With The Beatles Again
“By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience. In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.”
Seth Schiesel, the New York Times video game critic, declared this upon the release of The Beatles: Rock Band on September 9, 2009. In the field of journalism, this type of statement is viewed as hyperbole. And it is. However, Schiesel makes a somewhat valid point here about the importance of this new release. By blending icons of two generations (Beatles for old; video games for current), The Beatles: Rock Band is a far more important release for both music and video games than the fifth Guitar Hero or another Rock Band featuring LEGOs (yes, there is one).
But first, a short history. Practically every human being on the planet with an ear for popular music is aware of The Beatles. From their Liverpool days to the final rooftop concert they performed in London, The Beatles defined a generation and remain one of the most influential acts on the planet. John, Paul, George and Ringo created immortal albums such as Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul that remain ingrained into the public consciousness today. Thus, this Rock Band release is significant in its ability to bring The Beatles’ music to those who may not be that acquainted with their music already.
Nonetheless, the only thing people want to know is whether or not the game lives up to the hype or not. To an extent, it certainly does. The tried and true Rock Band formula is brought here with little change to the fundamental structure but many tweaks to the aesthetic style. The game is bright and organic, unlike many of the dark, dimly lit venues from Rock Band 2. The most famous venues of the Beatles’ career serve as backdrops for the songs, including the Cavern Club in Liverpool, Shea Stadium and Budokan. Once the Beatles moved past touring and fully divulged their creative element, they settled at Studio 2 in Abbey Road, which is where most of The Beatles: Rock Band takes place at. Here, each song starts in their expansive studio then transforms into a “dreamscape” based off the song that is being played. For instance, “Yellow Submarine” will feature nautical scenery such as huge waves and, of course, a yellow submarine. All of the songs at Abbey Road have an individual scene and while some of them are drab (“Getting Better” is merely flashing lights and Sgt. Pepper garb), the dreamscapes really set this experience apart from any other music game out there and really make this game a loving tribute to the band that brought so much to the world.
Furthermore, the set list is stellar even if it misses some key tracks. All points of their career are touched upon, starting with “I Saw Her Standing There” and ending with, well, “The End.” “Dear Prudence” is a blast to play on any instrument, with difficult hammer-ons for guitar, a steady groove for bass, complex fills for drums and a soulful vocal part. Speaking of vocals, there is an innovative (and somewhat overdue) addition brought to this game: 3-part harmonies. As any Beatles fan knows, much of the magic behind their songs lies in the layered harmonies between John, Paul and George. For this game, three different microphones can be plugged in for different participants to attempt to harmonize with one another. It is not easy to do but it is very satisfying when the chorus of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is mastered with a group of people. While vocals are obviously tough merely because of the voices behind the songs, the rest of the difficulty on the instruments are a considerable knock down from other Rock Band/Guitar Hero games. The Beatles were not the technical masters of their instruments like Eric Clapton and Keith Moon of the day even if they still rank up there with the best. The creativity they had was unequivocal and, thus, why their songs were so captivating. I was able to 5-star nearly every song on Expert Bass or Hard/Expert Guitar, something I am rarely able to do in other games. However, the drums actually remain very challenging, possibly dispelling the naysayers of Ringo’s ability. “I Wanna Be Your Man,” from the early album Meet The Beatles , is shockingly hard, with an erratic beat and intricate rhythm that is laughably difficult. The note patterns on the whole are not as tough as other games but arrive at a good middle ground to cater to newcomers as well as veterans, leaving both parties satisfied in the end.
It is disappointing that such tracks as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Hey Jude” are unexplainably absent from the game as well, but they will most likely appear down the road in the form of downloadable content. The full albums of Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul are planned to release before the year is over, and Abbey Road already came out with songs like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Oh! Darling.” Even with the missing songs, the library included in the game is varied and fun to play, which ultimately means the most in this case.