Reviewed: September 7, 2009
Released: September 9, 2009
I’ve done so many of these music game reviews in the past four years that I’m running out of clever opening paragraphs. Between Guitar Hero and Rock Band gamers on every system now have access to virtually every genre of music from a growing library of bands from past and present, but MTV Games and Harmonix are taking us back to the roots of rock and roll – back to 1963 when a group of sharp-dressed young men changed the face of modern music forever.
The Beatles: Rock Band is so much more than just another song expansion pack or even a themed box set. This game is a labor of love, an experience, an adventure, a chance to actually relive the all-too-short, but immensely significant career of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. – and if you need their last names you probably shouldn’t be considering playing this game. Then again, perhaps that is too harsh.
You see, I am NOT a fan of The Beatles and chances are if I weren’t reviewing this game I probably wouldn’t have purchased or even played it, and that would have been a huge mistake on my part, for you really don’t have to be a screaming fan of the group or a gamer in their 40’s or 50’s to appreciate this song. The Beatles and their music are timeless and approachable by nearly every one of all age groups and musical tastes – something even I didn’t realized until I was halfway through this remarkable game.
Of the 45 songs chosen to be in the launch catalog I was probably familiar with maybe 10-12, but even the songs I had never heard of before were quite captivating and fun to play. In fact, I can’t think of a single song I disliked even the slightest, although I certainly did enjoy some more than others. Here is the complete song list along with the venues in which they are featured:
The first thing you need to know going into this game is that several gameplay modifications have been made to what fans of the previous Rock Band games might expect. While you still have Quickplay and standard multiplayer options for both online and local play there is no traditional Tour mode. Instead, you have a Story mode that tracks the career of The Beatles from the Cavern Club in 1963 to their U.S. debut on the Ed Sullivan show to Shea Stadium to Budokan to their studio days in Abbey Road to their final performance on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building.
You aren’t playing for fans, but you still earn stars by playing well and scoring high, and by earning three and five stars on each song you can earn up to two authentic photos of the band. As you finish all the songs in each venue the next unlock and you are treated to a fantastic cutscene full of color and wonder – sort of like Monty Python Meets Yellow Submarine. In fact, the opening and closing cutscenes can only be described as “magical”.
In addition to the Story mode you also unlock a Chapter Challenge, which is basically a fancy way of having you play all the songs from that chapter in succession and earning five stars on all of them to unlock a rare video clip. Since there is no difficulty requirement for this challenge you can pretty much play on whatever skill setting you are comfortably with to earn those five songs. The one thing that I did find interesting is that your score, overdrive, and note counts carry over to the next song, so when I got a perfect on all songs at Shea Stadium on Medium I had 1,357 note streak for that challenge.
Speaking of "challenge" I did find The Beatles to be extremely easy on guitar and bass and even drums to a lesser degree. I normally plays on Medium my first pass through any of these music games just to ensure my five stars, but Medium on this game was painfully slow, boring, and easy. Kicking it up to Hard offered a slight increase in difficulty and once, when I accidentally picked Expert, I still managed a 96% score - keep in mind I can't even finish a song on any other game on Expert. I realize that music wasn't that complicated back in the 60's, but coming off games like Metallica and the recently released, Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles game was too easy, even for me.
The Beatles: Rock Band serves two purposes really. Not only is it a fun and entertaining game, it also contains numerous items of rare Beatles memorabilia. In addition to unlocking a hundred rare photos with historical notes and descriptions, you will also have the chance to unlock even rarer film clips of the band coming to the U.S., prepping for the Ed Sullivan show, and even flying into Shea Stadium via chopper. Perhaps the best extra in the entire set is a complete recording of The Beatles 1963 Christmas album – a message that was sent out to members of the fan club. Only 25,000 vinyls were ever pressed so chances are this is the first time most of us will get to hear their message or view the letter as the camera makes a slow pan down the page.
Overdrive or star power or whatever you want to call it has been replaced with Beatlemania. You earn it the same way and trigger it to double your multiplier as well as send the crowd (most females) into a screaming frenzy. If you toggle the realistic sound option in the menu the crowd noises can often drown out the music, and there is something quite ego-boosting about the frequent camera cutaways to screaming girls, some of which faint or get chased down by uniformed security as they rush the stage.
The music is totally authentic, taken straight from the original masters, and for the first time ever in any music game, you can now sing three-part harmony using up to three mics. The game will detect the number of mics and add the appropriate parallel voice cues then actually grade you on how well you can harmonize with the other singers. It adds a whole new level of challenge to the Rock Band experience and also explains the noted support for six players rather than the traditional four – although with a couple of microphone stands and a thorough knowledge of the lyrics, you might want to try playing an instrument and singing at the same time – just to keep it real.
The entire game has taken on a whimsical look with softer colors and a slightly redesigned note stream and strum indicator. Rather than create your own rockers you will only play as The Beatles, which is pretty impressive considering you can slowly watch them transition from the suit-wearing clean-cut youths of Liverpool to the mustache-wearing, shaggy-hair hippies of the late sixties.
The various venues have been meticulously recreated starting with the Cavern Club to the authentic stage design from the Ed Sullivan show to the massive crowd in Shea Stadium. When the band goes into the studio you would expect things to get boring but the designers have chosen to incorporate some cool and rather “trippy” music videos that transition in and out of the performance. Some of the best examples are Yellow Submarine, Octopus’ Garden and I Am the Walrus, which are so intriguing it takes a huge conscious effort to NOT look at the backgrounds but rather concentrate on the note stream.
To make things even more authentic you get various sound clips of the band both before and after the song. This is especially cool in the studio where you get the vibe that you are really there making an album. They even take into consideration if you stop and restart a song – you might hear something like, “Let’s try that again.”
There is a cool collection of Achievements (or trophies for PS3 players) that cover all the usual areas of gameplay including finishing the game, earning five stars on all songs, hitting all the notes in certain solos, playing bass in lefty mode and hitting 50% of the notes, starting a story with four players, and my favorite; the Day Tripper achievement for finishing the entire story mode in a 24 period – not that big of a challenge since you can easily finish this game in 3-4 hours. Double that figure to earn the Chapter Challenges and you have an 8-hour game. How much you play beyond that will be based solely on your love of the band and their music.
The Beatles: Rock Band is totally detached from the rest of the Rock Band games. You cannot import these songs into Rock Band 2 and only future Beatles DLC will work with this game. Additional music from The Beatles’ vast catalogue will be made available for purchase and download through The Beatles: Rock Band Music Store. Abbey Road will be released on October 20, 2009, followed by the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in November and Rubber Soul in December. But still, this game has its own music store and you will only ever be able to download and play Beatles music, so there is that limitation.
As far as random observations, it’s worth noting that the 5-position effects switch has no function in this game and The Beatles does not support the Rock Band Stage Kit, so no smoke or light shows for those who made that investment. However, one special perk 360 gamers do get is a Marketplace code to download a Beatles Rock Band T-shirt for their avatar.
While this review only covers the standalone game, true Beatles fans will likely want to invest in the Limited Edition collectors box set that includes authentic Beatles instruments; John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 guitar, Sir Paul McCartney’s trademark Höfner bass, George Harrison’s Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, and Ringo Starr’s drums with classic black oyster pearl finish and Ludwig-branded Beatles kick drum head. They’re even tossing in a microphone stand as they should for the $250 asking price.
I wasn’t a fan of The Beatles going into this game review but I sure learned a few things about the band and their music, and for a few hours I actually became a Beatle. This game has so much detail at every level of production. It’s much more than a track pack (like AC-DC) and it blows away specific band-themed games like Metallica. The Beatles: Rock Band is a little bit of rock and roll history and a game that no video game player or music lover should miss.
Now bring on Led Zeppelin: Rock Band...