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The Beatles: Rock Band (Xbox 360) artwork

The Beatles: Rock Band (Xbox 360) review

"People will no doubt complain about omissions, but the songs on the set list are the ones that best suit Harmonix’s vision for The Beatles: Rock Band. Not only do the forty five tracks capture the band at various stages of their career, but they also serve as a reminder of how special The Beatles were as a group, with entertaining and varied note charts for each instrument. The Beatles: Rock Band is not really about being a guitar hero or a drumming virtuoso because The Beatles weren’t guitar heroes or drumming virtuosos."

When Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney came on stage during Microsoft’s E3 press conference for The Beatles: Rock Band and told the crowd that “the game is good, the graphics are very good and we were great” it was tempting to view the whole event with cynicism. After all, you haven’t really played the game, have you Ringo? Given that we’ve already seen two uninspired titles based around the songs of famous bands (Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Metallica), it was easy to dismiss The Beatles Rock Band as another money-making exercise, designed to squeeze the last few pennies from a worn-out format. However, there’s one very important difference between those branded Guitar Hero games and The Beatles: Rock Band – this particular title was developed by Harmonix.

Unlike Activision, makers of Guitar Hero, it seems that Harmonix still care about the music. The Beatles: Rock Band is an affectionate tribute to the songs and history of a band adored by generations of music-lovers across the globe. It certainly isn’t a half-hearted cash-in. Harmonix has gone to great lengths to celebrate the career of The Beatles, rewarding in-game success with photos, trivia and archive film clips. These are not throwaway extras of the “did you know, George Harrison liked jelly babies” variety, either. Carefully selected material from deep within the Apple Corps archives offers an illuminating insight into the life and times of The Beatles. From grainy snaps taken in The Cavern to videos of the fab four goofing around on their first US tour, this is the sort of material that rewards those who want to reminisce as well as those who want to discover more about the reality behind an iconic band.

This treasure trove of hidden material is more comprehensive than the “extras” section of just about any other title I can think of, and yet The Beatles: Rock Band is no dusty museum. The central attraction is the excellent career mode, which puts you in the shoes of John, Paul, George or Ringo (depending what instrument you decide to play) and takes you on a chronological journey through the 1960s. Each chapter of the band’s career is represented by a certain location, with a set list of between four and seven songs that are associated with that particular venue. So down in the cramped Cavern Club you’ll be performing exuberant early-Beatles tracks like “Twist and Shout,” while in Shea Stadium you’ll play hits like “I Feel Fine” and “Paperback Writer” for hundreds of thousands of screaming girls!

There are forty five tracks altogether. Unlike Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Metallica, which included about thirty of the band’s tracks and then filled the set list up with artists who are a bit like Aerosmith or Metallica, every one of these tracks is a Beatles song. Harmonix has selected a diverse, interesting set list that is representative of the band’s entire career. Well-known hits are combined with popular album tracks as the selection traces the group’s development from a simple Merseybeat band into something much greater. You may even be reminded of a few classics that have faded from your memory over time, such as “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” a lovely little tune sung by George Harrison.

People will no doubt complain about omissions, but the songs on the set list are the ones that best suit Harmonix’s vision for The Beatles: Rock Band. Not only do the forty five tracks capture the band at various stages of their career, but they also serve as a reminder of how special The Beatles were as a group, with entertaining and varied note charts for each instrument. The Beatles: Rock Band is not really about being a guitar hero or a drumming virtuoso because The Beatles weren’t guitar heroes or drumming virtuosos. Fills and improvisations, prevalent in Rock Band 2, are abandoned for the simple reason that The Beatles didn’t do fills or improvisation. Everything about this game has been designed to celebrate the band as a whole, so while there are some terrific individual contributions (Ringo’s singing on “Yellow Submarine,” for example), the overarching emphasis is on team-work. It’s possible, for instance, to have three singers, which makes vocal harmonies and unison bonuses a dominant feature of the game.

Guitar Hero veterans can still show off their skills with an expert rendition of the arpeggiated lead from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” but their efforts will be one part of a greater whole. It’s unlikely that there will be any fights over who gets to play the guitar either, given how compelling the lyrics are and how fun it is to become Ringo Starr! The Beatles were not a collection of superstar musicians, but they were a damn good band. The Beatles: Rock Band reflects that, and in doing so realises the original concept of a “rock band” better than perhaps any other title in the series.

Ringo Starr may not have spent ages playing Rock Band, but his words at Microsoft’s E3 press conference carry an element of truth. The game is good. Very good. And The Beatles were great. By letting fans become The Beatles, Harmonix have celebrated and preserved the spirit of the band, their music and their history in a way that has never really been possible before. This powerful experience takes the devoted fan on a journey from those early performances beneath the streets of Liverpool to worldwide success at the Shea Stadium and the Nippon Budokan. Then there are the years spent behind closed doors in the Abbey Road studios -- rehearsals and recordings that evolve into “dreamscapes," imaginative scenes that embrace a kaleidoscope of surreal images and pyschedelic colours. You can’t get much more ‘60s than that! “I Am the Walrus” even ends up with Ringo dressed as a walrus! As you progress through the decade you see The Beatles change, both physically and musically, culminating in their iconic gig atop the Apple Studios building in London. And yes, John Lennon’s sarcastic remark about passing the audition is present.

The Beatles: Rock Band is a cultural milestone. It uses the interactive form of video gaming as a means of bringing fans, young and old, together in celebration of the music and history of The Beatles. For some it will be nostalgia. For a few it will be a captivating introduction to a band that they may not be very familiar with. For others… well, it'll just be a whole lot of fun! After all, who wants to read another biography or watch another documentary when you and three friends can actually perform “Can’t Buy Me Love” on The Ed Sullivan Show circa 1964?


JANUS2's avatar
Freelance review by Tim Ayre (September 12, 2009)

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If you enjoyed this The Beatles: Rock Band review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted September 12, 2009:

Great review, highly deserving of review of the week. You do a really good job of pointing out the cultural interest the game will garner without forgetting that this is a game. You give a great overview of how it compares to the other titles in the series and YES! I definitely agree that Rock Band should have less AMAZING musicians and more AMAZING stars. After all, Rock and Roll started as an uncomplicated, accessible, form of music and that's the kind of music I want to attempt at such a game.
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JANUS2 posted September 13, 2009:

Hey thanks Zipp! I enjoyed writing this one so I'm glad you enjoyed reading it!
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Halon posted September 13, 2009:

Great review. It made the game sound like much more than just another rehashed music game that the market is oversaturated with.
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threetimes posted September 14, 2009:

Fantastic review. Informative, lively and peppered with references. You answered all the questions I had about the game, as well making me feel I knew exactly what I'd be getting.
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honestgamer posted September 14, 2009:

This is an excellent review, Janus, and I'd love it if you said "Hey, I'd be willing to upgrade it to a staff review so that it can be exclusive to this site and never deleted." That would make me happy, since it's unlikely that anyone will ever do a better job covering the game. Drop me a line if you're interested.

As far as nitpicks go, I had only one:

It use the interactive form of video gaming as a means of bringing fans, young and old, together in celebration of the music and history of the band.

You're missing an 's' on "uses" right at the start of that sentence.

Aside from that one nit, this review was reviewing perfection. Well, in my humble opinion, anyway. If this were an audition, you certainly would have passed it!
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JANUS2 posted September 14, 2009:

Thanks for the nice comments, guys.

Jason, I'm happy for you to upgrade it. I fixed the error you spotted. Do I need to do anything else? Oh and do I get a big clicky picture?!
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honestgamer posted September 14, 2009:

The review is updated and featured. Wasn't that fast? If you have a short little summary for your review to go in the box next to the score (under 250 characters in length, including any HTML), post it here and someone on staff can update the review. Otherwise, you're done. Thanks!
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jerec posted September 14, 2009:

Guess it's out of the running for RotW now? >_>
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wolfqueen001 posted September 14, 2009:

Yes, jerec - you have a chance to win again. =P

Anyway, after reading this topic, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I read the review, and I have to agree that yeah; this is pretty good stuff. I honestly can't imagine how hard it is to make a music-based game sound interesting, and that's probably why I've never written for one, but you seemed to capture everything pretty well.

Granted, I'm probably not going to go out and buy this game, even if I already had the Rockband equipment and everything. I'm just not a fan of the Beatles at all (*insert gasps and sshouts of "blasphemy" here*). But it's good to know that a single artist-based game can be pulled off to good effect.

On another note, Harmonix also made the first three Guitar Hero installments (I, II and the 80s encore thing), so I don't know how fair it is to compare Guitar Hero to Rockband just on the fact that Harmonix developed these games and not the later Guitar Hero ones. But you don't really cite this as the only reason, anyway. I just felt like pointing that out.
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JANUS2 posted September 14, 2009:

I compared it to "those branded Guitar Hero games" (GH: Aerosmith and Metallica), which were made by Neversoft (I think) after Harmonix lost control of the brand. Those titles and DJ Hero and the yearly GH updates are examples of how Activision are saturating the market with pointless titles to cash in on the Guitar Hero craze. Harmonix seem to care more about maintaining their reputation for quality, probably because music games are their thing (going right back to the excellent Frequency).

I was going to include a line telling non-Beatles fans that they wouldn't like The Beatles: Rock Band, but then I realised that would be a stupid thing to do. If you don't like The Beatles you don't like The Beatles. I can't change your mind about that.
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sashanan posted September 15, 2009:

Looking good. I don't do music games for single player, but if I did, this would likely be the one to win me over. My main objection to participating in GH or RB on parties is usually that I barely know any of the music - not going to be a problem with these blokes.
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sashanan posted September 16, 2009:

(And to whoever stuck "does it pass the audition" to it on the front page - LOL).
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Melaisis posted September 17, 2009:

I actually linked this review to a bloke I know who is forever moaning about how Rock Band is superior to Guitar Hero and he believes reviewers don't do the former justice. The fact he loved this review so much is a testament to its quality and its deserved status as a staff feature.
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- posted July 16, 2010:

I know I'm not the first to say this, but I figure you'll like extra praise. So here it is -- I think this is a superb review. It reminds me why Harmonix is one of my favourite developers today.

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