What happens when what many consider to be the ultimate band game teams up with what many consider to be the ultimate band? The Beatles: Rock Band.
While several bands have gotten their own standalone music titles, none have gotten nearly the sort of treatment Harmonix has given The Beatles: Rock Band. Not only is the track list solely comprised of some of The Beatles' greatest hits without any filler bands clogging up the works, the Fab Four even scored exclusive plastic instruments and a new vocal harmonizing feature in order to ensure as accurate an experience as possible.
Did the extra added attention to details pay off, or will your plastic guitars gently weep little plastic tears? Only the assembled game critics know for sure...
The Beatles: Rock Band is part music game, part interactive documentary. The music game part is a reasonable facsimile of past Rock Band games, with many of the same modes and features you've become accustomed to. But the game truly excels when it redrafts that formula to suit the most revered rock band in history. The presence of a story mode might catch you off-guard. It's essentially a stand-in for career mode, but it's hard to dismiss it as such.
It's obvious that nothing's been spared when it comes to the overall presentation. The Fab Four and some of their better-known venues were lovingly recreated as animated illustrations (using the word "cartoon" would be an injustice). As the Beatles went from a pop act to a more studio-based band, the game adds its own trippy graphics (all very reminiscent of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine) that flow in time with the music. The menus are also completely decked out with graphical flourishes, and this entire experience was obviously created with an almost religious sense of reverence
Four points. First, 45 Beatles songs stack up pretty well next to the 28 Metallica tracks in the box for their Guitar Hero gig, the rest contributed by "friends"; second, how many artists are there who have 45 songs strong enough to justify a commercial release?; third - boring commercial reality time - these songs must cost a staggering amount to license and MTV does not have an infinite vault of money; and fourth, how many tracks on average do you genuinely love in the average Guitar Hero/Rock Band release? Be honest. I can only speak personally here, but every single track on The Beatles: Rock Band, whether it be a particular drum fill, a swooning bassline, ingenious harmony or classic riff, contains a memorable, enjoyable gaming moment.
The game modes aren't as extraordinary as the technical aspects, but that, by no means, holds the title back. From Quickplay game modes such as Tug of War and Score Duel, to the Story Mode, there are many reasons to stick around and play The Beatles: Rock Band. Although the vocals are still relegated to singing (or humming, if that's your thing) the right note rather than the correct lyrics, the rest of the gameplay is fantastic. There's not as much feedback through the speakers of the lead singer as there was in Rock Band 2, so it's less about karaoke, and more about enjoying the quality songs put forth by the legendary Beatles. Players are able to add in two extra microphones to their band as six players can now play with two microphones set as harmonizers – so the Rock Band experience is even more extravagant than before.
What I think is the most interesting aspect of Beatles:RB is its potential in a number of areas: It's altogether possible that it may draw in older gamers who are very familiar with the Beatles' catalog, but aren't much into video games-and anything that grows the user base is a good thing for all of us (though I figure that gamers having their parents and grandparents fighting with them for time on the family game console won't be seen as all that positive). Also, having the Beatles' music introduced to a whole new generation via a video game might finally get the music industry to fully appreciate the game as a viable medium for selling music, which will get more people on board supporting the game industry, which is also a good thing for gamers.
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.