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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: MTV Games / Electronic Arts
Developed By: Harmonix
Genre: Music
Players: 1-5
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: September 9, 2009
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

I'm going to assume you need no briefing on The Beatles or Rock Band; both names are a pretty big deal (one greatly more than the other, of course). What we have here is the popular rhythm game's take on the legendary and influential band from Liverpool, England. The Beatles Rock Band is essentially two packages in one. On one hand, it's a Beatles game, and as such, pure fan service. On the other, it's the next major release in the Rock Band series. While the game excels at the former, a lack of content makes it fall just a bit short at the latter.

What sets The Beatles Rock Band apart from other Rock Band titles most immediately is the fact that it is not an add-on. The Beatles Rock Band is its own unique experience: a standalone title exclusive from the rest of the series. As such, while the basic Rock Band gameplay remains mostly the same, the trappings have changed completely to more purely reflect the band.

This is no more apparent than in the new story mode, which replaces the career mode from other Rock Band titles. Story mode takes you through important times during the Beatles' career. It is broken up into two parts, first chronicling the Fab Four's more famous live shows, starting with performances in the Cavern Club and ending with their concert at the Budokan. The game then picks up with the band's studio years, making the performances more interesting with the much-touted “dreamscapes:” dreamlike environments that are much more fun to look at than just the band sitting in a studio. It ends with an epilogue, of sorts, with the band's final live performance on the Apple Studios rooftop.

The time in between these periods is represented by some of the most beautiful and artful cutscenes I've ever seen in a game. From the intro to the epilogue, every one of them captures the spirit of the band and the music without fault. The intro alone provides a complete history of the band in a matter of minutes, so much so that I can say honestly that this is the first cutscene in a game to really seize me on an emotional level. Granted, this wouldn't be true for someone who is not a long-time fan of the band, but for me I had never experienced anything like that from a game.

The story plays through in a fairly typical rhythm game fashion: complete all songs of a list to move on to the next chapter. Along the way you'll unlock rare photos of the band captioned with trivia, as well as rare videos. What struck me is that the word “rare” isn't simply a buzzword in this case. The photos themselves--many of them candid shots of the band at work--are gripping. The trivia offered up by the captions is equally genuine and actually provided quite a bit of information regarding the band and their songs that I didn't know before. It's a new way of incentivizing progress in contrast to a regular Rock Band game's method of building your career, gaining fans, endorsement deals, etc. As a Beatles fan, it's also a more effective method. I care a lot more about these unlockables than I ever did about my imaginary tour bus.

The basic gameplay is mostly unchanged. Overdrive is now called Beatlemania and the aesthetics differ slightly from the usual, but this is still Rock Band. New to the series, however, is the addition of vocal harmonies. One of the Beatles' strongest and most influential techniques was their use of vocal harmony in their songs and luckily Harmonix recognized that the package wouldn't be complete without that ability. Now up to three players can sing during harmonies and it really does add a new layer of depth and challenge to the game.

However, the harmonies are also the only significant source of new challenge. The Beatles' classic pop tunes, even the experimental ones, aren't the most demanding. Rock Band vets will likely fly through expert difficulty with ease. I'm decent at the game at best and I never failed a song or scored less than 4 starts on lead guitar.

Harmonix does do an excellent job of spicing things up. Many of the Beatles' later songs were much heavier on instrumentation beyond the standard guitar, base/rhythm and drums set-up. Harmonix accommodates for this by applying various other instruments into the roles of the standard controllers. Playing lead guitar you'll often be playing not only guitar but entire string arrangements in general. What struck me most about this aspect of the game was that it sounds like it would create a disconnect, especially for a fan who knows all of this music so well. However, I found that the opposite was true: it works surprisingly fluidly, so much so that I almost didn't notice.

The game's biggest weakness, however, is a simple matter of the song selection. The breadth of the catalog explored is impressive. There are familiar hits and lesser known songs alike, which fans should appreciate. Still, at 45 songs you can breeze through the story mode in a few hours. While Harmonix is offering more as downloadable content in the future, I can't help but feel a little annoyed that classics such as Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields, and numerous others aren't offered on the disc. The promise of new dreamscapes to accompany these songs eases the sting a bit, but at the end of the day, there just isn't a whole lot of content packaged in the retail game.

However, if you're a Beatles fan, there is still a lot of joy pressed onto this disc. I don't think I've ever seen more care, love and passion put into what is essentially a licensed game. If you're just a fan of the Rock band games, the full price might seem a bit steep for only 45 songs (and justifiably so, I would say). However, if you are a Beatles fan--or even if you have any interest in arguably the most influential music group in modern history--then you won't find yourself disappointed.


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