the generic Drum Trainer from Rock Band 2 are Beatles Beats, where you can practice some of Ringo's classic drum beats. This adds an unexpected uniqueness specific to this game, and shows the attention to detail that Harmonix has put into The Beatles: Rock Band. Another small details is the audio chatter you hear between the Fab Four before and after songs, and even the variations if you restart a song multiple times. John or Paul will say "ok, take three" for example, if you restart the song a couple times.
The menu is completely original, and flows consistently with the videos introducing each chapter of the Beatles career. Another nice touch is the in-game Achievements (or Trophies) screen that tracks your progress. More games should have this.
Harmonix created three new guitar controllers for the game, and a new version of their drums, this time in white. I hope they sell the Höfner Bass controller separate sometime down the road, because that replica looks amazing. This time around the plastic instruments have additions like a metal pick guard; we have come a long way since the first Guitar Hero guitar controller, that is for sure.
The Beatles: Rock Band is a stand-alone game in more ways than one. It offers much more than a simple track pack like the AC/DC Live disc, it also features its own separate Music Store. The Beatles music is only playable in this game, including the planned DLC. On September 9, the Xbox 360 will have an exclusive track to download, “All You Need Is Love” for 160 Microsoft Points ($2) with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. It will be available for a limited time, so if you plan on getting the game later, you may wish to pick it up, as it is a song I am sure you will want to play in the game.
So far, three more albums have been announced as DLC to supplement the 45 tracks on disc. The end of October will see the release of Abbey Road, and while you can of course buy the songs individually, purchasers of the full album download will have the option to play the famous 16-minute B-side medley as a single continuous track. Scheduled for November and December are Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul. I would not be surprised if we hear of more Beatles albums announced before the end of the year – just look at how extensively Harmonix has supported full album downloads in Rock Band 2.
You don't need to have grown up with Beatlemania, or even be a die-hard Beatles fan to get a lot out of this game. Nearly every track will be recognizable to even the casual music fan, even if you are not aware that songs like "Helter Skelter" were originally written and performed by The Beatles. As this is Rock Band, it does not brutally punish you, even on the Expert difficulty, like Guitar Hero games; it's more about having fun with a bunch of friends in a band in a room or over Xbox Live. There are some Expert level Achievements that will give you a challenge though, such as: Get all possible Triple Fab ratings for every song with three vocal parts (three-part harmonies). This game has a well rounded set of Achievements, they do the job of pushing you to get more out of the game without being ridiculously out of reach.
I think for most the question is going to come down to the track list, the 45 songs here cover most of the big Beatles hits. But people will look at the massive 85 songs in Guitar Hero 5, so which is worth more to you? After spending time with Guitar Hero 5, I cannot actually find 45 tracks in that game that I like, let alone even remotely recognize. You are getting your monies worth with The Beatles: Rock Band, it has the music, a bit of history thanks to the Apple archives, and may well have a good bit of nostalgia for you. Whatever feedback, perceived or otherwise, that was given by the Beatles during development gave us a better game in the end. This game was a labor of love for everyone involved.
Bottom Line: If you are not interested in The Beatles, this is probably not a game for you. It is also not a game that manufactures difficulty just to make the game harder. If that is what you are looking for, this game is also not for you. However if you are a fan of The Beatles and their amazing music, this game can be more of an experience you can share with your friends.
The Beatles: Rock Band will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii on September 9. The stand-alone game sells for $59.99, the Limited Edition Premium Bundle sell for $249.99 (includes game, Höfner Bass controller, The Beatles branded Rock Band drums, Microphone and Microphone Stand), the Rickenbacker 325 Standalone Guitar and the Gretsch Duo Jet Standalone Guitar sells for $99.99 each. Also available on September 9 are the remasters of The Beatles albums, which Blogcritics Music is reviewing.
The Beatles: Rock Band is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Lyrics, Tobacco Reference. This game can also be found on: PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii.