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The Beatles: Rock Band

Harmonix have always been fully committed to DLC with their Rock Band franchise; with new songs released every week to amass a gigantic library of content from a whole host of different genres and artists. However, one band has thus far eluded the downloadable sonisphere; specifically because they demand a much bigger stage than a single track pack. Harmonix have faithfully obliged, taking a year out – and possibly more – to skip Rock Band 3 and put as much time and effort in to create a game worthy of the name. The Beatles: Rock Band is their first foray into the one-band-game, and it’s such a fantastic experience it may as well be the last.

Everyone knows The Beatles – they require no introduction. Whether you’ve heard one song or one hundred, there’s no doubt their music has affected you in one way or another; be it the brilliance of their craft or the staggering influence they had on the shape of the music industry today. There’s no escaping the effect the fabulous foursome had on so many people around the world. And so it’s relatively easy to say that The Beatles: Rock Band is the biggest game of Harmonix’s career; although there was never any doubt that they couldn’t pull it off. Being masters of the gameplay is an obvious plus, but when you’re dealing with the amazing backlog of The Beatles, it’s hard to put a foot wrong.

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“Playing through in chronological order exemplifies the changes in sound throughout their short career in the swinging sixties”But this is more than just another band game. Starting off with the story mode, you’re taken through the lives of the foursome from Liverpool, from the tiny Cavern Club in their hometown, through to an appearance at Shea Stadium in New York, and finally atop the Apple Corps rooftop for their last ever appearance together. Playing through in chronological order exemplifies the changes in sound throughout their short career in the swinging sixties, and is definitely the best way to play. The first half of the game will be spent playing the early hits, with songs like “Twist and Shout”, “Paperback Writer” and “Hard Day’s Night“, in front of the masses of ecstatic, screaming fans as Beatlemania rocked the world. As you move through each era the band will change to represent their look at that time, and each arena you play has been faithfully recreated right down to the smallest of details.

The second half of the game shifts proceedings to Abbey Road Studios as the band took a break from touring to concentrate on the music. Obviously watching the band play in the studio would be a tad boring, so Harmonix have created special ‘Dreamscapes’ for each song. Beginning with “Yellow Submarine”, the song begins in studio before eventually transitioning over to the trippy alternate reality, as the iconic submarine glides through the water, Beatles in tow. The accurate renditions of the band’s live shows may be excellent, but they can’t match this new, weird and wonderful content, created specifically for each song. Seeing the band jump around in crazy animal costumes for “I Am the Walrus” is as enjoyable as it is odd. It may not work for every song where the lyrics don’t lend much to innovation, but when in full swing it’s a spellbinding experience.

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And that’s what The Beatles: Rock Band is all about, the experience of being part of this musical phenomenon. The gameplay has remained virtually the same apart from the new three-part vocal harmonies, and it’s not a particularly difficult game either. Expert seems to be the same, but every other difficulty level has been dumbed down to make it easier. The Beatles don’t have any technically difficult songs so it makes sense, and the enjoyment comes from playing these classic tracks and feeling like you’re part of the magic rather than going after a challenge. The story mode means you’ll be playing songs of all difficulties from the start rather than the progression you’d normally get as you move up through tiers, but none of them are hard enough to ever stump you dead in your tracks. It’s accessible to everyone yet also manages to stay fun for any Rock Band veterans purely because of the way it’s presented – and obviously the immense track list.

“The enjoyment comes from playing these classic tracks and feeling like you’re part of the magic rather than going after a challenge.”There are 45 Beatles hits on offer; this is relatively small when compared to what you’re usually offered in music games, but the quality is unmatched and there’s obviously room for plenty of DLC support – with “All You Need Is Love” coming soon and full album downloads for “Abbey Road”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Rubber Soul” due out later this year. There will be some fans disappointed by some of the omissions but hopefully the DLC will rectify this in most cases. There are also some odd inclusions, though – specifically “Tomorrow Never Knows”/”Within You Without You” – that could have been replaced by some of the more popular hits. Of course there’s always the chance you’ll begin to appreciate and enjoy tracks you never really noticed before, and I know this rings true for me. Each band member gets his own spot in the limelight so overall this seems like a well-rounded track list if a little short.

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It’s hard to argue with the sound quality of each track, although there are some restrictions enforced by Apple Corps, who were heavily involved in production of the game. For instance, there are no drum fills, and the whammy bar has no affect on the sound of the music, only working as a way to up your score and sustain Beatlemania (or Overdrive on other Rock Band games). It’s not much of a gripe, but it’s indicative of the power Apple Corps hold on the product. So it’s ultimately a shame there isn’t more bonus content on offer. Earning stars in the story mode will unlock myriad pictures of the band, and a few videos. The pictures are great, spanning every era of the band with some lengthy descriptions, but the video content is a bit lacking. It would have been nice to see some of the documentary stuff featured on the recently released re-mastered Beatles albums as nice tie-in.

It might seem obvious but if you’re not a fan of The Beatles then The Beatles: Rock Band probably isn’t for you. I’m certain it can garner in some new fans, but if you’re buying it because you’re a Rock Band fan then you’ll be left disappointed. The “game” part has been pushed aside to create the ultimate fan-club experience of one of the greatest bands ever. Fans will love every moment of it as the foursome from Liverpool triumphantly master yet another medium and finally enter the digital age. It might gloss over some of the turmoil from within the band, but if you want to have a blast playing through each merry-filled era of The Beatles then you can’t go wrong here.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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