16 Sep, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band Review

360 Review | All together now.
The Beatles require no introduction, other than to say that they're the most important band of all time. That pretty much puts them at the top of the list of bands that deserve a videogame, so it's fitting and fortunate that they would receive a tribute as loving and reverent as The Beatles: Rock Band. James Hetfield should be on the phone to Activision right now, asking why Metallica's game has nothing on this one. Harmonix have shown it up as the glorified song pack that it is and delivered a title that sets a new standard for rhythm games.

It's important to note from the outset exactly what you're getting here. As the title suggests, it's Rock Band with Beatles songs. If for some reason you don't like the Beatles, you'll obviously get nothing out of this game. Unlike Guitar Hero: Metallica, there are no tracks by other artists to be found here. It's purely and one hundred per cent Beatles output, ignoring even the significant amount of solo and collaborative work from its individual members. There's also absolutely no cross-compatibility with anything else from the Rock Band stable, including DLC. Beatles: Rock Band and its own DLC stand alone from the pack, and though it would be fantastic to incorporate the Beatles tracks here into the rest of the mammoth Rock Band catalogue, it makes sense that they be kept separate. To set the songs free from this disc would ultimately dilute the experience the game offers. To have Get Back getting lost in a sonic sandwich between Fall Out Boy and Bon Jovi just wouldn't be right.

From humble beginnings...

From humble beginnings...
The delightfully slavish devotion to the Beatles universe in this game is immediately apparent in the game's spectacular introduction sequence, which has a stylized Beatles traversing a beautifully animated summary of their career (and the game's stages) backed by a medley that culminates in the surrealist imagery of I Am The Walrus. It follows through that the game's presentation is as Beatles as possible in every possible way. Instead of going for realism, which could have gone horribly wrong, or going too far in the direction of the over the top cartoon avatars that are currently found in both Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the presentation of the Beatles themselves strikes a balance on a kind of stylised cartoonish realism that isn't too far from representations they've had in something like the Yellow Submarine film. Importantly, their appearance changes depending on the song and the era in which it's being played. At Shea Stadium the band are wearing their historically accurate brown suits, they'll wear their Sergeant Pepper uniforms in the Sergeant Pepper era and will be sporting casual, modern looks by the time you get to the Apple Corps rooftop performance. The game is a little stringent in this sense - playing a particular song, whether in Quick Play or Story, will always be on its set stage with its set costumes. There is none of the editing and dressing up that's found throughout Rock Band and Guitar Hero. This may bother some people but again, it's about maintaining control over the Beatles' likeness in order to portray a singular vision of who they were, and it's really not a detractor.

The silver lining of this approach is that each song is really its own specialised event, and in the case of the Abbey Road-era tracks, its own visual spectacular. The three Abbey Road stages, each of which covers two years of the Beatles' career, take place in the infamous but relatively bland Abbey Road studio. Since that makes for a fairly unexciting backdrop, each of the songs drift out into their own specialised visual 'dreamscapes'. Tracks like Octopus' Garden, I Am The Walrus, Here Comes The Sun and While My Guitar Gently Weeps have especially gorgeous backdrops. All of the imagery on display complements the songs perfectly, and the words popping up in the background is an especially neat effect.

Do not adjust your set.

Do not adjust your set.
The gameplay hasn't really been tinkered with, aside from one small addition and two small subtractions. The addition is the inclusion of harmonies, which appear on a majority of the tracks in the game. When you choose to sing you'll be able to select from harmony or lead vocals. It all works pretty well, and is a healthy new challenge for those who favour the singing aspect of this type of game. The two subtractions are quite minor. The first is that there are no longer any drum fills, though there are still sequences that end on a cymbal note, which activates Star Power, ahem, uh, 'Beatlemania'. You can still use your whammy bar on held notes on guitar, but doing so will only yield the gameplay reward of more Beatlemania, rather than any actual change to the sound. It's also interesting to note that you'll never be booed, subject only to the screams of your many, many fans. Failure will take you straight to the retry menu, rather than the deep shame of being booed off the stage. All of these small adjustments are simply in keeping with the game's reverence to the band, and none really have any negative impact upon the game. The crucial element is that the songs are fun to play, and that is most certainly intact in this game.

Beatles Rock Band features 45 tracks spanning their career over twelve LPs and many singles, and it comes up with a nicely balanced look at the diversity and progression of their catalogue. No, not every hit is here, and everyone will understandably bemoan the lack of Hey Jude or Let It Be, but Harmonix have crafted a clear timeline where the player can get some sense of the Beatles' evolution musically. Every song here has something to offer, and it would be hard to dispute that in terms of pure musical quality Beatles: Rock Band is miles ahead of the track lists of any other band game. 45 songs isn't an enormous number and you'll have played everything at least once after a few hours with the game, though it's worth mentioning that three full Beatles albums will be available by the end of the year as DLC (Abbey Road[/], [i]Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul, with more hopefully to follow. When it comes down to it, the Beatles made a hell of a lot of amazing songs, and the inclusion of a good portion of them in this game make it, by default, an amazing track list. Players who are only partially familiar with the band will find themselves surprised at how many of the songs they actually already knew, without realizing they were by the Beatles. The Better Homes & Gardens theme? Ripped from a Beatles song!

The Beatles: Apparently they wrote some pretty alright songs and stuff.

The Beatles: Apparently they wrote some pretty alright songs and stuff.
There's no lengthy Tour mode in Beatles: Rock Band. Instead you have the Story mode to contend with. This takes you through every one of the game's tracks once, in more or less chronological order, as a kind of extremely simplified history of the band. The stages are representative of important phases or events in the band's career, as outlined above. Each stage offers four to seven tracks. You can also unlock challenges to play the songs of one sequence back to back, with the aim of earning five stars on each track. You can also unlock photos attributed to each track – one for achieving a three star rating, another for a five star rating. These include some interesting trivia on the band. Unlocking enough photos will get you some bits of video footage. These are unfortunately quite brief, and you wonder if it would have hurt to include either longer segments or more brief ones. Each of the stages is buffered by a brief animated sequence that has the Beatles moving from point A to point B in their history, but they really don't actually tell you much about what happened. In this regard it feels like a missed opportunity.

But there are so many other little touches at play that make this game a special experience. Fragments of studio sounds and banter have been dug out of the Apple Corps archives and placed on loading screens leading into tracks. Lennon's 'I hope we passed the audition' quote from the actual rooftop performance makes its way into the one here. Ringo Starr even takes you through the drum tutorial (having lost none of his Thomas the Tank Engine narrating skill). Especially cool is the use of the actual introductions to the Beatles' performances at Shea Stadium and the Ed Sullivan show.

The beauty and strength of this game lies in the Beatles' songs themselves. Games try so hard and fail so often to make an emotional connection with the player, but in the case of Beatles Rock Band, that connection will already be there for most people who play it. It's almost cheating in a way, but when you're gleefully singing along to Yellow Submarine, absorbing the dreamscape that accompanies Here Comes The Sun, or nailing harmonies in With A Little Help From My Friends, you wouldn't have it any other way.
The Score
Brimming with quality and class, The Beatles Rock Band is a game worthy of the band it pays tribute to. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related The Beatles: Rock Band Content

Abbey Road & other albums for Beatles Rock Band
20 Oct, 2009 To touch our lonely hearts and rubber souls.
Nineteen more tracks revealed for The Beatles: Rock Band
19 Aug, 2009 Boys come together while my guitar gently weeps.
Fifteen tracks unveiled for The Beatles: Rock Band
21 Jul, 2009 We all live in a yellow one.
4 years ago
Loved this game, have Rock Band and Guitar Hero WT but this is the way future games based on bands should be done. Please do a Rock Band U2, would love this. GH needs to focus in a similar art style to top this formula.
4 years ago
Good review Michael, but I don't agree with the score attached to the end of it. You didn't actually say anything bad about the game, other than that there was a missed opportunity to show more of the bands history and you wished for better unlockables.

Yeah the score doesn't mean much in the long run, but it just doesn't seem right that this game did not score higher than GH1,2,3 or 4 on PALGN when the general consensus (even from the review) is that this is how all future stand alone music games should be done and that it is a breath of fresh air into a genre which had gotten a bit stale.
4 years ago
You can't compare scores across games. I doubt all the GH games were reviewed by the same person, and the climate they came out in wasn't the same. Guitar games weren't stale when GH1, 2 and 3 came out.
4 years ago
I really don't see why this can't be intergrated into Rockband. I mean make a pack for the Beatles and do the story and all that included. Premium Pack or something. I'm getting really over all this seperate content, seperate disc... it's (at its heart) the same game. I may pick this up when I get a chance. Where is RB2??? Still hasn't made it to Australia but this has... What's with that?

Now that I have finished my rant. Good review and I have to agree that I like the artistic angle on the game.
4 years ago
It includes too much to be DLC. More than 100 pics of the Beatles, all with paragraphs explaining stuff, around 7 or 8 movies about the Beatles, a lot of cinematics, a completely new graphics engine, new UI etc.
4 years ago
GreyWolfJai wrote
I really don't see why this can't be intergrated into Rockband. I mean make a pack for the Beatles and do the story and all that included. Premium Pack or something. I'm getting really over all this seperate content, seperate disc... it's (at its heart) the same game. I may pick this up when I get a chance. Where is RB2??? Still hasn't made it to Australia but this has... What's with that?
most likely this was the only way they could get beatles songs- if they were in a completely beatles themed game. would also explain the dlc for it not being usable in rock band/rock band 2.

as for rb2 being released here, i'm kinda doubting its ever gonna happen. its been a bit too long, and as far as i can tell the rock band titles (including track packs and excluding beatles rock band here) dont sell that well here, guitar hero basically owns the market.
4 years ago
Good review, Michael. I think you've pitched this right - basically only Beatles fans are going to buy this game, and they're all going to love it. I agree completely that it's important to keep these songs grounded historically - getting a kind of sampler of their career has been one of the things I've enjoyed most about story mode.
4 years ago
Also, it's just Ed Sullivan.

No 'O' in there.
4 years ago
must get this after school... then i go back to the lonesome days with pepsi max trying to beat guitar hero
4 years ago
Wedley wrote
Good review, Michael. I think you've pitched this right - basically only Beatles fans are going to buy this game, and they're all going to love it.
It's definitely a must for Beatles and Rock Band fans, but the music does appeal to a wider crowd than just Beatles fans. I myself barely know the Beatles songs, but still find it enjoyable to play along.
4 years ago
i mainly bought it for the improved band kit (reinforced pedal, etc) but now that I'm playing the game i love it. the beatles really do have an amazing catalog. so many classic songs. i agree, it's a game that anybody can get into because the songs are so well known.
4 years ago
For a Beatles fan such as myself, this purchase was clearly a no brainer.
However, I impolore those who aren't fans (but obviously not those who actively dislike the Beatles) to give it a go.
You will find that the amount of thought and appreciation that has gone into the development of this game is just charming. Not to mention you will probably realise that most of those songs your Mum and Dad played when you were a kid are actually awesome icon_biggrin.gif
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  9/09/2009 (Confirmed)
  Electronic Arts
Year Made:

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