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E3 2009: The Beatles: Rock Band hands-on

E3 2009

MTV’s The Beatles: Rock Band presentation began with the company showing a montage video of stats on the game’s retail success interspersed with clips of celebrities like Seth Rogan and Stephen Colbert talking about the game on national television. The underlying message of the video, screened in a small theater designed out the outside to look like the Abbey Road studios where the Beatles produced arguably their greatest albums, was that Rock Band is like no game before it. Rock Band is a global force that has rang up more than $1 billion in sales and 45 million downloaded songs.

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We were given a quick look at Harmonix/MTV Games’ latest update to their mega-franchise today before we were sent to the floor to join the band ourselves to play through some of the Beatles iconic songs. John Drake of Harmonix/MTV Games led a band comprised of the company’s staff as they played through three songs from various eras of the band’s history.

“For us, it’s about bringing the best music in the world to gamers,” Drake began. “We not only want to bring Beatles music to gamers, who may never have experienced their stuff, but we also want to bring in Beatles fans to music games for the first time. The real touchstone of our design is accessibility.”

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To bring in those Beatles fans who may have never touched a plastic guitar before, The Beatles: Rock Band will make “no-fail mode” easier than before to access. With the push of a button on the difficulty screen, your mom and dad can join in as you sing your way through I Saw Her Standing There without worrying about making mistakes. Additionally, you won’t have to play through career mode to unlock all of the songs – every one of the game’s 45 tracks will be available in Quick Play mode as soon as you turn the game on.

The team has also gone out of their way to authentically recreate The Beatles equipment – replica instruments will be shipped with the game and they look great. While this may be little more than a marketing ploy to get people to buy new instruments that they don’t really need, it certainly added to the illusion. But even if you don’t pick up the new instruments, all of the old Rock Band peripherals will still work in the game – “and so will those instruments from the other guys,” Drake joked.

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The band played through I Saw Her Standing There, Daytripper, and I Am The Walrus to highlight their work on recreating the Beatles experience. As the team sang I Saw Her Standing There, John and Paul moved across the stage in the original Beatles attire and haircuts that they had on Ed Sullivan, sharing the microphone and interacting as a band in ways that bands never interacted in past Rock Band games. The camera panned through the crowd as scores of teen girls cheered on during Daytripper, creating an experience that I was more accustomed to seeing in a live DVD.

After the first track was over, we were shown the new, more detailed rankings for vocal parts. Since up to three people can hop into the songs and belt out their favorite Beatles tunes, each singer’s score is broken down, providing specific feedback on how they did. But this small change is largely the most major, since the core gameplay has remained largely unchanged. For the most part, minor tweaks to the few things that bothered frequent players seems to have been the team’s focus.

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Perhaps the most frightening part of the show was their final song, I Am The Walrus. Since the song doesn’t really work in a place like the now demolished Shea Stadium and the team presumably didn’t want to render a crowd of hippies on LCD, the song plays over a music video that the team designed around the song. Opening in their Abbey Road studios, the video becomes an acid trip of its own, complete with creepy walrus masks and lots of mirrored images of John in a tie-dyed suit. When Drake discussed the choice to present the songs from this Beatles era in this way, I was a bit skeptical, but it worked surprisingly well.

After that, we were sent to the floor to get a shot at playing the game ourselves. I picked up the guitar and joined a group of other journalists to play through All You Need is Love. The presentation of the game is identical to previous incarnations, so I was able to quickly pick-up-and-play. And though I’m not a huge fan of The Beatles outside of their bigger hits, I was surprised at how quickly I got into the song. Despite being on stage in front of a crowd of strangers, I found myself tapping my toes and swaying as I strummed. Usually I keep that behavior in my bedroom, but you just can’t help getting into The Beatles.

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It’s obvious that Harmonix/MTV Games chose The Beatles because their library of music gives them a lot of downloadable content to release. The complete Abbey Road album was confirmed as the first bit of DLC shortly after launch. Additionally, the company will be releasing All You Need is Love as a standalone track, with all proceeds from the sale going to benefit Doctors Without Borders. A lot of people I spoke to thought the company could have done better than 45 songs, but given how well the recordings sounded and played, I think most fans will be satisfied.

The competition between the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises has done wonders for these games. Just a month ago, gamers were given the outstanding Guitar Hero: Metallica and in a couple of months, we’ll be strumming along to all the classic Beatles songs with The Beatles: Rock Band. While the number of songs included in the game was obviously kept low to encourage downloads, the game does ship with enough core hits from the band’s storied career that complaints should be minimal. The Beatles: Rock Band looks poised to be another great entry in this franchise.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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