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The Beatles: Rock Band


19:4826/09/2009Posted by Graham NauntonNo Comments

Isn’t it strange how two entities, at first glance seemingly nigh on identical, can be deconstructed to reveal the alarming truth – that, upon closer inspection, in fact they are two completely different propositions altogether? With that proverbial ying comes a yang of course, in that opposing poles can somehow inexplicably attract, whether it be defying physics, rational thought, or plain old common sense. Why does this matter when trying to formulate a critique of The Beatles: Rock band, you might ask?

Can_t_Buy_Me_Love_hud_bmp_jpgcopyLess than a mere 12 months ago we were blessed with the releases of Rock Band 2 and Activision’s Guitar Hero: World Tour, the latest instalments in the rhythm action scene which, largely thanks to Harmonix’s predecessor earlier last year, have seen the genre soar to dizzying new heights. The two games signalled the beginnings of a jostle for the position to be numero uno amongst fans and critics, a war not fought with guns and swords, but with lots of tacky plastic instruments. To be frank, both games serve their intended purpose very well to gamers of many demographics, and both can illicit feelings of empowerment and accomplishment that any game should, but we’ll not be the first to observe that each has subtle nuances that would eventually push the two games towards separate corners of the room. Rock Band (as a whole) has a quite frankly enormous song library to hand as well as a more mature feel to the overall aesthetic, not to mention the arguably superior, more organic-feeling to the note charts. Activision’s contender is markedly different in these respects, with its scatter-shot, rapid-fire style of RSI-inducing note charts and garish glam rock-esque presentation…and Sting. A really odd looking Sting.

Since World Tour’s release, Activision have launched an all-out assault to completely conquer the rhythm action market – an unparalleled aggression that is starting to leave a very sour taste in the mouth (it almost seems like fate when Guitar Hero 5 – whose inclusion of Kurt Cobain, as a misguided attempt at fan service, makes us feel uncomfortable – and The Beatles: Rock Band ships to retail on the same day).

Cavern_bmp_jpgcopyIt’s a good thing, then, that Guitar Hero’s direct competitor is doing the complete opposite in every sense of the word – from the first seconds of the mind-bogglingly fantastic introductory sequence to the last name rolls on the end credits, every facet of The Beatles: Rock Band oozes class. Following the Fab Four on their journey from cheeky chaps in the Cavern Club to stadium sell-outs and back again is quite literally an unforgettable experience and we have no hesitation in recommending the game to everyone, from seasoned wielders of all axes plastic to those who’d have trouble spelling the word ‘peripheral’, never mind use one like these for a videogame.

The Beatles: Rock Band feels fresh, is a visual delight and never once throughout the entire game does the quality slip. When the bar is set this high, it’s all the more remarkable an achievement. The game also encapsulates this feeling of something being very familiar, yet at the same time differentiating itself from its peers to look, play, and generally feel like an altogether different beast. It’s classic Rock Band – a career mode being the main course of action, chronologically charting the band’s legacy from their early years in Liverpool before swiftly moving on to world domination. Completing songs rewards the player with delightful unlockables such as rare Beatles photographs and trivia, as well as a selection of videos ranging from outtakes from the famous Ed Sullivan Show performance to more recent interview footage including the band. Chapter Challenges are also available, but essentially only exist as a means to play the entirety of one era in a single continuous set list. While this sounds like a rather unimaginative prospect, we don’t particularly mind – those of you looking for genuine challenges can take solace in the various Achievements/Trophies on offer, with many rewarding the conquerors of Hard and Expert modes.

Sun_bmp_jpgcopyWhere the game differs from many of its ilk, however, is something that Harmonix are becoming increasingly accomplished at – the way the game makes you feel. There are moments where you almost feel like you’re sitting in the studio with them, a hidden force behind the scenes that is somehow conducting, shaping and forging the greatest, most influential band of all time. From listening to the boys chattering in the studio between takes to Paul announcing the next song to the swathes of people inside Shea Stadium whilst you’re performing in the venue yourself, the feeling of immersion is something that no music game has been able to match. There are moments in the game where you feel like wanting to shake John Lennon’s hand, or tell George Harrison that you secretly prefer his songs to those of the other two. Or maybe you’ll notice how McCartney sways his bass backwards and forwards, whereas Lennon likes to bounce on the spot. You’ll check You Tube, and they really did move like that. The attention to detail, from the avatars of the men to the menus is incredible, and quite simply makes an embarrassment of other band-specific themed games.

Dig_A_Pony_bmp_jpgcopyThe story of The Beatles is a rollercoaster, as the band single-handedly revolutionised many facets of what we consider to be popular music today. The selected tracks are pretty much a masterstroke, given the enormous library to choose from, and they capture the spirit, ideas and philosophies of the band. The difficulty of the game is not especially high, and it’s not particularly long, but this is a plus in that it allows the player to sink deeper into the game – not having to sweat through mind-bending prog rock, or to bounce around generations and genres in a single stroke allows a deeper immersion. Indeed, there are several points where the game becomes hypnotic, sending the player into a contemplative, unhurried, gentle-smile-glazed-eyes induced trance. Whilst The Beatles: Rock Band isn’t going to usurp PS3’s Flower in the Zen department, it comes closer to what you’d expect. Or rather, not expect.

It’s always encouraging when talented forces come together in collaboration, with the express desire to forge something truly special. With a band of The Beatles quality and a developer of similar calibre, we really have to wonder if there was any doubt. The Beatles: Rock Band raises the bar to such a nosebleed-inducing height that we also wonder where the genre is going to take us to next. The rate of acceleration is phenomenal. Whilst we nervously await the announcement of more from Activision (although we’re secretly hoping for Accordion Hero), we can be sure that Harmonix are here on our side, to restore the balance.

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