Before I begin this review, I think it’s important to state that up until I played The Beatles: Rock Band I never considered myself a fan of the group. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy their music, but I had simply never gone out of my way to purchase any of their albums or to listen to their songs. After playing the game however, I have discovered that not only am I a huge Beatles fan, but I have actually been one my entire life without knowing it.
My intention in telling you this is not to imply that I’m unqualified to review this title, but instead to convey how powerful an impact this game can have on a person. Harmonix has essentially taken one of the greatest bands of all time and created a game that is all about celebrating their music and their journey through life together. Instead of churning out a rehashed version of Rock Band with Beatles songs included, those geniuses from Cambridge have crafted one of the most unique rhythm games of all time. To find out what makes The Beatles: Rock Band so special, hit the jump.
When you first start up the game and see the main menu screen, you’ll probably think this is no different than any of the other Rock Band games you’ve played. It has all the basic elements Harmonix has included in their popular rhythm series, such as local and online solo/band quickplay modes, training modes, and online leaderboards. The big difference is that there is no World Tour Mode. It has been removed and replaced with what is essentially the heart of the game, The Story Mode.
This mode of the game is like nothing you have experienced in any other music game. Instead of simply creating your own band and playing songs from the iconic rock group, you actually get to be The Beatles. Every time you start this mode you get to decide whether to play as John, Paul, Ringo, or George, depending on which instrument you want to play. You can choose to play by yourself, or you can grab up to five other friends and play as a 4-part band with two vocal harmonies. Once you’ve chosen, you enter the shoes of that band member and tear up the charts, reliving some of the most memorable moments of the group’s history.
Divided up into eight different chapters, The Story starts during The Beatles’ first rise to fame, in 1963, and ends right before the band breaks up, in 1969. A majority of the chapters allow you to take the stage at some of the band’s most historic concert locations. Even the best bands had to start somewhere, and in this game, you begin at The Cavern in ’63, a popular Liverpool club the group used to play back before they became popular. From there you move onto the group’s first live American television performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in ’64. Next it’s onto the first major stadium concert in history, at Shea Stadium in New York City, with 55,600 screaming fans.
Each of the eight chapters consists of four to seven songs, all of which must be completed before moving on to the next chapter. Just like in previous Rock Band games, once you choose a song you get to select the level of difficulty. One nice new feature included in this title is that you get to see the difficulty level for that instrument while you are picking, making it much easier to decide whether you want to attempt Easy, Medium, Hard, or Expert. Another welcomed feature is that the no fail mode is automatically turned on for anyone who chooses Easy Mode. This comes in handy for those new comers who are scared they might embarrass themselves with lack of rhythm.
As usual, playing each song can yield between one and five stars, depending on how well your band plays. In story mode, the number of stars you receive actually has meaning. Earning three stars unlocks an actual photo of the band from that period of their career. If you are up to the challenge and can earn five stars, you unlock two photos. Not only do the pictures give you a rare glimpse into the life of The Beatles, they also unlock special rare videos from the band’s past. For every 20 photos you collect, a new video can be viewed. These include an excerpt from “The Beatles Christmas Record”, a special “Ed Sullivan Show Rehearsal Video”, and many others.
During your six year journey through the story mode, you’ll get to play 45 of the band’s most popular songs, all of which have been remastered from the original source material. These include hits like “Twist and Shout”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “I Feel Fine”, and “Yellow Submarine”. Unlike previous versions of Rock Band, the player cannot alter the original music tracks in anyway. This means no annoying whammy bar effects and no long drum fill sections. Drummers can still enter overdrive by hitting the green pad at the designated time, and the whammy bar can still be used to fill the overdrive meter, but neither affects the actual sound of the music.
Speaking of overdrive, that term has been thrown out and replaced with a much more fitting title: Beatlemania. That’s not the only thing that was replaced to make the game feel more like something out of the 60s. Everything from the menus, to the fonts, to the visuals, and even the color palette of the notes themselves, got a complete Beatles makeover. The result is a game that has a look and feel all its own, immersing you into the crazy psychedelic world of the Fab Four.
To help capture the essence of The Beatles’ career, each of the chapter’s locations have been painstakingly recreated in rich authentic detail. Not only do the venues look like their real life counterparts, but the experience of being there has been recreated as well. For example, when playing at Shea Stadium, the camera will occasionally switch from a view of the band to an image of a crazy female fan in the audience, who’s losing her mind and screaming at the top of her lungs. Next the camera will switch to an image of security guards who are trying their best to hold the infatuated crowd back, as they attempt to storm the field. It’s lots of little touches like these that help you understand what it was like to walk a day in the shoes of the band.
Besides the venues, the most effort was probably put into creating the digital representations of the Fab Four themselves. Harmonix really went out of their way to make John, Paul, Ringo, and George all look and act exactly like you would expect. They might not be as photo realistic as the musicians found in some of the most recent Guitar Hero games, but Rock Band has never been about photo realism. The most impressive detail is that the look of the band actually changes from chapter to chapter; representing the actual physical changes the members went through as they aged and became stars.
Of all the visuals in the game, the most impressive probably take place during chapters five through eight. During this time period, between 1966 and 1969, the band officially stopped touring and began what would later be known as their studio years. During this time they secluded themselves away at Abbey Road Studios and created what many believe to be their best music. When playing songs from these chapters, Harmonix does not simply sit idly by and show the band in a boring studio playing music. Instead they have created what is known as “Dreamscapes”. Essentially, these are music videos that represent the thoughts and emotions of the lyrics being sung.
Of everything in the game, it’s these song-specific dreamscapes that really make you feel like you are playing something special, immersing you in the world of The Beatles in a way nothing else possible could. While they might not all perfectly fit the source material, many of them, like the “Yellow Submarine” dreamscape, really capture the essence and life of the song. It gives those who aren’t playing, who are just watching, something to look at while they wait their turn. It definitely beats just watching a band play on some random stage for the hundredth time. My only wish is that there was a way to watch all the dreamscapes without actually having to play.
From start to finish, the Story Mode will probably only take you around three to four hours to complete. Because the songs are ordered chronologically, there really isn’t a prescribed difficulty curve. Songs can swing from very difficult to extremely easy from one to the next. Unfortunately, even the most difficult songs aren’t all that hard. Throughout my first play-through on expert, I earned four or five stars on all the songs.
Besides the wavering difficulty, my only other complaint is that there just really aren’t enough songs. Considering the band has 13 studio albums, you would think there would be tons to choose from. EA has instead decided to wait and offer up more music for future pay-to-play downloadable content. Luckily, the music that is included is some of the band’s best and is sure to keep players busy for a while.
Harmonix has really created something special with The Beatles: Rock Band, which no other rhythm game has been able to do. While it might neglect all the turmoil and drama the band went through, the real heart of the game lies in celebrating the music that helped to shape not only an entire genre of music, but also an entire generation. It really gives you an appreciation for how iconic the band was and how far their journey took them. If you have to choose one rhythm game this holiday season, it should be this one.
Everything from the menu screens to the mystical dreamscapes that play in the background, is infused with the essence and heart of The Beatles. The Story Mode is the most unique feature included, allowing you to experience the career of the band like never before.
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If you've played any of the previous Rock Band titles, you'll feel right at home here, as Harmonix has not in any way changed up the popular gameplay format. The addition of 3-part vocal harmonies is a fun new feature, assuming you have multiple microphones or online friends.
The music in the game sounds absolutely pristine, thanks to all of the tracks being taken from the newly released remastered versions.
While the 45 songs included with the game are some of the band's best, it just feels like there should have been more, considering the band's extensive library of music. With future downloadable albums already announced, this should help extend the life of the game eventually.
Taking one of the most popular and iconic bands of all time and creating a game about their music could not have been easy, but Harmonix handles it beautifully, instilling a level of love and attention to detail that no other developer could.