November 2, 2009

What better way to relive the Beatles' revolutionary career than to grab a guitar, a bass, a microphone, a drum set, and your closest friends for a jam session of the Fab Four's greatest hits? Never mind that the guitar is fake, the drums are plastic, and your friends can't carry a tune. This is all part of the experience in Harmonix's much talked about The Beatles: Rock Band.

In order to deliver an accurate review of the game we'd heard so much about, the staff here at decided to play it for ourselves. Bill Long, our director of research and technology, graciously brought his Xbox 360 to the office (I know, it's a tough life we lead here at Salem… playing video games on the job). Then we gathered gamers (like Bill) and non-gamers (like myself) to rock out. Here are some of our thoughts after our initial jam session. 


If you've ever played Rock Band or Rock Band 2, you won't find too many differences in gameplay here. Using controllers that resemble real instruments, up to four players form a band with a bass, guitar, drum set, and wireless microphone for vocals. Players are scored on their performances at their individual instruments. Vocalists  get points for matching, or closely matching, the pitch of the on-screen vocalist. Those playing instruments receive points for hitting notes that scroll at the bottom of the screen. Even though you are jamming together, individual players choose their own difficulty levels.

The key differences in The Beatles: Rock Band from previous versions lie in the added historical elements. Unlike other Rock Bands, gamers do not play a generic set of rock stars rocking out to a mixed play list. Instead, the characters on the screen are stylized versions of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Players relive highlights of the Beatles' career by playing through a list of 45 featured Beatles songs (*more downloadable albums to come this Fall and winter - link: If you and your fellow gamers do a song justice and earn five stars, you will be rewarded with the ability to unlock a postcard featuring images and little-known-facts about the Beatles.

Another difference in gameplay involves the introduction of harmonies. Up to three players can sing a selected song together, attempting to score points by recreating the harmonizing voices of John, Paul, and George.  Experienced players will especially enjoy that a solo player can also choose the harmony he would like by fluctuating the pitch of his voice.

One criticism, however, is the lack of difficulty in the songs compared to other versions of the game. Bill pointed out that while Paul McCartney was talented at the bass, John Lennon was known more for his artistic song-writing ability than complex guitar solos. This makes some songs feel easy to the seasoned Rock Band player. This fact didn't stop Bill, however, from gleefully playing until 3AM the first night he got the game.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics and sound are really where The Beatles: Rock Band takes gaming to new heights. Even an amateur gamer such as myself can see the creators of The Beatles: Rock Band put a lot of love, detail, and artistic talent into the graphics. In fact, I enjoyed observing others play the game as much as I enjoyed playing thanks to the stunning graphics. 

With the inputs of Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Star, the designers of The Beatles: Rock Band captured each Beatle in a realistic, if somewhat stylized version, of himself. Even more stunning are the artistically-rendered settings in which the designers place the band. Not only do these set-ups take players to venues of historical relevance to the Beatles' career but they also reflect the evolution of the lyrics and style of the Beatles' music.