Get ready to play this one “Eight Days a Week” (Ha!)
For any die-hard – or even casual – fan of The Beatles, last week was a dream come true. One single day saw the release of The Beatles: Rock Band (a variant on the hit rhythm game series that allows players to play through 45 on-disc songs by the Fab Four), as well as two deluxe box sets, both featuring the long awaited CD remasters of The Beatles recording catalogue. Needless to say, many wallets are now considerably lighter than they were prior to Wednesday. While we all know that the box sets are more than justified, was the first virtual outing by the four lads from Liverpool worth the wait?
To put it as cheesily as is I can: “Yeah Yeah Yeah!” (Hate all you want, it needed to be said). Everything that could and should have gone right with a game premise like this, did. From the vibrant and varied locales, to the meticulous recreations of The Beatles themselves, all the way down to the song charts, Harmonix has really crafted a masterpiece here. But before this turns into yet another love letter to the band (Which most of the reviews seem to be), let’s get down to explaining exactly why the game is so fun.
Let’s start out, as I so often do, with the graphics. Though Rock Band is generally better in the visuals department than, say, Guitar Hero, it doesn’t really seem suitable for digitally recreating four of the most famous faces of all time, in-engine. Wrong. The extra time spent on detail paid off, and the virtual Beatles are eerily similar to their real life counterparts. George shuffles around behind Paul during the early days. Ringo bobs his head back and forth and smiles. Paul’s attention drifts over the course of the song, his eyes constantly finding the camera (He sings into your soul!!!). And John’s signature spread-out stance during early concerts is left intact. It all makes for a really breathtaking sight.
Once the game moves on past The Beatles touring days, which ended in ‘66, the lads take to Abbey Road studios, home of some of their most revolutionary work. Here, songs take on different “Dreamscapes”, or fantasy worlds inspired by The Beatles songs, films and personalities. For instance, on “Yellow Submarine”, the band is transported to an underwater world, reminiscent of their film of the same name, outfits and all. In “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band/ With a Little Help From My Friends”, the band plays to a garden full of people for the first half, only to be air-lifted off the ground by a hot air balloon attached to the stage. The art direction in the game is wonderful, and really a treat to behold. In fact, the opening and closing cinematics of the game are two of the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe we’ll see more as DLC is released?
Moving on to sound, I find myself in a difficult situation. On one hand, I’d like nothing more than to write an inspiring, two-paragraph analysis of the sound in the game, and how each Beatles track (Many of which are in fact the remasters from the recently released boxsets) shapes up in comparison to other Rock Band tracks from the series history. But I simply can’t. Because to be honest, The Beatles are in a league all their own. Yes, I’m aware that not everyone loves The Beatles; In fact, a bunch of people don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can simply deny the incredible sonic journies they have created within their songs.
From the very beginning of the game, each track is noticeably vibrant and alive. The Beatles are extremely well known for their vocal harmonies, and when you’re actually subjected to them, remastered and all, it’s difficult not to get caught up in some serious nostalgia. The venues certainly add to this, and you get the sense that a hell of a lot of work went into being as authentic as possible.
Most, if not all, of the songs on the disc seem tailor made for a rhythm game. Almost every single note chart in the game is extremely fun to play, which may come as a surprise to a lot of people. I’m willing to bet that about 80% of the skeptics believed the game to be way to easy. After all, playing The Beatles music on a real instrument is exceptionally easy. Wrong again. First, let me just say, as a musician myself, that playing the songs how they’re actually meant to be played in real life, not a “Timmy’s First Guitar Lesson” simplified version, is no easy task. But we’re talking about the game, and likewise, it isn’t the walk through Easy Land everyone was expecting. Sure, most of the charts in the game aren’t going to touch the likes of Green Grass and High Tides, or the opening to Snow (Hey Oh), but there definitely aren’t any Eye of the Tigers in here, either.
More than that, Beatles songs are a different kind of difficult than most Rock Band, or even Guitar Hero songs. The root of the difficulty stems from the vocal harmonies, a first for either series. Instead of the traditional single pitch line, indicating the desired pitch that the player needs to hit, up to three separate vocal tracks can be played at any one time. Similarly, it is possible to connect up to three microphones at one time, in addition to the three other traditional. This can be, on higher difficulties, insane, and will only get harder with future song releases (Imagine having to do the harmonies on “Because”. Impossible much?). Because of that, it may seem more like a Singstar release than anything, but who cares? It’s still awesomeness incarnate.
A few things may or may not work against The Beatles: Rock Band to potential buyers. Firstly, no matter which way you spin it, the game is short. 45 songs might seem like a lot to have for one band, but when they’re all as enjoyable as the present line-up of tracks, you really wish there were more. Rest assured though; DLC is coming, and from the looks of things, a lot of it. Next up, there is no ‘Create a Player’ option. While to me this choice seemed obvious, a lot of people think it needs to be a staple in a proper Rock Band title, as evidenced by the shocked reaction of a good friend of mine. Not messing with the legacy of The Beatles, and keeping the product as a separate experience seems like a good move to me, but not everyone will think so. This is the reason for the tracks not being available seperately for Rock Band 2.
The unlockables in the game are brilliant for any big Beatles fan, but for someone just in it for the gaming aspect, they will be disappointing. For each song you complete, you can unlock two pictures. One for beating the song with a three star rating, and one for beating it with a five star rating. For each chapter of songs you complete, you also unlock a photo. Each picture is accompanied by a very interesting description, which describes the picture and the events surrounding it. Very cool. There are also various secret unlockables that you earn over the course of the game, as well as the expected achievements.
All in all, The Beatles: Rock Band certainly delivers. Being the first game to feature the Fab Four is no small task, and it rises to the occasion gloriously. While some players may see the list of features a bit lacking, there’s no denying that the experience as a whole is breathtaking. Don’t think of this as Rock Band 3, because it’s not. It’s just the collective effort of a bunch of people trying to make a fitting tribute to arguably the greatest band of all time. If John and George were alive, I’d be willing to bet that they’d be ecstatic about their messages getting across to so many people. Yeah yeah, Lennon was anti-everything, but I get the feeling that would have faded with age. You heard me Harmonix. The first outing as “androids” (Paul totally knows a ton about gaming) was a success for The Beatles. Now hurry up and get “In My Life” on the goddamn game!
9 Ninja Heads Out of 10