The Beatles: Rock BandESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: MTV Games/Electronic Arts
Guitar, Drum Kit, and Microphone
Online Multiplayer: 2-6
As the music based genre continues to grow more and more effort has been put in to making each game in the genre special. The biggest and most interesting trend has been to make band specific versions. Guitar Hero started it off with an Aerosmith centric version, and since then there have been a couple of more band specific games released. Well Harmonix and MTV Games were not to be outdone, and they have recently released a game based on one of the most iconic bands known, The Beatles. When it was first announced this was seen as an amazing coup given so many people love the fab four. Now, I wasn’t even born when The Beatles made their U.S. debut in 1964, and I was only about one year old when they hung up things began to slow down, but I can honestly say that I did grow up to their music as many people around me listened to them as I got older. Even as I made my own choices of what to listen too, I found myself bopping to quite a few Beatles Tunes. Well I have had a chance to play through the available set-list prior to the 09 09 09 launch of the game and I thought I would let you know what I thought of the whole Beatles: Rock Band experience.
Visually speaking I think this is one of the best looking Rock Bands that I have seen to date. From the opening cutscene to the closing one, this game really does speak production value. As one would expect with a Rock Band game with The Beatles in the title, the focus is on Ringo, George, Paul and John. The key here though is that each character has been modelled to fit each specific chapter, which means that all of them look different as you progress through the game’s story mode. From their humble beginnings as they are clean cut wearing the now recognizable black suits, to their casual attire, and even beards and moustaches as they record tracks at Abbey Road Studios, they are well represented throughout. To tell you the truth, it was not until playing this game that I didn’t realize how different their appearances were at the various points of their careers.
As much as Harmonix spent a lot of time getting the looks of the fab four down, they also spent a lot of time in the venues that each chapter takes place. From the Cavern Club, Ed Sullivan Theater to Shea Stadium, each venue was amazingly recreated. I remember reading an interview with one of the Harmonix staffers, and he was talking about the Ed Sullivan Theater chapter and how they got photos of that incredible day and used them to accurately recreate the famed theatre from the 1964 show. Now I wasn’t even born then, but I have to say that what I got to play in looked pretty reminiscent of any media footage I have seen of their North American debut. Every area that you play in seems to me, in my humble opinion, to be a great recreation of where they actually played. Heck, even the rooftop of Apple Corps. looks great as you can see down onto the street as the crowd gathers and the police keep control of everything that goes on below.
Given that my focus was on the area of the screen that I had to follow to hit my notes, I didn’t get as much chance to focus every single background that I could have, but that being said I did take some time to watch what I could and all what I speak of really was a well rounded package. As with so many other facets of this game, it really adds to the overall experience.
The audio is pretty good in The Beatles: Rock Band. The included setlist is quite diverse and very representative of the different types of music that The Beatles did over their career. There are lots of listings for the available songs in the game, so I am not going to go over it here again. That being said, any fan of those misfits from Liverpool, England will be more than happy with the music that is included in this game as it really is a nice sampling of their whole career.
If there was one thing evident to me during my gameplay it was that you could definitely tell how the quality of the music for the various concerts varied from that which was recorded in Abbey Road Studio. This is to be expected though given that the music that took place with screaming crowds would sound distinctly different than that which was recorded professionally in a studio. You don’t have any noise to sing over when recording in a studio so you can get perfectly recorded tracks. That being said, I was pretty impressed with how the concert venues sounded. It was kind of crazy to hear the aural representation of different sized crowds screaming, from the more intimate setting of the Ed Sullivan Theater to the very large and very full Shea stadium.
For those with a 5.1 surround sound system, your speakers will get a good and balanced workout. The music is in surround sound it is very noticeable how the crowds scream all around you throughout the various speakers. Actually, the crowd could border on distracting at times, but I guess this is probably what it was like for The Beatles as they endured their adoring, and somewhat crazy, fans screaming as they played. Overall the sound manages to compliment both the graphics and the gameplay and all those who pick up and play this game will be happy with how it sounds.
I am not going to describe how to play The Beatles: Rock Band as there are quite a few versions of Rock Band out there already, from various track packs to the original and subsequent sequel of the main game. I am assuming that if you are reading this then you are most likely aware of how to play. If you don’t then I have to tell you that it’s time to come out of the Stone Age. The Beatles: Rock Band allows you to play a guitar, bang on some drums, or pick up a microphone as you take on the role of either Paul, George, John or Ringo. Of course it is a music rhythm game that requires you to match the beat of any of the 45 available tracks found in the game. The Beatles: Rock Band does not mix with any of the other Rock Bands out on the market, so don’t expect to play any existing content with this version, and any upcoming Beatles: Rock Band DLC is just that, for The Beatles version only.
There are four main modes to play through including quickplay, story mode, chapter challenges and training modes. Quickplay and training modes allow for quick fixes of Beatles music as well as the ability to practice one’s skills. Specifically speaking, training mode focuses on either drumming (Beatle Beats) or vocals. Anyone who picks up this game will find themselves starting their Beatles experience in the story mode. Here you will play through six chapters that follow specific areas of their career. You will begin in the Cavern Club where they got their start, and follow them to the Ed Sullivan Theater, Shea Stadium, Budokan, Abbey Road and wind up playing their famed Apple Corps Rooftop concert. I am sure diehard Beatles fans know this, but people like me who just listen to their music may not, the fab four actually stopped touring quite early and the majority of the latter part of their career was spent at Abbey Road Studio where they created some of their most memorable music.
So, I am sure that a lot of you may be wondering how Harmonix managed to The Beatles time at Abbey Road Studios exciting in-game given that there is only so much you can do with just four people sitting around playing music. This is where Harmonix got to spread their creative wings so to speak as they created Dreamscape sequences for the 19 songs you play there. During each song you will are treated to some great visual expressions that were inspired by each song. Each Dreamscape is, as Harmonix describes it, a “...imaginative environment that captures the essence of The Beatles’ genre-busting musical and fashion transformations during their later years”. I have to say that I fully agree with this statement. The first time you watch the imagery that is displayed as you play “Yellow Submarine”, “Back in the USSR” or “Here Comes the Sun”, you will agree that things were done right and it adds to the overall gameplay experience in a unique and original way.
The chapter challenges are opened up at the completion of each chapter in the story mode. Here you are challenged to go through each chapter’s specific setlist in order in an effort to complete all the songs in one sitting. It is a neat little addition and it helps prolong the play, but it can feel somewhat repetitive given that you play the same songs you just went through. I found it somewhat more interesting to go back and do the chapter challenges after I went through the main setlist that way I was not immediately playing the same songs over again.
In terms of the gameplay elements, there is something that is new to the Rock Band experience, and very specific for The Beatles: Rock Band. This time around Harmonix has added a three-part harmony. Here you can have three people singing at once. Your goal is to replicate the three singers of The Beatles and sing in harmony. Now I didn’t get a chance to play through this aspect of the game, but I did get to watch a demo of the Harmonix Band at E3 sing away. It was really interesting to see and it sounded great having three competent voices singing all at once. I think this is a great addition given that it not only allows three people to sing at once, but it makes an effort to replicate The Beatles themselves as they basically sang all at once. Pretty neat stuff indeed.
Something I also noted was that the use of the whammy bar was somewhat altered. In Rock Band games of past the use of this bar would alter the actual audio of a song allowing you to add a personal touch to it. Given the nature of the music included in The Beatles: Rock Band, and the need to stay true to the source material, the whammy bar does not alter the actual songs this time around. I tip my hat to Harmonix for doing this, as I don’t think that altering such iconic music would fit in with the theme of the game, especially given that I don’t remember any Beatles song making use of a whammy bar.
If there is one thing that was most evident as I played The Beatles: Rock Band, it was that the game is not really a game, but it is tribute to the fab four and it definitely pays respect to all their fans. Sure, you have the Rock Band experience which includes playing any of the available instruments and trying to ace the songs on the set list, but there is so much more here. As you earn your stars for completing songs you open up photographs of The Beatles during the year that each chapter represents. These stars also accumulate to open up some neat video footage of the band as well. All in all these bonus items are a nice treat as you get some great insight into the men behind the instruments. These are not particularly long or detailed, but as you look at each picture, you get a description of what it is about, and each video speaks for itself as they are a small snippet of various periods you just played through.
Adding to the whole “paying homage to the fans” aspect, as you progress through the story mode the breaks between each song include recorded audio of the band, particularly during the chapters where you play at the Abbey Road Studio and on Apple Corps Rooftop. Personally, given my very young age during The Beatles rise to fame, and given the fact that I was not there, I thought these little bits and bobs added further personality to the game as it was actual recorded audio that took place during these times. To hear the band just mindlessly banter was pretty cool. Not only did it add even more authenticity to the game, but it added a little more to the whole Beatles experience.
In terms of the learning curve, I would have to say that it somewhat gentle. Beatle songs are not particularly challenging all the time, but that is not to say there are not a few songs that crank up the difficulty now and then. Of course each instrument has harder challenges then others in terms of the difficulty, but overall casual gamers, or fans of The Beatles who don’t play any interactive music games, will be able to enjoy this game just as much as die hard Rock Band fans.
Of course there is the multiplayer aspect of the game, be it playing all together in one room, or taking the game online. This aspect never grows old and The Beatles: Rock Band takes it one step further allowing for up to six players to play at once. There is no reason for me to go into great detail here, as this is a staple mode for any Rock Band game, from the track packs, the actual game (ver. 1 and 2) to this most latest release of The Beatles own game. And for those wondering, the ‘no-fail’ mode is back to anyone can play, even a non-videogamer.
The Beatles: Rock Band comes in various flavours, including the game only version as well as a version that comes bundled with replica instruments that represent the actual one’s the fab four played. We haven’t had a chance to check out the latter given the hype and demand for the bundle version of the game. What I have seen at E3 and what not was pretty cool though as the instruments are very nice looking. Not a whole lot has changed in terms of the mechanics though (e.g. strum bar, whammy bar, button placements) so the main change is the throwback to the 60’s. I hope to get a chance to check out one of the instruments in the near future though, so I can only keep my fingers crossed.
My final note is that for Beatles-maniacs the game does not end once you finish the setlist. Harmonix and MTV Games have already announced more Beatles music via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. First off, on launch day (09 09 09), a version of “All You Need is Love” will be made available for fans to download for $1.99 (160 MS Points). It is a limited time download and all proceeds from Apple Corps., MTV Games, Harmonix and Microsoft will benefit Doctors Without Borders. After that there is more. Full albums including the Abbey Road (1969) album (estimated release date: October 20, 2009), the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) album (estimated release date: November 2009) and the Rubber Soul (1965) album (estimated release date: December 2009) will be made available. Not only do you have the option to buy each full album, but you can also buy individual tracks should only a few catch your fancy. I like to see this level of support for such an important game and it will add a boatload of replay value for game.
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