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The Beatles: Rock Band Hands-on

21 July 2009

There are very few games we’d describe as magical. Some, like Ico and Okami, immediately spring to mind. Certainly we’d never rank a music game among those sensational few… right?

Wrong. The Beatles: Rock Band transports players to the past—back when a few fellows from Liverpool were rocking the world with their unique and inspirational music. To not only hear and see, but to create that music is undoubtedly a thing of magic.

Harmonix recently invited PSU to Cambridge to check out a build of The Beatles: Rock Band in action. After a quick tour of the studio (click here for pictures), we played all 10 currently announced songs: ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ ‘I Feel Fine,’ ‘Day Tripper,’ ‘Taxman,’ ‘I Am The Walrus,’ ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.,’ ‘Octopus’s Garden,’ ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ and ‘Get Back.’

Obviously, The Beatles: Rock Band has an outstanding set list. After all, it features solely Beatles songs, which means no more scrolling through the track list to find “the good songs.” Admittedly, the game’s overall difficulty is easier than that of the first two Rock Band titles, but that’s because the Beatles don’t ‘shred.’ Still, those seeking a challenge will find numerous tricky tracks to tackle. Outside of offering support for up to three vocalists—allowing players to recreate those famous Beatles harmonies—most of the base Rock Band gameplay remains unchanged. One small exception: drum fills have been removed, in favor of a simpler system; overdrive is now activated simply by hitting the glowing green gem that appears in place of full fills. Other than that—well, it’s pretty much Rock Band. With The Beatles. What more could you want?

It’s not only the music that makes The Beatles: Rock Band so magical; the creative visual spectacles that complement each song are equally integral to the game’s undeniable appeal. Each member of The Beatles has been faithfully recreated in a stylistically appropriate way. The Fab Four don’t appear too cartoony, nor do they look too realistic, successfully bypassing the uncanny valley while retaining a charming and recognizable feel. Their appearance doesn’t remain static across the entire game, however; their attire and style within each song accurately reflect that point in their career. So John, Paul, George, and Ringo look young and snazzy while playing Lennon and McCartney’s 1963/64 single ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ whereas they look like hippies while performing Harrison’s 1969 hit ‘Here Comes The Sun.’

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The venues work much in the same manner as The Beatles’ shifting appearance. The locations on display span the entirety of The Beatles’ career, from their humble beginnings at The Cavern Club to their surprise rooftop concert atop Apple Headquarters, and everything in-between. Some Beatles music was never intended for live audiences, however, and the visuals in those songs reflect that. Instead of playing at a venue, The Beatles are initially shown playing in a studio, but they slowly slip into what Harmonix calls “dreamscapes”—essentially visual interpretations of the songs. The imaginative dreamscapes are funny, crazy, beautiful, and even a bit frightening (we’re looking at you, ‘I Am The Walrus’). Ultimately, it’s like The Beatles: Rock Band comes packed with 45 real Beatles music videos from the 21st century; as a result, simply watching the game is nearly as rewarding as playing it.

There’s no need to complicate the overarching message, so here it is, straight and simple: The Beatles: Rock Band does justice to the best band in the world, and you’d be a fool on a hill to miss it. Be prepared to smile, dance, and laugh come 09/09/09. 


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