Is 'The Beatles: Rock Band' Worth the Hype?
'The Beatles: Rock Band' (MTV Games/Harmonix)
What it is: A little band called The Beatles has joined forces with a little game called 'Rock Band' to create what is arguably the most highly anticipated music game to date. It includes 45 songs by the seminal British band, and a full-on visual overhaul to depict the Beatles' members and style. The game comes either bundled with Beatles-themed instrument controllers, or as a standalone game that can be played with any 'Rock Band'-compatible instruments.
Why it's different: You may not have noticed, but the Beatles' back catalog has never been released digitally -- no iTunes Store, no Amazon Music Store. And, of course, no Beatles song has ever been featured in a music game -- neither 'Rock Band,' nor 'Guitar Hero.' So, it's something of a coup that MTV and Harmonix (the game's publisher and developer, respectively), have scored approval to Rock-Band-ify the Fab Four's back catalog. The game was developed with creative input from Apple Corps (the Beatles' label), as well as with that of surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Even the gameplay, though fundamentally the same as prior versions of 'Rock Band,' includes some new ideas, the three-part vocal harmony system being the most significant.
What we like: If you're a Beatles fan (and if you've got any interest in this game, we imagine you are), 'The Beatles: Rock Band' will exceed all expectations as an "authentically Beatles" experience. The game takes players through the band's 10-year career, with songs specific to each period. From "Can't Buy Me Love" and "I Am the Walrus" to "Revolution" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," there's something here for every strain of Beatles fan. Early gigs take place at The Cavern Club (the Liverpool venue where the group was first discovered), and eventually progress through the Beatlemania of 'The Ed Sullivan Show' to the "going inward" period at Abbey Road Studio 2. We are impressed with the scope and scale of the game, which is thorough and diligently researched. Giles Martin, the son of the band's producer, George Martin, was involved in the production, and helped ensure both the sound quality of the original masters, as well as the inclusion of rare studio outtakes. If you've got your game console connected to the right home theater system and speakers, you'll notice the pristine audio and other ear candy. Whether it's the band making comments to one another before songs (with the sound clips taken from the actual sessions), candid photos, or trivia accompanying each song, there's a load to unearth here. As we mentioned earlier, we love the three-part vocal harmonies, which offer the side benefit of allowing six players, instead of the usual four, to simultaneously engage with the game (though, of course, you'll need three microphones). Lastly, every song is accessible from the get-go. We like this.
What we don't like: It's a debatable point, but 'The Beatles: Rock Band' doesn't exactly go to great lengths in testing your mettle as a gamer. For those used to insane (read: virtually impossible) drum/guitar solos, the Beatles catalog presents a rather more manageable series of songs. In other words, it's significantly less difficult than previous 'Rock Band'/'Guitar Hero' games. Not that it's easy, per se; these are creatively written songs, of course, and it comes through in the game. In truth, we sort of prefer this to the finger-blistering difficulty of prior games/songs. We do wish there were more music, though. The 45 tracks, while nothing to scoff at, weigh in at less than, say, the 84 tracks on 'Rock Band 2' (plus the 20 free downloadable songs). Downloadable Beatles songs will be available shortly, though, including full albums like 'Abbey Road.' Yes, that does mean you'll be paying money beyond what you're paying up front.
Is it worth the hype? 'The Beatles: Rock Band' has been hyped in ways beyond other games' dreams. Just last month, it graced the cover of the New York Times Magazine, and pre-orders have been through the roof. Now that it has arrived, it's clear that the hype does indeed have substance. This is an excellent and totally new way to enjoy, explore, and celebrate the back catalog of one of the most influential bands ever.
Cost: Premium Edition (includes instruments), $249.99; $59.99 for standalone game.