Game Impressions: The Beatles: Rock Band

September 14, 2009



It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been strumming like a dog.  I didn’t intend to pick up The Beatles: Rock Band.  At least, not right away.  I played the original Rock Band a little, but never got really into it.  Rock Band 2, on the other hand, I played and played.  While medium difficulty is about as good as I get, I did play through all of the “campaign” mode to get the “Rock Immortal Inductee” achievement, got the “One Million Fans” achievement, and played enough to have $100,000 to spend in the Rock Shop for the “Clothes to the Edge” achievement.  But I haven’t picked up the old plastic guitar in 9-10 months.  And while I like quite a few tunes by The Beatles, I’m not a fan per se.  I don’t own any of their music.  But last Friday I picked it up on whim anyway, and Yesterday I went on a Day Tripper through story mode.  Was it a Magical Mystery Tour, or will I just Let It Be?


The Rock Band franchise has been around for awhile, so I’m not going to go into much detail on game mechanics.  As before, you can play lead guitar, base guitar, drums, or vocals, with the addition this time of being able to do 3 separate vocals for songs with harmonies.  You play each song just like you would in previous iterations.

There are a few small tweaks to the gameplay, but nothing that really changes the experience much.  Easy mode is automatically no-fail.  When you fail in other difficulty modes, you don’t get booed off-stage, but the song just ends.  Also, the freestyle drumming prior to activating an Overdrive (re-named Beatlemania) is gone, and the whammy bar still works, but it doesn’t change the sound of the note being played.  I guess it’s all done to “keep the music pure” or something, but the changes don’t really impact gameplay.  Finally, the musical difficulty does not get progressively harder as you go, as the story mode is chronologically-based, not difficulty-based.


The story mode sets The Beatles: Rock Band apart from previous iterations of the game.  Gone is the necessity to play through songs multiple times in order to progress ala  Rock Band 2, which in reality is just a means to stretch the game out.  More like the original Rock Band, The story progresses through “chapters” in the history of the band, each with 5-6 songs per chapter.  You start at the Cavern Club in 1962, which The Beatles played about a week after Ringo Star joined the band.  The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, and Bodukon follow, which take the player through The Beatles touring years.  Past the are several chapters called Abbey Road that feature animated Dreamscapes coordinated with the each individual song.  Story mode ends up on the rooftop of Apple Corp before the credits roll.  (Stay tuned after the credits for an extra unlockable.)  All-in-all, there are 45 songs spanning the years from 1962 to 1970.

If there is one word I would use to describe The Beatles: Rock Band, it would be polished.  This wasn’t a game that was rushed to market.  A lot of care went into both the audio and the visuals.  I’ve read that Harmonix did a lot of work on the audio, especially the early 2 and 4-track recordings, and the sound is just great.  The animations of each of the band members is distinct, and when they are singing or playing, the camera will focus on them specifically.  Also, each chapter has a specially crafted into animation movie that lead you into the chapter.  The Dreamscape visuals are just a feast for the eyes… I’ll be interested to see it they continue making individual Dreamscapes for the DLC songs.


In addition to playing the game in Story Mode, you can also play in Quickplay cooperatively with other players, or in Score Duel or Tug of War against them.  There are also trainers for drums and vocal harmonies.

There are some extras and bonus content within and outside of story mode.  As you play through songs, you earn stars, just like in previous Rock Band games.  Each song has 2 real photographs associated with it, that you unlock by earning 3 stars and then 5 stars.  You can view these photos, and a paragraph about the song or the particular photo with each one.  Collecting photos will unlock prizes as you progress, which are typically outtake-type videos of The Beatles, such as rehearsing for the Ed Sullivan show, or preparing for the Shea Stadium concert.  There are 106 photos to unlock, and 6 prizes.


Photos are also unlocked by completing challenges in Challenge Mode.  Each chapter has a challenge that is unlocked when you complete the chapter.  The Challenge Mode for each chapter is to play every song in the chapter back-to-back and 5 star them all.  Completists will want to do this to unlock all the photos and prizes.


I played through all of Story Mode in a single day, getting the Day Tripper achievement on the Xbox 360.  It only took about 3 hours, which is part of the problem with The Beatles: Rock Band.  There are only 45 tracks, as opposed to 58 and 84 tracks for Rock Band and Rock Band 2.  It’s obvious that the game is designed for downloadable content, and many Beatles songs are noticeably absent (“All You Need Is Love”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Hey Jude”, “She Loves You”, etc etc)  For a regularly priced game, and hugely priced kits, the actual content seems a little thin.  If it was most other musical artists, I think review scores would be docked for the light track list.

Also, there is also not a whole lot of replayability.  While the tour mode in Rock Band 2 was partially a way for Harmonix to stretch out gameplay, it was still fun to unlock venues and try to five star everything in a venue.  The only thing Rock Band offers, aside from DLC, are the Challenge Modes, and upping the difficulty level.  I’m not really that type of gamer.  Once I finish something, I’ve finished it.  I don’t need to go back and do the same thing over and over again at higher difficulties.  I have too many other things waiting to be played.    That’s not to say that doing that is in some sense the essence of the music genre.  I’m just saying the game mechanics don’t give you much reason to do that.

Bottom line:  If you are a fan of Rock Band and The Beatles, this is the game for you.  If you are a casual Beatles fan, you may want to wait for a price drop rather than shell out full price.  And be prepared to pay for DLC, as chances are one of your favorite Beatles songs will not be available on the disc.


One comment

  1. It should be the easiest of all the Rock Band games. There are only 3 chords to learn for guitar, no hard to learn drum solo’s and the lyrics you can just mumble 🙂

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