The Beatles: Rock Band Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
Despite me being British, and more specifically coming from a town twenty minutes from Liverpool, and despite opting to review this latest iteration of Harmonix’s multi-gazillion dollar franchise, it pains me to say I’ve never really been a fan of The Beatles. Though I used to believe this was down to my apathy for simplistic chord progression and unimaginative lyricism, playing through The Beatles: Rock Band has taught me that all this time it was simply due to ignorance. That’s not to say I’ve suddenly become the The Beatles’ biggest fan, but the truth is playing The Beatles: Rock Band is like sitting through a highly entertaining interactive lesson in all things scouse-rock. By the end of it it’s incredibly tough not to at least respect and appreciate the phenomenon surrounding the fab-four.
This mass education in Rock’n’Roll is helped along by the ever reliant Rock Band setup. Seeing as there was very little wrong at all with Rock Band 2, it’ll come as no surprise that the foundations have very much stayed the same. Available from the beginning are a quick play mode, a progressive campaign mode, training and a music store. The difference here being that whereas the two previous Rock Band titles relied on the player creating a custom band and taking it around the world as a career, here you’re limited to one band, and one band only; The Monkees. Oh okay, it’s The Beatles, but I had you there for a second, right? Interestingly, the career mode is no longer called career mode, instead it’s referred to as ‘Story Mode’, and it’s easy to see why.
Story Mode is quite literally a step by step retelling of The Beatles’ rise to fame, beginning at the humble Cavern Club in Liverpool, and stretching throughout the world as the four became global mega-stars. Each of the eight stages represents a different era of the band’s life, and features songs written in, and associated with that specific period. These pass chronologically until the famous last performance on the rooftop of Apple Corps in London, spanning a decade of hits. As is the case with Rock Band, playing through a song results in a star rating which determines how well a song is played. The Beatles: Rock Band rewards players with a photograph each time they reach a three and five star score, these being of the band at stages in their career relative to the level being played, accompanied by a piece of text filled with all manner of interesting facts and insights from behind the scenes.
It’s these unlockables that really set The Beatles: Rock Band apart from the other band-specific rhythm games so far. There’s been a great deal of care and attention gone in to providing not just a means to play along to popular Beatles tracks with a plastic instrument, but to learn about the band, as both performers and as the normal human beings behind the facade. Earning numerous photographs leads to the unlocking of other impressive extras, like rare video footage of the band in America, or an entire play-through of a novelty Christmas record the band made for the fan club, accompanied by the artwork and letter that shipped with it.
And then there’s the overall presentation of the game, from its vibrant opening animation – a montage of the Beatles’ career set to some of their most famous songs – to the performances in-game, behind the constantly scrolling notes. This is best exemplified by the Abbey Road levels, in which each track will begin with the four playing instruments in the studio, quickly transported into a psychedelic dream world rife with elements of their quirky videos and artistic influence. It should also be noted that in bringing the band to life in game, Harmonix have taken snippets of unused material, mainly of the band chatting between recordings, and recorded them played in the studio so to create a believable recreation of what the studio environment would have been like.
In fact, almost everything memorable about The Beatles: Rock Band is based on tiny details, quirky little additions that you catch from the corner of your eye, subtle references that accentuate the band’s larger than life character. Playing along to Paperback Writer, and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a full band of people, armed with (ashamedly over-priced but incredibly classy) replica Beatles instruments, and taking full advantage of the game’s three singer harmonies, is nothing short of the most fun you can have in an afternoon. But the real fun lies in simply discovering The Beatles. You may be their biggest fan, you may have never heard of them, either way Harmonix have managed to embrace The Beatles phenomenon and bridge the market gap, taking what would be traditionally considered a ‘core’ title, and making it appeal to a wider audience without compromising the original product.
The Beatles: Rock Band is a truly full to bursting package of everything you could ever imagine a Beatles video game encompassing, and more. Not only does it manage to stand up alongside the other major rhythm games of the moment, but its stylised art, abundance of facts and information, and multitude of exciting extras make it the definitive tribute to any artist.
You have to feel truly sorry for any future artist-specific rhythm games, because it would take an enormous amount of effort to top The Beatles: Rock Band, a game very nearly bigger than Jesus.