The Beatles: Rock Band does absolutely everything it needed to as a game, both to live up to all of its 9/9/09 release-date hype and to open the vast (and vastly impressive) Beatles song catalogue to a new generation of would-be musicians. In terms of the hype, The Beatles: Rock Band delivers with creative graphics, undeniable style and gameplay tweaks that justify the curiosity of even the most-jaded Rock Band fans. As a generation-spanning vehicle, the game also makes its gameplay so approachable that it’s impossible to deny any player the chance to experience all the songs on the game disc. But even as The Beatles: Rock Band accomplishes everything it needed to, it still has a few elements that could be perceived as shortcomings, and gamers looking for the game to hit stores today should be prepared for them.
Harmonix’s newest game scales a wall that lesser developers would shudder to even glance at: tackling the storied career of what’s arguably the world’s most popular and well-known band. To do this, the studio eschewed the normal World Tour mode and instead lets players work their way through The Beatles fantastic career. After all, The Beatles did anything but blow a gig, so the fail-prone World Tour mode wouldn’t exactly have been realistic or even taken seriously. At the same time, however, the game’s hardly a documentary, although key Beatles trivia, photos and audio can be unlocked by reaching specific milestones or in-game achievements. Although The Beatles: Rock Band lets players traverse several key concerts (Shea Stadium, the Ed Sullivan Show, etc.), the latter half of the game is a bit more, shall we say, psychedelic, with the Abbey Road songs being played against backdrops that are more interpretive of the mood and tone of the music than they are concerned with being overly realistic.
Another departure from the traditional Rock Band model is the inclusion of a new harmonizing gameplay element. Using up to three microphones, band members can work on their vocals to sing different parts of the song while the other players work on the instrument side, jacking the potential band member list to six. Like Guitar Hero, the Rock Band games are always about getting groups of people together, so this addition not only makes sense for The Beatles: Rock Band in particular but also opens up the band-game genre in new and exciting ways.
Unfortunately, though, singing through those songs could get a little tiring for those players who don’t have an Xbox Live or PlayStation Network account, because The Beatles: Rock Band includes fewer on-disc songs than band-game fans are used to seeing. This seems odd from a The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.practicality standpoint, considering the vast library of now-remastered Beatles songs, but from a micro-transaction/business standpoint, the decision to rely on downloadable content (DLC) makes complete sense. It would’ve been nice to see additional songs included on the disc, if for no other reason than the game focuses on just one band. A good and diverse band, to be sure, but still just one band, and one whose library could have easily afforded Harmonix the ability to toss a few more on the retail disc itself. Maybe we’ll see a few free pieces of DLC as a “bone” to gamers who blow through the career a bit more quickly than expected.
This small downer isn’t exactly helped by the fact that The Beatles: Rock Band seems easier than previous Rock Band outings. Harmonix was likely just trying to make the game more approachable to anyone who wanted to be exposed to The Beatles song catalogue, but for existing Rock Band customers who have grown accustomed to the challenge of some of Rock Band’s settings, The Beatles: Rock Band will be a bit of a disappointment, and may lead gamers wishing they could simply download The Beatles’ songs as singles for their existing Rock Band titles.
But if approachability and shorter song lists are really all that The Beatles: Rock Band have as strikes against it, the game is in decent shape for its anticipated 9/9/09 release. Unless you’re a huge Beatles fan, there’s no need to go out any drop the additional $250 for Beatles-era instruments, because the existing Rock Band instruments work just fine. There’s also no need to rush out and get the game today, because chances are you’ll “beat” the game well before the weekend. Our recommendation: let the early adopters get their copy and play through it, then wait a week or two for the used copies to show up on store shelves to save yourself a few bucks. As time has already told, The Beatles don’t exactly get worse with age — even on the shelf.
- Score: 8.8
— Jonas Allen