reviews\ Sep 22, 2009 at 8:00 pm

The Beatles: Rock Band - 360 - Review

Arguably the biggest band in music history, The Beatles are credited with changing the face of music in their career. While a band for just shy of a decade, the group's huge success and popular musical catalog remain just as relevant today as they did more than 40 years ago. So, of course, when someone finally secures the rights to publish a music game based on the band's storied career, people are going to take notice, and not just gamers.

At this point of the review, you should already know all you need to. If you are a fan of The Beatles' music and enjoy rhythm games, then The Beatles Rock Band is definitely for you. If you're not, then the game won't make you one. However, if you fall somewhere in between, and you either aren't familiar with the band's catalog or a casual fan of their music, then you should check this game out as well. On its own merits, The Beatles Rock Band is a highly polished experience that pays loving homage to the band, representing the full range of their diverse musical history as well as their aesthetic style and concurrent themes in their albums. However, the mere fact that the game focuses completely on The Beatles should be enough to influence your purchase.

If you've ever played a Rock Band title before, you'll know what to expect from the core mechanics in The Beatles Rock Band. There have been a few minor changes here and there ("Overdrive" has been redubbed "Beatlemania"), but for the most part the game plays just as you'd remember it. The note highways function the same, requiring each member of the band to hit the correct on-screen notes at the right times.

However, while the Beatles Rock Band features the same general mechanics as other Rock Band titles, there are some cool new features that help bring the series forward. The biggest change in the core gameplay mechanic is the introduction of three-part vocal harmonies. In line with The Beatles' actual music catalog, there are quite a few songs in the game's setlist that support the feature, but it's never required, it's simply a means of enhancing the overall experience. It's quite difficult to pull off unless you are both familiar with the songs and somewhat good at singing, but sounds pretty cool when done right.

There are some new elements for aspiring drummers out there as well. While there are some pretty hefty tutorials for all of the game's disciplines, drummers get a special tutorial called Beatle Beats. Beatle Beats gives you more than 80 of Ringo's most well known beats and fills, and allows you to switch them on the fly, slow them down, and practice them until you can nail each and every one.

The game's Story Mode is definitely a highlight for fans of the band, taking you from the band's auspicious beginnings performing at the Cavern Club to their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, their tours, the Abbey Road studio sessions, all the way to their final rooftop concert on top of the Apple building on January 30, 1969. Each venue is composed of a few songs that were released in the given time period, and has been lovingly recreated down to every minutia, from outfits to hairstyles and facial hair.

The one exception to this however are the studio sessions at Abbey Road. While the venue itself has been recreated as have the other ones, the Abbey Road tracks also offer up what the developers call "Dreamscapes", rendered scenes that play out some pretty awesome interpretations of the songs. Tracks from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band period will showcase the band in their alter-ego regalia and play off of the themes and artwork associated with that album, tracks like "Octopus's Garden" show the band performing underwater, and so on. The effect is fantastically done, and adds a great new element to the gameplay.

Depending on how well you do, you can unlock new photographs of the band from era of the recording of each song. Completing a song will net you one photo, while five-starring it will give you the second one. While not a huge factor of the game's Story mode, it's still a pretty nice touch for completists who like to unlock extra features.

Of course, nitpickers will comb through the game and note the historical inaccuracies. Sure, the Budokan stage shows the band performing "Taxman" and "And Your Bird Can Sing" live (even though those songs hadn't been released at that point yet and therefore didn't get played), or Ringo Starr playing drums for "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence" (it was McCartney on both songs, as Starr had briefly quit the band at that point in the recording of "The Beatles"), but that's not really the point, is it? The developers wanted to emphasize the band's core dynamic, namely four guys having fun together creating great music, and in that regard the game succeeds smashingly.

Something gamers might also take issue with (and perhaps more deservedly) is the setlist. Mind you, the game does represent a fine blend of songs from every part the Beatles storied career and showcases songwriting from each of the four core members of the group, giving just as much precedence to the works of Harrison and Starr as it does Lennon and McCartney. However, there are some hugely popular songs from the band's career that are strangely absent from the game for one reason or another, like "Hey Jude", "She Loves You", "Help!", and "Yesterday". Fortunately, the game supports its own downloadable content, so there is a chance that these and others from the Beatles song catalog could see presence in the game yet, but the fact that they aren't included on the disc is a bummer.

Graphically, the game's art direction and aesthetic are superb and do a great job of representing the band in a stylish yet respectful manner. The band themselves are represented quite well, and the animations are in line with their respective styles. The venues are also nicely recreated, and show a lot of the work that went into researching them and capturing their details.

The songs sound better than ever before, thanks to the new remastering done for the game (and for the recent release of the band's entire catalog on CD). The amount of care and reverence is apparent in every song in the game, as whammies have no audible effect on sustains (you can still use it to build up your "Beatlemania" meter), and the pick-up switch/effects changer has no effect either. Regardless, the songs all sound fantastic.

The long of the short is if you aren't a Beatles fan or have no appreciation for their music or contributions to music as a whole, then The Beatles Rock Band probably isn't for you. However, if you are a fan, then you should definitely look into this wonderfully done homage to one of the most influential musical acts in history.

Review Scoring Details for The Beatles Rock Band

Gameplay: 9.0
A great retrospective for one of the most beloved bands in history, The Beatles Rock Band takes songs from the band's whole career, paying mind to each member's contributions. The new three-part harmony vocal mechanic is a great (and challenging) addition for singers, and the new Beatle Beats tutorial is a fine addition for drummers. While the setlist is missing some of the band's bigger hits, there is still a lot to love here for just about any degree of Beatles fan.

Graphics: 9.5
Famous venues from the band's history have been painstakingly recreated, and the group member's individual styles accurately reflect various periods in their career. The dreamscapes from the Abbey Road sessions also look fantastic and sport some phenomenal art direction.

Sound: 9.8
Each song has been remastered and they sound better than ever. There is also some real studio banter during the loading screen for each song, which is a great addition.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
While the three-part harmonies are difficult to pull off if you're not much of a singer, the rest of the instruments aren't terribly challenging (and rightly so, considering that George Harrison never broke out with a Yngwie Malmsteem guitar solo). Rock Band veterans shouldn't have much trouble getting five-stars on the whole set list.

Concept: 9.5
The game showcases tremendous reverence for the band and does an excellent job of tastefully recreating their history.

Multiplayer: 9.0
Aside from the three-part vocal harmonies, the multiplayer is exactly like other Rock Band titles, which definitely isn't a bad thing.

Overall: 9.3
An excellent tribute to The Beatles, The Beatles Rock Band sets the standard for music games based on a single band.


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