Three titles later – one of which was Rock Band 2 – Harmonix launched The Beatles: Rock Band, one of the most engaging and immersive of the recent crop of music games. Activision and its developers have, in the past, brought single bands to light in Guitar Hero games. However, while two of these games (specifically, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Metallica) were met with decent to good reception, they were essentially re-skinned, band-themed versions of the nearest Guitar Hero franchise entries (to be fair, Guitar Hero: Metallica did plenty new with the series, and should be commended for that).
The Beatles: Rock Band is not like that. No, not in the slightest.
As players progress, they unlock virtual memorabilia and photos from The Beatles’ days on the road and recording sessions. Some of these are iconic, while other items are being displayed to a wide audience for the first time.
A highpoint in the game are the graphical effects, which capture slightly caricatured versions of the Fab Four as they progress and age. Yes, the character models change; thus, Paul will sport a heavy beard toward the end of the 1960s, and the band wears their Sgt. Pepper gear during the appropriate dreamscapes. Every nuance of the band seems to have been captured: Paul’s noticeable bobbing on stage, George’s nervous wiggle, and Ringo’s goofy grin as he lays out an iconic backbeat. It’s impressive to note the respect and care that obviously went into the making of this game, something far beyond simple motion capture designed to recreate the band on screen.
Also worth mentioning are both the intro and ending cinematics, both of which are highly stylized and exceedingly impressive. They are quite easily some of the best looking cinematics I’ve yet seen in a game, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing something similar from future games in the Rock Band franchise.
The song list is both disappointing and phenomenal. For a band that had so many massive hits and so many iconic songs, some of the exclusions here are surprising. While it’s understandable that a “Hey Jude” might be left out in favor of something like “Twist and Shout,” the inclusion of the mashup track “Within You, Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” is, frankly, quite baffling, especially considering that both individual tracks are solid parts of the band’s catalog, while the mashup track (which appeared on the 2006 remix album, Love) is… not.
Downloadable content is worth noting, specifically because of the high quality of the content itself. Shortly after the game launched, three albums were released for download, all of which had their own specific dreamscapes and specialized sections. Albums released included the classic Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and my personal favorite, Rubber Soul. All of the albums feature quality content and varying degrees of challenge, which expand the game and add to the set list… though not the story-mode set list, which, unlike Rock Band 2, is fixed.
There isn’t much to complain about regarding inappropriate content. One or two songs contain a slight sexual reference, and there’s some mention of smoking, both in the songs and visually (a man is smoking a pipe in one of the venues for play).
The Beatles: Rock Band very nearly became my favorite game of 2009. It is quite simply fun to play, and an awesome multiplayer title, just like its predecessors. And if you’re a Beatles fan already, you’ll find an absolutely satisfying experience to sate your inner rabid fan; if you’re new to the band, or just love music games, you’ll likely find a lot to love here.