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The Beatles: Rock Band (PlayStation 3) artwork

The Beatles: Rock Band (PlayStation 3) review

"Harmonix has produced a finely-tuned release that falls in line with the best of its work to date. There are several elements that help this newest effort to stand apart from the Guitar Hero franchise."

Do you want to know a secret? Until just recently, the appeal of The Beatles managed to escape me. I'd heard the same seven or eight of their songs throughout my entire life. I could sing along to those few ditties when they came on the radio, but that was as far as things went. Looking back, my ignorance was really quite sad. What's even worse, though, is the knowledge that my lack of interest in the group and its extensive catalog of great music would likely have remained unchanged forever if not for the fateful announcement that Harmonix was working on a game that would showcase the fabulous four like never before.

The Beatles: Rock Band is that game. I owe it a deep debt of gratitude for kindling in me a love for the great music that I'd previously been content to overlook. I'm not the only target that Harmonix would have had in mind, though. I'm more like a happy accident. From the moment I began playing the game, it was clear that the game is intended for those who love The Beatles. If that's you, there's a lot to love. And if it's not? Maybe that'll change by the time you're done playing.

The main draw is obviously the music. There are more than 40 songs included here and it's obvious that they weren't chosen at random. They also don't merely represent the top hits on any current oldies station. Instead, they're a study of the musical canvas that The Beatles produced. As a virtual guitarist, you'll be able to follow the band's early output with lively fare such as "Twist and Shout," all the way through the Abbey Road phase and the memorable rooftop performance that prompted John Lennon to comment that he hoped The Beatles had passed the audition. From airy tracks like "I Am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" to iconic rockers like "Hard Day's Night" and "Revolution," the music that you'd expect is definitely represented.

To that end, the included songs are organized chronologically and broken into chunks that provide a glimpse at each of eight chapters in the group's history. Slick intros bookend each chapter, complete with album cover art and rare photographs, plus you can unlock photographs and rare film footage if you do a good job at the game itself. That extra content provides a satisfying glimpse into the band's private side that the public seldom got to see, with some neat commentary and even a recording of a special album that was sent exclusively to members of the band's fan club. For the obsessive, stuff like that can justify The Beatles: Rock Band almost by itself.

Fortunately, the game also has plenty to offer casual gamers who are looking for a game that can get by on more than just its soundtrack. Harmonix has produced a finely-tuned release that falls in line with the best of its work to date. There are several elements that help this newest effort to stand apart from the Guitar Hero franchise. The most obvious of those elements is a range of difficulty settings that welcomes newcomers and veterans alike without ever feeling like it's pandering to anyone. Even the "Easy" setting can be fairly demanding--especially since you can't make many errors at all if you want the 5-star rating that helps to unlock that excellent bonus content--yet even those who are prone to errors can have fun and feel challenged. Then there's the "Medium" setting, which adds extra buttons and more speed, followed by the "Hard" and "Extreme" modes that introduce a steady barrage of varying notes, chords and timing that should definitely provide a welcome challenge. Difficulty settings feel appropriate, plus you can easily change the setting from song to song without the need to start a separate campaign.

The Beatles: Rock Band also excels because it provides interesting backgrounds to each song that you'll play. These vary by the chapter where you are performing, much like venues alter what you'll see in a game like Guitar Hero 5, but Harmonix actually took the time here to give everything some personality. It's fun to watch the polygonal members of the band strumming their guitars, leaning into the microphone, drumming or just dancing around against psychedelic backdrops. What's important is that all of that feels true to the band and its music, rather than just serving as a generic setting that belongs to no one. While it may seem unfair to compare the two titles in that respect, there have been Guitar Hero games devoted to specific bands--Aerosmith comes to mind--that made token efforts at establishing the right sort of atmosphere and never quite achieved the same degree of success.

If there's a problem with The Beatles: Rock Band, it's that all of that attention to detail--the footage and the nostalgic backdrops and transitions and photographs--don't change the fact that gamers are provided with only around a quarter of the band's catalog. There are a lot of terrific songs that weren't included here, songs that really could have gone the extra mile and allowed the title to serve as the perfect tour of the band's spectacular history. If you want to dig deeper, you'll have to pay extra to download other selections on your own. That's something to consider if you're looking at a possible purchase, but ultimately it doesn't matter as much as it could because what's already here is worth playing through multiple times even before unlockable content and higher difficulty settings are considered.

There are a lot of options out there if you're interested in the musical video game. None of them have the attention to detail and the personality that you'll find in The Beatles: Rock Band, though. If you like the music that the fabulous four produced, or even if you've been considering taking a serious look at it for the first time, there's no better place to start and no better time than now.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 22, 2009)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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threetimes posted September 23, 2009:

It's the FAB four!

Just a couple of minor things I noticed:

plus you can unlock photographs rare film footage if you do a good job at the game itself (an "and" missing?)

That extra content provides a satisfying glimpse into the band behind that the public seldom got to see, (the people behind the band's public image?)

And the start of the next paragraph could be improved: somehow standing on its soundtrack sounds wrong!

Fortunately, the game also has plenty to offer casual gamers who are looking for a game that can stand on more than just its soundtrack.

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honestgamer posted September 23, 2009:

Thanks for reading, threetimes, and for the suggestions. I've implemented them. This is a review that I had to write hastily before dashing off to work, so it got two or three less trips through in revision mode than I would normally manage these days. The first two things you noted are the sort of errors that result. The third was intentional, but I lose nothing by using different phrasing so I've done so.
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jerec posted September 23, 2009:

You get a taste of the music game, and then you end up getting more games very quickly. Happened to me. I bought Guitar Hero 3, and within a week I found GH 2, and not long after I bought World Tour.
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sashanan posted September 24, 2009:

I've had that effect with survival horror. You finish one, you finish a second, suddenly you style yourself an expert and buy out entire series.

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