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The Beatles: Rock Band Review

5
  • PS3
  • X360

A loving tribute to one of the most influential pop groups of the 20th century with an abundance of catchy, recognizable songs to make up for the gameplay's relative simplicity.

 Every last inch of the game, from the menus on down, radiates with style.
The Beatles: Rock Band is not the first band-specific music game of its type, but it might as well be the last. Harmonix and Apple Corps have come together (sorry) to create a package that pays carefully enthusiastic tribute to the musical legacy of those four lads from Liverpool, and I'm not sure you could ask for more from a game that focuses on the Beatles--or, really, any band. Sure, if you measure this by the cold metrics of gameplay features and the length of the song list, The Beatles: Rock Band comes up quite short against Guitar Hero 5 or even Rock Band 2. The gameplay itself is, generally speaking, much easier than what genre fans might have come to expect by now. And if you're expecting all the sordid details on the band's slow and tense disintegration, you're better off watching Let It Be, because this is definitely the glossy fan-club version of how things went down. Even with those restraints in place, The Beatles: Rock Band is a fun and occasionally magical experience, whether you're a Beatles fan or not.

There are, essentially, two modes of play in The Beatles: Rock Band. There's a quick play mode, which lets you jump into any song you'd like to, online or off, with one to six players. Rock Band is usually a four-piece setup, and those two extra players come from the two additional mics you can plug in for the two- and three-part harmonies found in a number of the Beatles' songs. It's the one big gameplay addition the game makes to the Rock Band formula, and it makes a lot of sense for The Beatles. It's also more demanding of actual musical skill than anything I've ever seen from one of these games, and it certainly requires more tonality than I can personally muster. As with the other instruments, there's a tutorial for the harmonies that tries to explain things plainly enough, though I felt like my grasp of it was still tenuous once the tutorial ended. If you're really determined to master the vocal harmonies, though, it's easy enough to jump into practice mode or just turn on the no-fail option when you're playing normally.

Quick play is where you'll go when you and your drunk friends just want to annoy the neighbors with “Yellow Submarine,” but the story mode is the heart of The Beatles: Rock Band. This is a loosely biographical mode that moves you through the music of the Beatles in chronological order, with the venue and the look of the Beatles themselves changing at regular intervals. The way the game lays out the history of the Beatles' career is perhaps the most impactful aspect of the story mode, highlighting just how much the band's music evolved over a relatively brief seven-year period. You'll start off performing songs like “Twist and Shout” and “I Saw Her Standing There” at The Cavern Club, a converted air-raid shelter in Liverpool that The Beatles played at regularly. From there it's “Can't Buy Me Love” and “A Hard Day's Night” on the Ed Sullivan Show, followed by more middle-period Beatles material performed at Shea Stadium and Budokan, all incredibly iconic live performances for the band.

 Nope, nobody here singing about the effects of LSD! Move along now!
Reflecting the Beatles' decision to stop performing live, the game shifts the venue to Abbey Road for several stages. The game takes some terrific creative liberties during these stages, relying on often-psychedelic “dreamscape” visuals to keep things interesting. For some songs, the dreamscape concept works brilliantly. “Yellow Submarine” is the first one you'll see in story mode, and the way it gradually shifts from the studio to a trippy underwater playground--complete with that titular submergible and the Beatles donning their colorful costumes from the animated movie of the same name--is perhaps one of the most striking examples. Similarly, songs from Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour often find the band donning the iconic costumes associated with those albums. There are definitely songs from the Beatles' studio era that don't lend themselves as well to such explicit imagery, but even when it's just colored lights and acid-laced filters, the dreamscapes bring a lot of playfulness to the game. The character models bring a lot of life to the game as well, opting for the mildly caricatured look of regular Rock Band characters over anything approaching photo-realism, though they also look a bit more detailed and less dead in the eyes than regular Rock Band characters.

It all wraps up with the live show atop the Apple Corps building, the last time the four would ever perform together live. Again, an incredibly iconic performance, though it's the one where the reductive powers of music games felt a little uncomfortable for me. In reality, the band was barely on speaking terms at this point, but in the game it's little more than a backdrop for more songs. Expecting the game to try and convey the discord within the group and the bittersweet moment of old friends with complicated relationships playing one last show together is admittedly pretty demanding, but it speaks to the emotional investment that the Beatles can evoke from a listener.

With a grand total of 45 songs on the disc, this is by no means the definitive collection of the Beatles' music. There are a few songs on the disc that aren't “essential” by any means--the Ringo-sung cover of The Shirelles' “Boys” and the "Tomorrow Never Knows"/"Within You Without You" mash-up from the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show Love stick out to me the most--and several of my favorite Beatles songs aren't in the game at all. On the other hand, there are several songs in the game that I now consider some of my favorites after playing The Beatles: Rock Band, and it's a nicely rounded sampler that seems to go out of its way to give each member of the band his dues. Additionally, Harmonix has been pretty committed to releasing downloadable content for its Rock Band games, and The Beatles: Rock Band comes with “All You Need is Love” available as Xbox 360-exclusive DLC on day one, with promises of Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Rubber Soul DLC in the near future. Of course, there's a finite amount of Beatles material to be mined for DLC, and unlike all that other Rock Band DLC, and music released for The Beatles: Rock Band won't be compatible with any other currently available iterations of Rock Band.

 It's probably not much that hardcore Beatles fans haven't seen, but the bonus content is still engaging.
This is a decision indicative of the control that Apple Corps held over the development of The Beatles: Rock Band, and it seems to inform other choices, such as the fact that using the whammy bar to goose more “Beatlemania” (otherwise known as overdrive in a regular Rock Band game) doesn't actually affect the sound of the notes. It also potentially influenced the fact that The Beatles: Rock Band isn't as hard as other contemporary music games. Everything up to the hard difficulty feels toned down, though there's a significant jump in difficulty when you hit expert.  Some of the difficulty, though, seems inherent to the music. The Beatles didn't make especially complicated music, so it goes to reason that a game based on that music wouldn't be too complicated, either.
 
The Beatles: Rock Band is absolutely brimming with details and bonus content that are sure to please fans. Success in the story mode, for example, is rewarded with behind-the-scenes photos of the band, and accruing enough photos will unlock a series of interesting videos of the band as well. One of my absolute favorite touches in The Beatles: Rock Band is how, during the Abbey Road years, you'll hear studio noise as a song loads. It's not much more than idle chatter, analog equipment hum, and the occasional practice riff, but it's stuff that's all been pulled from the master tapes at Abbey Road, and it goes a long way towards establishing a sense of authenticity.

The Beatles: Rock Band sets a new standard for how band-focused music games should be executed, one that will be very difficult to match. Beyond all the stylistic flairs and the fan-service touches, this is just an incredibly fun, incredibly accessible bunch of music, with very little filler in its track listing. This isn't a music appreciation class, and I'm not at all qualified as a music critic, but I feel very comfortable saying that the Beatles is one of the most “important” musical acts of the past, let's say, 60 years. This significance warrants the time and detail that has gone into The Beatles: Rock Band, and I'm not sure that there's another band out there that deserves the same treatment. This is a first big step into the digital age for The Beatles, but it might also mark the end for band-specific music games.
71 Comments
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Posted by Delta_Ass

Truly, this gives you the ultimate.

Posted by HellBound

So an easy game with 45 songs with a Great Beatles tone. DLC forthcoming however! So get your 1600 MS points out! 
 
The game sounds good, but I'm not a Beatles fan so there is no point in getting this. It sounds great, but at the same time 60 bucks for 45 songs that most people will probably FC first time doesn't really seem justifiable. For Beatles fans however, its a fantastic game.

Posted by lemon360

hmmm
Posted by lilarchie232

Nice review Ryan, I really want this.

Posted by tooPrime

Having just finished this game I'll say charm and attention to detail doesn't necessarily translate to a fun or interesting or long lasting game.  Another 5* review for a Harmonix game because they're "passionate".

Posted by Bigandtasty

Psychedelic, man.

Edited by SJSchmidt93

Such a jaw-dropping amount of content on the site today. 
 
I still think this is a rent, though. *_* (For someone like me.... , not really a Beatles fan)

Posted by ImperiousRix

After playing the game for several hours today, I can say I agree with almost everything said in this review. 
Something about the attention to detail and all that extra content with chronicling of the Beatles various exploits just really pulls you into the experience and makes it feel more than your typical "I just wanna play this song so I can five star it" music game.

Posted by zitosilva

I really liked this review. There's something in this game that makes me feel that I'm playing more of a great homage than an actual game; and really, that's what I'm looking for when something is Beatles related.
 
I think it's incredible how it easily shows that it's a work of passion. This goes to show that a game does not necessaraly needs a plot or a story to evoque emotion.

Edited by empfeix
"This is a first big step into the digital age for The Beatles, but it might also mark the end for band-specific music games." 
 
I hope so, why can't we just stick with band albums being released as dlc?  As much as Harmonix did an awesome job with presentation here, making it a very cool experience.  Just let me download the Beatles albums for rock band so I can incorporate into my collection.
Posted by JJOR64

Figured this game would have gotten a 4.  The game sounds awesome but, I'm not a big Beatles fan.

Posted by F1

Not a Beatles fan, but honestly, every time I see a screenshot of this game, I can't help but feel that I would enjoy it anyway. It's just so damn pretty. I really like the title screen too.

Posted by yindotrunks

meh

Posted by TooWalrus

Definitely deserves this score, it's a hell of a game... too bad I've already finished it.

Posted by Turtlefuzz

Ordered this with two mic stands and an extra mic today. It looks really awesome, I can't wait to play it.

Posted by DanielJW

Great review! There were a few kids beside me in class today conspiring to make an EB games run to pick this up. Hope they had some fun!

Posted by Shindiggah

this game looks so amazing. 
I WANT!

Posted by Afroman269

Great review I agree that this may be the start of the end for band specific games. The overall feel and quality of this puts every other band game, Aerosmith and Metallica, to shame. I really don't see this being matched by another band.

Posted by Argonanth

I only got rockband because I didn't have the money for rockband 2 and wouldn't have much fun with it anyway probably as The game is quite easy... And now theres this one with Beatles songs... Could the tracks get any easier?

Posted by Jayzilla

cool review. from what i hear this game should be considered by people who love the beatles as a must have. if you aren't a fan, you should pass. i guess that goes for any game with such a specific target audience.

Posted by Chewii101

This is how you make a band specific music game. Kinda disappointed they held back some songs for the DLC......oh well. 

Posted by EndrzGame

Great review! I'll be picking up my copy tomorrow. Can't wait!

Posted by Wright

Alex must be pleased!

Posted by JJWeatherman
@tooPrime said:
" Having just finished this game I'll say charm and attention to detail doesn't necessarily translate to a fun or interesting or long lasting game.  Another 5* review for a Harmonix game because they're "passionate". "
Maybe music games just aren't your thing. I still can't stop playing Rock Band 2 since it was released. Music games have unlimited replayability for me. Also, passion in games goes a long way.
Posted by Claude

Guitar Hero 5 was well received for the Wii, just saying. Trolling? A little bit, hell, I haven't even played a rhythm game, so shoot me.

Posted by empfeix

are they releasing lady madona? thats my favorite beatles song

Posted by tineyoghurt

Got my copy two days ago and I absolutely love it! 
 
Also, Ryan, the Love compilation is awesome.

Posted by AlKusanagi

I will only buy this game if the Skrull Beatles are confirmed in it.
 
And if you actually know what a Skrull Beatle is you get 50 geek points, but then have to silently cry in a closet.

Posted by _Horde

Wow, I really have to pick this up once I get some more of that money.

Posted by MetalGearSunny

Very great review, I really need to get this one!

Online
Posted by JeffGoldblum

I bought this game yesterday and it is GREAT!

Posted by Jimbo_N

Totally going to get my dad into videogames this weekend. Makes me kinda excited to buy a game that breaks the generation barrier and that is not on the Wii.

Posted by nail1080

Isn't the whole strumming on a plastic guitar gameplay a bit old at this stage? Has the novelty not worn off? I was sick of it after Guitar Hero II to be honest and all these clones are not going to change my mind. And the Beattles? Who likes them anymore anyway? Oh yeah my dad and his dad. Let's face it that's music is for an older generation.
 
Clearly 5 stars was dished here as Alex Navarro, a good buddy of GB, is on the Rockband team, which is quite sad really.
 
 3 STARTS at most...

Posted by Aishan
@nail1080:  Maybe if you take the star system as an absolute rather than being specific to the type of game it is. 
 
Clearly not every one likes GH/RB, but as far as these games go, this game is a 5* example of them.
Posted by stinky
@nail1080: i think the genre is "done" as you say. so its up to the fact of what music is being offered.  
you like the Beatles? 5 stars. hate metallica? 3 stars. and thats fair enough. 
Posted by MagusMaleficus
@nail1080: Did you get that sand out of your vagina?
Posted by kainen

Really

really well written review....

Posted by JoshLarson
@nail1080:
If you haven't figured it out yet, ANY critisism of any review is instantly met with hoards of Giantbomb cultists blindly defending the score regardless if they have played the game or not and then attacking the person who posted their dissenting opinion. Open discussion is not an option, only blind loyalty. This is one of the most tightly knit but close-minded gaming communities that I have yet encountered on the internet.
Posted by Jack_Daniels

Wouldn't it have been awkward if this game really sucked?

Posted by Berkie

 Got it yesterday evening, and my brother and I finished it in about four hours....that said, The Beatles RB has been the most wonderful rhythm game experience I have ever had.  I have been a music fan my whole life, all genres, and a rhythm game fan since GH2. I buy every game that comes out for GH and regularly add songs to RB2 (I'm at 480 songs so far...)
 
 I guess my point is that for people like me who love this genre, we can't get enough.  
 
 I think all the whiners saying things like the genre is played out were never true fans anyway, and most likely only tried ONE game ONE time at friends house. These games would not be coming at the rate they do if there was not a demand for the product...
 
 Now I'm ready for GH:VH , Band Hero, Lego Rock Band and mayyyyybe DJ Hero!

Posted by Shuborno

Good review.
 
I've seen some reviews where the game is criticized for its feature set relative to the "various artists" games, but I think those reviews are missing the mark where Ryan's review doesn't.
 
This game is first and foremost about The Beatles, and the interactivity of a game is a fun way to involve yourself in experiencing their music.  All of the great features relevant to that goal are smartly laid out and polished.  (eg. best achievement tracking in a music game that I've seen yet, features are available in menus exactly where you want them, etc.)
 
It's admittedly a waste of time for anyone not interested in The Beatles though.

Posted by AvD

Deserved.  This game truly is one of a kind.

Edited by MrKlorox

Gonna try to get my mom to throw-in half on it since I've been missing out on plastic instrument games and she's a Beatles fan.

Posted by ocdog45

man, after reading this review, i swear he forgot he put 5 stars up there. sounds more like 4. either way the music has to be good. don't know about the game.

Posted by ocdog45

i mean who wrote "i comes up short on guitar hero 5" which ogt a 4 but this is a 5. if im being picky then i'll drop it.

Posted by Linkyshinks

Yesterday, this fine review seemed so far away, now it's here for me to praise today, oh I believe it's worth five stars. 
 
Thanks Ryan.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Great review, Ryan. I perfectly agree. I found all your points to be right-on but I really agree with you on the "background chatter" one. I love hearing them speaking or moving stuff around before a song is played, it really brings the feeling out for me.

Posted by Fawk
@JoshLarson said:
" @nail1080: If you haven't figured it out yet, ANY critisism of any review is instantly met with hoards of Giantbomb cultists blindly defending the score regardless if they have played the game or not and then attacking the person who posted their dissenting opinion. Open discussion is not an option, only blind loyalty. This is one of the most tightly knit but close-minded gaming communities that I have yet encountered on the internet. "
You are absolutely correct with no intervention from GB itself.  I hate the "followers" of sites like these that will defend anything Brad, Jeff, Vinny, or Ryan says to the point of death.  It's absurd.
Posted by ashogo
@JoshLarson said:
" @nail1080: If you haven't figured it out yet, ANY critisism of any review is instantly met with hoards of Giantbomb cultists blindly defending the score regardless if they have played the game or not and then attacking the person who posted their dissenting opinion. Open discussion is not an option, only blind loyalty. This is one of the most tightly knit but close-minded gaming communities that I have yet encountered on the internet. "
Funny, because I was under the impression that many of these so called "criticisms" come from people who haven't played the game being reviewed either. I guess blindness goes both ways.
Posted by Video_Game_King

Wow, I've actually found out something today: what makes Beatles Rock Band different from the other billion rhythm games out there (aside from the music selection, obviously). Plus you resisted the temptation to make a Yoko reference. Nicely done!

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