More than 45 years ago, The Beatles changed the way the world listened to music. This week, MTV Games and Harmonix hope to change the way people listen to The Beatles.
The Beatles: Rock Band features band authentic replica instruments, 45 songs pulled from the history of the band and the backing of the surviving members of The Beatles themselves. But is it just another Rock Band with The Beatles' music, or is it, as Harmonix promised, something entirely new?
The Music: The Beatles: Rock Band is an aural journey through the sizzling, but short history of one of the world's most successful and popular bands in history. The selection of music that walks participants through the 45-track trip was deftly plucked from the group's discography, providing a deep look at the group's evolution from skiffle to pop and offering subtle insight into how they absorbed and transformed the music of the day into their own sound. Along the journey the more popular, more pop music of The Beatles gives way to a sophisticated sound, touching on The Beatles' experimental songwriting, their use of unusual recording methods and, of course, those dazzling lyrics.
Dreamscapes: Where the power of the game's music selection sneaks up on gamers as they work their way from "Twist and Shout" to "The End," the game's 20 fantastical "dreamscapes" are a far less subtle, though no less powerful device. Each of these dream-like sequences start off in the Abbey Road recording studios, then launch gamers into surreal, psychedelic, fantasy worlds tied to specific songs. Each has the production value of a televised music video and each seems to draw out the meaning and power of the song it supplements.
Sounds: Easily missed, the background sounds included in the loading screens and at the beginning and end of many of the game's songs, help pull gamers into the experience. Listening to the foursome talking among themselves about trivial matters, or hearing Ringo Starr complain about the blisters on his fingers after playing through "Helter Skelter" on drums, and perhaps earning some yourself, adds a final touch of authenticity to the experience.
Extras: As much as I enjoyed playing through The Beatles evolution, it is only 45 songs. It helps, then, that the game offers up such compelling rewards for replaying and perfecting venues and songs. These unlockables, all drawn from the Apple Corps' archives include photographs and hard to find audio clips, such as the full version of The Beatles unreleased Christmas Record from 1963.
Instruments: Another level of realism includes the creation of four new controllers based on the instruments used by The Beatles. The Special Edition bundle of the game comes with a Ludwig drum set, a microphone and microphone stand and Paul McCartney's Hofner bass. While the drum isn't different looking, the Hofner bass is a surprisingly accurate replica. Other controllers available include a Rickenbacker 325 guitar and a Gretsch Duo Jet guitar.
Harmony: Not much has changed in the basic mechanic of Rock Band, but one of the biggest changes is the ability for three singers to use three microphones while playing The Beatles: Rock Band. The game actually tracks and scores each of the microphones separately. When multiple singers are playing there are also multiple pitch indicators that track the melody and two harmonies.
Deja Vu: The Beatles: Rock Band will be familiar to anyone who has played a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game. Very familiar. Perhaps too familiar in light of Harmonix co-founder's promise to deliver an all new game built from the ground up. With the same mechanics, essentially the same controllers and the same way to experience the music, the only thing new about The Beatles: Rock Band is its subject matter. If this was built from the ground up, it was done without leaving the successful frame work of the original Rock Band.
Dopplegangers: The game features six settings carefully recreated from their real world counterparts and 20 mind-blowing dreamscapes, but what it doesn't feature is a lot of variety in those fans watching you perform. For a game focusing on such a shot period of time and a single band, one would have hoped that more diversity would have been included in the screaming fans that compile a bulk of the shots at the venues you play. Instead gamers are treated to a few too many recycled audience animations in each location.
Beatle Beats: Beatles Beats is The Beatles: Rock Band version of the drum trainer already found in Rock Band 2. Instead of training with generic beats, it teaches gamers how to drum using some of Ringo Starr's famous rhythms. But that's all you get from The Beatles. No voice work from Starr, no new animations. A bit of a disappointment.
The Beatles: It should probably go without saying that a game called The Beatles: Rock Band is meant for fans of The Beatles. It's worth pointing out, though, that unlike band-themed released of Guitar Hero which include other group's music in the mix, this one doesn't. What you're paying for is 45 songs by The Beatles and the promise of more Beatles music to purchase down the road.
The promise of Harmonix and Apple Corps working together to deliver a new way to experience The Beatles can't help but raise expectations. It doesn't help that early on Harmonix was adamant that what fans would receive would not be Rock Band featuring music from The Beatles. And that eventually, ultimately, is very close to what Harmonix delivered.
But while the game's core remained mostly untouched, the developers managed to massage enough new, enough subtlety into the title to deliver something that leaves gamers somehow feeling much more in tune with not just the music of The Beatles, but their personalities. Ultimately, The Beatles: Rock Band is an interesting experiment, one that, while flawed, eventually delivers a new and rewarding experience for music and game fans alike.
The Beatles: Rock Band was developed by Harmonix and published by MTV Games for the Playstation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 on Sept. 9. The stand-alone game sells for $59.99, the Limited Edition Premium Bundle sell for $249.99, the Rickenbacker 325 Standalone Guitar and the Gretsch Duo Jet Standalone Guitar sells for $99.99. Played through the entire story mode on drums. Played multiple quickplay sessions on drums, guitar and microphone. Sampled the Beatle Beats trainer and vocal harmony trainer.
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