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4 Reviews

The Beatles: Rock Band

You say you want a revolution? This isn't quite it

The funny thing about pedestals is they can only hold so much. Culturally, The Beatles' pedestal is very high, but The Beatles: Rock Band - while, in some ways, monumentally huge - is, in other ways, smaller than we expected.

The Beatles offers 45 of the band's 200-plus songs, and while we can't argue with the brilliance of playing along with Paperback Writer and Can't Buy Me Love, there are some glaring omissions.

For instance, we'd have swapped the generic cover of Boys and the dirge-like I Want You (She's So Heavy) for missing hits like She Loves You, Eleanor Rigby or Hey Jude. Maybe they're all coming as DLC, but some of them should be here now.

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And while Harmonix promised that this game (which was, at one point, not even part of the Rock Band franchise) wouldn't just be a fab paint job on the game we all know so well... that's kind of what The Beatles turned out to be.

Story mode, kept secret in all the previews, doesn't interactively tell the band's tale so much as merely reflect it. You'll unlock rare photos, recordings, videos and bits of trivia as you complete each era of The Beatles' career, culminating in a 'challenge' to play those songs again in a set.

For a game that wanted to introduce The Beatles to a new generation in a fresh way, this structure offers little context and no insight into the group's creative process, and it never illustrates why these songs are so important.

Effort was instead spent on two major areas - vocals and visuals. In addition to being historically accurate, The Beatles is strikingly attractive.

Harmonix has lovingly recreated the hysteria of the band's Ed Sullivan and Shea Stadium appearances, and used the imagery of adventurous songs like I Am the Walrus and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to create Dreamscapes, fantasy journeys on yellow submarines through an octopus's garden. Several of the Dreamscapes feature common elements, but they all look dazzling.

In perfect harmony
If you're too busy playing guitar to notice the graphics, try singing instead. The first time you lock in for a two- or three-part harmony, you'll get chills. It also might be by accident, because reproducing The Beatles' vocals is extremely difficult.

There is a learning curve (for the benefit of everyone's ears, please use the game's brilliant vocal trainer first), and it takes work to sing this stuff correctly, but it's glorious when you get it right. We love that the triple-mic support makes The Beatles: Rock Band a six-player co-op experience.

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Yet while the vocals feel difficult, the other note charts sometimes come off as simplistic. The guitar and drum parts are accurate, but they're also pop-rock prototypes and not always satisfyingly complex (exception: Paul McCartney's underrated melodic brilliance on bass).

That's welcoming to casual players (like your parents), but if you've ever wanted
to play drums on Expert, Ringo Starr will give you your shot. Better still, step up to the mic at the same time - The Beatles really comes alive when you push yourself to sing and play simultaneously, the way the Beatles did.

You'll enjoy The Beatles if you accept that it's not Rock Band 2 or 3 and simply wasn't designed to be. There's no massive song library, there's no feeling of ownership from character or band customisation, and you can't even choose your own drum fills - this Beatles stuff is sacred.

The fact that rock's most important innovators are in an Xbox 360 game at all is an historic sign of respect for the medium, but with a more interesting Story mode, The Beatles could have been even more engaging. You'll meet The Beatles, but you won't really get to know them.

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