The Beatles Rock Band - Xbox 360 review
Of all the bands that have a difficult relationship with digital music, The Beatles stand above AC/DC, Metallica and Pink Floyd as the most troublesome. Apple Corps has a long-standing dispute with EMI that prevents the Fab Four's music from being available on services like iTunes, Spotify and Last.fm.
But after George Harrison's son Dhani met MTV's president, Van Toffler, in 2006, and suggested a Rock Band game based around The Beatles' catalogue, both parties worked to overcome logistical difficulties and the cult of protectionism that surrounds any use of The Beatles' image.
Harrison worked to win over Apple Corps, talking to McCartney, Starr and Ono about the idea. Toffler went off to convince Harmonix. In the end, following the production of a five-song demo, and an agreement that songs from the entire career of the band would be showcased, a deal was signed.
During development of the game, McCartney, Starr, Ono and Harrison all provided feedback on various aspects of the title, even down to demanding that The Beatles' hair blew about in the wind more when they perform on the roof of the Apple Corps' HQ, as it did on the day in 1969.
That sense of careful control of the image of the band is everywhere in the game. At no point is it possible to make The Beatles look bad, or affect the songs in any way other than to quieten a single instrument temporarily if you miss a note.
The ability to play drum beats before the start and after the end of a track are gone. So too is the ability to do wildcat drum solos in the middle of tracks to active "Overdrive" for extra points (which happens to be renamed "Beatlemania" in B:RB). The control is over every tiny detail, even down to the fact that attaining an extra star doesn't make the little "ding" sound it does in Rock Band 2.
But in its place is boatloads of extra content for Beatles fans. Attaining three and five stars on an individual track will unlock a photo and anecdote about the recording of that track. Each song is bookended by real studio chatter from the original recordings, all the way down to Ringo shouting "I've got blisters on me fingers!" at the end of Helter Skelter.
One benefit over previous versions of the game is that all 45 songs are unlocked from the start. You don't have to play through "Story" mode to get access to every track. If you do, however, you'll find an artfully crafted chronological journey through the band's history, starting at the Cavern Club, and ending on the aforementioned rooftop.
Between each chapter of the band's career, you get a lovely little animation depicting record sleeves, and covering famous episodes that occurred in that timeframe. The game is visually stunning, especially on a big HD display, and very in-keeping with the legacy of the band - particularly when it comes to the "Dreamscapes" that accompany several tracks from The Beatles' studio years.
In terms of features, though, there's very little difference between this game and last year's Rock Band 2. The only major addition is that of harmonies, which you'll need multiple USB mics for, along with a mic stand for singing and playing at the same time. Headset mics won't work, unlike in previous games.
The harmonies aren't easy. In fact they're doggone tough, unless you're a practiced vocalist in real life. Luckily, a trio of vocalists can sing any of the harmony parts without having to worry about who's singing what. As long as you're in tune with at least one of the melodies, you'll score well.
The enhanced plastic instruments are pretty awesome too. Well, the guitars are. The Rickenbacker 325, Gretsch Duo Jet, and Hefner bass are all fantastic representations of the original instruments, and will look great even if you're playing another game in the Rock Band range.
The Ludwig drum kit isn't quite as good, though. It's the same kit as from Rock Band 2, but has a big Beatles logo that stretches across the back of the set, mimicking the bass drum skin, and new pearl-edged drum pads. It looks flimsy and fake compared to the quality of the other Premium instruments.
Difficulty is reasonable throughout - it's easy to see how tricky a particular song is and adjust accordingly. One criticism that could be levelled, however, is that the game is relatively short. The 45 songs can be played through in a couple of hours, making this more suited to perfectionists who'll want to 100% every single song.
More content is on the way, including songs left over from Abbey Road, Sgt Pepper and Rubber Soul that didn't make it into the game. The slow approach is due to the difficulty of splitting apart the content from the old 2-track and 4-track master tapes at Abbey Road. Music from The Beatles' various solo projects will not be included.
The Beatles Rock Band is a fantastic reminiscipackage of musical and visual content that should be firmly in the collection of any Beatles fan. But a question mark hangs over the value of this title for people who aren't so passionate about the band's catalogue.
Little niggles, like not being able to put in your own drum fills, grate considerably when compared to the relative freedom of Rock Band 2. The controlled, and relatively brief, experience puts a slightly bitter aftertaste on a game that is - in every other regard - fantastic fun.
The Beatles Rock Band is an absolute must for Beatles completists and Rock Band completists, but a music fan who hasn't yet dipped a toe into the world of music videogames like Rock Band and Guitar Hero would be better off starting with the excellent Rock Band 2 instead.