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Monday June 22, 2009 1:36 pm

The Beatles: Rock Band hands-on impressions

The Beatles Rock Band

By now, you’ve likely seen the hubbub that surrounded the unveiling of The Beatles: Rock Band at the Microsoft presser. Hell, the two remaining Beatles even took time out of their busy schedule of rolling around in huge piles of money and prestige to come onstage for approximately 2 seconds and say how awesome it was. Where does it stand in the growing pantheon of music games, though? Does it innovate? Can it woo new fans? Is it safe? Will it blend?

Well, Harmonix, if nothing else, is dedicated to the music. That being said, they did a fantastic job of doing the Beatles justice, even going so far as to disguise their E3 booth as giant replica of Abbey Road. Yeah. They roll like that.

Hit the jump to check out our opinions on The Beatles: Rock Band.

What is it?
The Beatles experience in the form of the ultimate dressed-up track pack, essentially. Think your standard Rock Band interface, decked to the gills with the Beatles aesthetics, allusions, references, and anything a diehard fan could passibly want to see in a game based on the most influential band in history.

Why should I care?
Harmonix designer Dan Teasdale made it known at his GDC talk that Harmonix doesn’t like to go the route of the yearly cash cow, and likes to take time with their products and put their heart and soul into what they make. You can tell that The Beatles: Rock Band was made by people who live, breathe, and love everything about the fab four. The mechanics have also been tweaked to reflect the band dynamics, including the ability for six (!!!) players at once to allow for the Beatles’ signature vocal harmonization.

What did you play?
A brief explanation of the game and a quick demo was given to press every thirty minutes by a collection of Harmonix developers, including lovable schlamazel and PR dude John Drake, who was nearly killed by a falling air conditioner that I willed into disrepair with my powers of slapstick comedy. After that, we were able to play ten songs from the history of the band through all of their creative eras.

What was cool?
The Beatles bleed from every asset in the game. Along with the new vocal harmonization, the art direction is specifically meant to convey what the Beatles were all about. The models themselves are distinctly recognizable, but keep that cartoony flair that we love from Rock Band. You can play through all their famous venues (and “dreamscapes” reflecting their songs during their recording career, such as retro russian imagery during “Back In The USSR”). Their movements are spot-on, the screaming girls are there, and they even have the pre-performance banter built into the songs themselves.

But the real showstopper for me was how markedly different the game is from other music and rhythm games. Though the formula is the same, and you can play with up to six people, this is the first game that really emphasizes you playing an instrument and singing at the same time. It’s a different kind of challenge, and for me, it was far more satisfying than the typical wankery of over-the-top guitar tracks and challenges.

Not to say the game isn’t tough, of course. On expert difficulty, you don’t get Dragonforce levels of ridiculousness, but all the members of the beatles were amazingly techncal players in their own right (hell, check out Ringo’s drumming on “A Day in the Life” or “Rain”). If you’re coming into this game looking for pretzel-fingered mind benders or endurance challenges, this is not a game for you. If you’re looking for some of the best songs ever written in rock and roll and a good time playing them, I would venture to say that this is a better investment than even the other Rock Band games.

And besides, it’s the fricking Beatles. This is the consummate party game. Everyone knows their songs. Plus, all songs are unlocked from the get-go in Quick Play, and the Easy difficulty is defaulted to no-fail, so even Beatles fans unfamiliar with Rock Band can drop in with minimal learning curve.

What sucked?
Nothing, really. The game was just really, really, really fun to play. The HMX booth was my home base for most of E3, and even just standing and watching other people play was fun, since I got to see all the cool stuff happening in the background. I’m hoping there will be a mode to just watch the animations and listen to the songs.

There’s still the question of how they’re going to structure the flow of the game - it’s the same problem that Neversoft encountered with GH: Metallica (since Metallica’s earliest stuff is their fastest and heaviest). Story mode is chronological, so how the tracks will be structured is anyone’s guess, but I was assured that it will work with the progression accordingly.

We also didn’t see how the narrative elements of the game will handle the darker periods for the Beatles, such as the post-career events like the death of John Lennon. That’s under an NDA, so we’ll have to get the game to see how it’ll work.

When will I be able to play it?
9/9/09, on the 360 and PS3.

You’ll probably like it if you liked…
Any of Harmonix’s previous offerings, the band-focused Guitar Hero games, or just the f*cking Beatles. That being said, if you play it the way you should, it’s a new and interesting experience (that carries over to real-life musicality - senior designer Chris Foster told me that he used Rock Band to train himself to sing and play at the same time when he performed with his Harmonix band, Speck).

Now, here’s a video of HMXer Sylvain Dubrofsky dancing all silly-like.

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