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‘The Beatles: Rock Band’ Review

The Beatles are generally considered the greatest musical group of all time. Considering their musical library has yet to hit iTunes, I’d say it’s also one of the hardest licenses to get a hold of, and yet EA and Harmonix has done just that. Almost a year after releasing Rock Band 2 – which is still powerful enough a platform to give the constant Guitar Hero releases a run for their money – The Beatles: Rock Band promises to capture the spirit of the band throughout its tenure. Minus the drugs, public scrutiny, and of course, Ono. [Thus fulfilling my contractual obligation to mention her at least once in the review.]

The first thing any avid player of the first two Rock Band games will notice is the graphical overhaul. The presentation has been the game’s main selling point, and rightfully so. Story Mode offers the chance to follow the band from its early start in The Cavern to the final roof top performance, passing Ed Sullivan and Abbey Road along the way. Each “chapter” captures the era of the band identically in appearance while keeping with a cartoony atmosphere fitting of the whimsical attitude which helped propel the band.

In terms of allowing the player to feel as if they are a part of the band, you’d be hard pressed to find a developer that could do it better. Watching The Beatles grow as musicians is surprisingly entrancing. Starting with the relatively simple grooves found in the album “Please Please Me,” to the mature musicianship found in “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be”. Not to knock their earlier work; the catchy melodies still stand up today despite the poor quality due to the equipment from the early 1960s. But without their later work the band would have faded into oblivion like so many other groups of the time.

The best feature of the game, by far, is the “music video” style songs provided during the Abbey Road era. Harmonix saw the band’s absence from the tour scene as an opportunity, and rather than have the audience stuck in the small recording studio, they opted to bring the songs to life with visceral masterpieces. From playing on the ocean floor amidst a yellow submarine to the hot air balloon ride found on “With A Little Help From My Friends,” I found myself missing notes as my gaze followed the background. However, these unique settings don’t allow customizable performances. For instance, you can’t play ‘Yellow Submarine’ on the Ed Sullivan Show. This required change in scenery means a feature introduced to Guitar Hero last year, no loading between songs, is absent. While a historically accurate and colorful feature, there is little doubt that the novelty will wear off before long.

Unfortunately, the game suffers greatly from the lack of songs. Of The Beatles’ library of over 250 songs, only 45 appear in the game. Among the most noticeable songs missing: Across the Universe, Let It Be, Love Me Do, and Yesterday. Meanwhile, over thirty songs are slated for release this year at two dollars a pop. It’s hard to argue for the $60 entrance fee when another sixty will be needed before Christmas. Unless you are a diehard fan, I’m not entirely convinced it’s worth it.

In fact, much of the game seems to be fan service. In Story Mode, doing well nets behind the scenes pictures, and collecting pictures unlocks videos. For the average fan, this is hardly an attention holder. The Beatles: Rock Band seems to have trouble deciding if it’s there to appease Beatles fans or to provide another notch on the belt of the music game genre just as it reaches the precipice dividing a cool novelty and an oversaturated part of the new mass market gaming industry. There is little doubt that the game will at least introduce a new generation to the rock group. Many of which may not be aware that they are already fans. After all, it’s nearly impossible to go through a day without encountering something influenced by them.

Anyone who owns Rock Band 2 knows that one of the strongest appeals is the sheer number of song choices. Especially if you imported the songs from its predecessor and downloaded a few tracks from the vast number of options online. It’s easy to play for long jam sessions with a wide variety of sounds and genres without repeating a song twice. This is where The Beatles: Rock Band fails. It is by no means the first game to focus on a single rock group, and while it handles its limited content well, it brings nothing new to the genre. Sessions are short lived and feel redundant. One band can only feel fresh for so long. An average sitting consists of playing a few of your favorite songs and then a few songs you more than likely wouldn’t play if there were more choices. Music games are so simple, it’s one of the few places where quantity over quality counts. A larger selection of both original songs and the incalculable number covers could have made the game go from good to mind blowing. I suggest this was more greed on the part of The Beatles’ side of the deal rather than Harmonix , but it’s still inexcusable.

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