“The Beatles: Rock Band”: A First Look

Dan Rivkin | July 21, 2009 1:00 pm

On Monday in New York, Paul McCartney enjoyed a day off before today’s final concert in his three-show stint at Citi Field. Elsewhere in the Big Apple, Harmonix and MTV Games hosted a hands-on demo of the latest build of The Beatles: Rock Band. (Ringo’s whereabouts were unknown.) I went in the hopes of getting my hands dirty and my voice raspy with a 90% finished version of the game, which comes out on Sept. 9. Sadly, no screaming teenage girls were provided. Even though I’m more of a Paul guy, I strapped on John Lennon’s signature Rickenbacker—alas, Macca’s Hofner bass replica needed batteries—and steamrolled through three songs on the XBOX 360. Among them: “Revolution,” one of 15 new songs formally unveiled as being part of the game’s 45-song playlist. (Twenty-five of the songs have been revealed so far; that list is at the bottom of this entry.) Jumping from song to song through quick play and in no-fail easy mode, the toughest task at the outset was settling on a tune, thanks to there not being a dud among the options. The basics of gameplay aren’t all that different than the rest of the franchise: Play the right notes and earn points; butcher a classic and earn scorn among your friends and family. Unlike other versions of the game, TBRB allows for some vocal harmonizing—both two- and three-part, depending on the song. The feature is pretty forgiving, so even if three singers sing the melody in unison, you’ll earn points for nailing a harmony. But if you insist on nailing the harmonies a la John, Paul and George, a vocal training mode developed for the game helps you develop your chops. In this mode, singers can split the up the harmonies, isolating the separate parts. The game itself is beautiful, as anyone who’s seen the steady leak of trailers knows. The animations of the band are meticulous, colorful and smooth, and are drawn from iconic images like the Cavern Club and Shea Stadium. And thanks to the close relationship between the game’s designers and the band and surviving families, the level of detail put into the game is tremendous. For instance, Yoko Ono recalled the Apple Records rooftop was a bit windier for the band’s impromptu Get Back-era concert, so the graphics were altered. (It should also be noted that the game, facial-hair combinations are spot-on.) The songs themselves sound terrific, too, having been culled from the same tapes the upcoming remastered versions of the Beatles’ albums were developed from. So could something like The Beatles: Rock Band replace the party singalong around the piano, or guy with the acoustic guitar strumming away? Rightly or wrongly, it has the potential to. It certainly will bring in non-gamers who love the Beatles into the gaming world. (There’s unique content bound to draw out hardcore Beatles fans like studio chatter—some of it never released—that’s been drawn directly from the original takes.) And it’s bound to introduce a generation of gamers unaffected by the Fab Four to the depth and impact of their music. More details on game features are expected to be announced sometime next month, as is the full song list; for now, the announced tracks are as follows: * “I Saw Her Standing There” * “I Want To Hold Your Hand” * “I Feel Fine” * “Taxman” * “Day Tripper” * “Back In The USSR” * “I Am The Walrus” * “Octopus’s Garden” * “Here Comes The Sun” * “Get Back” * “Twist And Shout” * “Do You Want To Know A Secret” * “Can’t Buy Me Love” * “I Wanna Be Your Man” * “Eight Days A Week” * “Paperback Writer” * “And Your Bird Can Sing” * “Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB” * “With a Little Help from My Friends” * “Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows (mashup from LOVE album) * “Yellow Submarine” * “Revolution” * “Birthday” * “Dig A Pony” * “I’ve Got A Feeling”