The Beatles: Rock Band
- Monday, November 02, 2009
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 TheFish.com 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: http://www.thebeatlesrockband.com/news/post/8). 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.
When players select songs written and performed early in the Beatles' music career, the Fab Four are portrayed as youthful lads in concert at the Cavern Club in England. From there you move on to other venues like Shea Stadium and Nippon Budokan, filled with huge crowds and screaming girls.
If players opt to perform a song written after the Beatles' stopped touring, the Beatles change hairstyles and costumes to perform at their Abbey Road studio in London. To make things even more interesting, designers created fantastical worlds to which the Beatles are transported as they perform these later songs. I was almost distracted from gameplay trying to watch the beautiful, if sometimes bizaare, scenes unfolding
Additional features also offer real footage and images of the Beatles. The graphics alone are a wonderful tribute to the Beatles' career and will make this game a great choice for social gatherings, engaging both players and observers.
The control scheme is the same as previous Rock Band versions. If you upgrade to the special Beatles edition controllers, you play with imitations of the Beatles' original musical instruments (http://www.thebeatlesrockband.com/purchase).
A note here for new players: It takes time to get used to the faux instruments. I got a score of 0% on the bass on my first attempt! After a few songs, I scored in the 80th percentile on the "easy" level.
This is really where, from a Christian worldview, we need to take the game apart a little. In regards to crass language, provocative costumes, violence or sexual innuendo, The Beatles: Rock Band is about as family friendly as a game gets. If you've ever seen earlier version of Rock Band and cringed at the wild hair and dark set-up, you'll appreciate the change of scene here.
But before parents run out and buy this for Christmas, a word of caution: this game is clearly a tribute - and a well-done tribute - to the Beatles' career. The Beatles were not a Christian band and did not always promote biblical values in their lyrics. Bill points outs, "Remember, the Beatles got pretty dark as their music progressed, and the lyrics reflect that."
Their later music also veers into eastern religions and philosophies like Hare Krishna. The lyrics and accompanying graphics on the game reflect these alternative views on at least a superficial level. Some of the dreamscapes created for songs look downright psychedelic. Those ignorant of the Beatles' dabbling in alternative religions (and alternative drugs) will think the artistic landscapes and costumes just look pretty -- if a bit New Age-y. Parents you know what your kids can handle best. Use your discretion.
Also, bear in mind that the Beatles represented a musical phenomenon that inspired hero worship among fans. The game faithfully recreates the frenzied, obsessive fan base during their touring days. It's fun to relive the massive, cheering crowds, however if you select "realistic mode" you'll get a dose of, well… reality. Fans cheer so loudly it's almost impossible to hear the music.
The Ten Commandments clearly command believers to worship one God, and one God only. Will this game inspire idol worship in its players? Probably not. Just be aware that the game does give you a glimpse of the crazed fan base.
The Beatles: Rock Band is a fantastic tribute to this legendary band and mixes interactive fun, stunning graphics, and musical history on a level you rarely find in a video game. Bill probably said it best when he shared, "I've never seen a music game so polished, with the complete package of storyline, visuals, and song selection." Whether you are a seasoned Beatles' fans or born long after their career ended, an experienced gamer or a newbie, this game is worth a try.
Rated "T" (Teen) for mild lyrics and tobacco reference. Available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
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