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Beatlemania rises again as The Fab Four convince us to pick up the platic guitars...
Even the lonely Martian hiding under a rock in the Nevada desert since the 1960s couldn't help but notice Beatlemania is making a bit of a comeback. To commemorate 40 years since the 'Fab Four' decided to call it a day, McCartney, Starr, and the remaining 'shareholders' have decided the best way to continue the legacy (alongside the costly re-mastered collector's box-set) is to tap into the lucrative music genre with the good folks at Harmonix and MTV Games.
But is this a game for everyone to enjoy? Will the Rock Band brand find a new audience of young Beatles fans, or is it, like the box-set something that only devout enthusiasts can appreciate?
Band specific titles in the Rock Band/Guitar Hero series aren't anything new; take your pick from the likes of Metallica, AC/DC and Aerosmith. But The Beatles: Rock Band marks something of a departure; it may not be the shift that Harmonix once spoke of, but the devotion throughout is certainly apparent from the stunning intro sequence (worth watching again and again) to the last note of 'I Me Mine' on top of Apple Corp headquarters. Unlike Guitar Hero's painful handling of Kurt Cobain in Guitar Hero 5, you get the feeling that the careful treatment displayed by Harmonix would have all of The Beatles singing in perfect harmony instead of turning in their graves.
Anybody who has wielded a plastic axe in the past will know what to expect. The bulk lies in the Story mode, a carefully picked selection of songs that takes you through the band's early years and performances at Liverpool's Cavern Club, through the hysteria of Beatlemania on The Ed Sullivan Show and ultimately concluding the band's relatively short career with the farewell gig atop Apple Corp's rooftop. 45 songs feature on the disc split across six different iconic stages from the band's history. Considering The Beatles' vast back-catalogue the song list seems a little light, particularly in comparison to Guitar Hero 5's 85 tracks, which only reinforces the notion that more will be milked out over DLC. But, the vast majority of the sing-along classics and big hits are present and ultimately it's these that will really get everybody in the mood to twist and shout.
Harmonix has remained close to the format laid down in previous Rock Band titles. Using an arrangement of drum kits, guitars and microphones, players whack, strum and sing along by hitting the corresponding notes in time to continue playing and notch up an increasing high score. Hitting a certain combination of notes allows you to pull off Beatlemania (the new name for Overdrive), which is useful to notch up bigger points or save a player who has fallen out of the game. Fortunately, the game works with the multitude of peripherals already on the market, allowing us to play quite comfortably with Guitar Hero: World Tour drums and guitars along with the SingStar wireless mics!
Innovations come largely in the form of three-way harmonies, allowing you and a few friends to hook up three microphones and sing along to the likes of 'Ticket To Ride', 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'I Feel Fine'. Thankfully for those that didn't spend their childhood in the choir, it's never enforced too strictly. Three different lines on the highway highlight each part, one depicting the main vocal and the others the accompanying harmonies. It's largely a case of just hitting the tune, so anybody can sing along without being harshly punished for singing the wrong parts but there's a bonus for those that can.
The Beatles Rock Band stands out amongst the deluge of music titles for the care and attention displayed throughout. Dreamscapes are a good example of this, depicting the band's progression during The Abbey Road years to a solely studio act. Beginning from the confines of the recording studio, the background visualization takes players on a variety of fantastical trips influenced by the songs in question. The style throughout closely mirrors the psychedelic visuals that became synonymous with the band. They're nothing short of stunning, which at times makes it hard to keep up with the actual task of playing instead of gazing at what's happening behind. The Dreamscapes aren't the only thing that causes your eyes to wander when they should be focused on the Note Highway. The four members have been recreated with a stunning attention to detail and a wonderful characterization, which perfectly mirrors their many changes throughout the years. Harmonix allegedly went to such lengths during this process that they received a sample of the wood from McCartney's Hofner violin bass to accurately replicate the wood grain.
Ultimately, The Beatles Rock Band succeeds where others will always struggle to compete by bringing together such a range of songs that will have people of all ages enjoying themselves. Not everybody is a Beatles fan we'll agree, but we're hard pressed to note another band that has such a lasting appeal amongst such a wide audience. Giles Martin has performed a miraculous job on the music front, helping to produce high-fidelity tracks from the original recordings and dig out studio banter that plays prior to the song. The biggest compliment is the fact that Harmonix hasn't felt the need to tinker with any of the tracks too much, which comes at the detriment of the game a little, because misplayed notes just reduce the track's volume instead of playing a garbled noise, but ensures this is The Beatles that everybody knows and loves.
Perhaps the only complaint is that at only 45 songs in length The Beatles Rock Band doesn't really go beyond scratching at the surface, and in this respect it's the die hard fans who will probably feel the most disappointed. The hits flow naturally into one another, rolling through the years with not quite the same elegance of 'Love', but with enough lesser known tracks to serve a greater purpose than a collection of their biggest hits. Like 'No.1' before it, The Beatles Rock Band is a fantastic overview of the band but never really gets into the nitty gritty of what made The Beatles. There's no sense of the difficulties or emergence of individualities apparent on 'The White Album', instead The Beatles Rock Band presents the band in perfect unity throughout, going so far as including Ringo on tracks that he never originally appeared on.
Unfortunately we couldn't check out the game's online modes. Apparently Harmonix's servers would crash if we tried, and we didn't exactly want that weight of responsibility hanging around our shoulders - besides Mr. Starr can look a little scary when he wants to. Beyond the co-operative multiplayer element, players can also battle it out in Tug of War and Score Duel variants, both of which offer competitive takes on the standard formula that should be familiar to Rock Band players. The addition of a Beatles Beat mode allowing you to practice actual drum beats from Ringo Starr is a feature lifted directly from Rock Band 2.
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