Paint me cynical, but releasing a solo band version of a music rhythm game seems opposed to everything the genre has come to be so popular because of. With weekly DLC both so lucrative and popular, piecing together forty or so songs from a band history, adding a few visual tweaks, and applying it to an established formula with few enhancements appears regressive.
Despite swimming against everything the Rock Band franchise stands for, The Beatles: Rock Band works. Partly because The Beatles have such a varied, agreeable catalogue of music, partly due to the Rock Band formula itself. But unlike Guitar Hero’s Metallica and Aerosmith titles, The Beatles have also received a bit of love.
Most noticeably, the aesthetics have been tweaked to capture the spirit of the band. The familiar note chart is a little more colourful, as too are the menus, whilst the cut scenes are both extravagant and inventive. Collectively they make the game more personal than standard Rock Band titles, and the cut scene art design in particular is ravishing.
Rather than adopting the Rock Band 2 World Tour mode, the ‘Story’ documents the bands’ history from ’63 to ’69. It’s chronological, and encompasses 45 of the bands most noteworthy songs. There are a number of notable omissions (Eleanor Rigby, All You Need is Love), but what is there is remarkably varied and whilst veteran Rock Band aficionados won’t have any difficulty finishing it, the four hours or so are a blast to play through.
But it’s evidently a platform for future downloadable content, and that doesn’t sit well, especially in light of the lack of new features. The challenge mode is identical to the story mode, sans the breaks between songs in each chapter, and a lacking multiplayer means you’re paying full retail price for half the songs of a standard Rock Band/ Guitar Hero title, and a new layer of paint. If you’ve spent the ludicrous £179.99 for the custom instruments as well, being denied some of the bands’ biggest hits is going to sting for some time.
Harmonix do pay fan service though, the infamous Abbey Road sessions take place within the studio but quickly move on to vivid videos – the animations are again ravishing and there’s so much happening on screen, it’s a shame it’s wasted on the player, with your eyes fixated on the note chart, missing the spectacle almost entirely.
Adjourning the loading screens are previously unheard sound bytes, and unlockable photos round out a somewhat rewarding experience for the bands’ bigger fans.
But in spite of just how well it captures the band, and the quality of the production, it never outruns the fact that it is innately counter-intuitive to everything that Rock Band, as a franchise, is built on.
45 songs from one band, no matter how varied, just aren’t going to appease a room full of varied music tastes. Which flirts with the dangerous notion that, unless you met all your friends at a Beatles fan club meeting, this is a lonely experience. Rock Band certainly works alone, but it excels as a shared pastime and The Beatles doesn’t subscribe convincingly to that.
And by not allowing Beatles songs to be downloaded to Rock Band 2, nor content from this disc transferred into the larger Rock Band library, Harmonix are severing the platform they’ve strived so hard to create.
As a documentation of the bands’ career it’s a lovingly created game, perfectly in tune to the look and feel of one of the most influential bands of all time. But as an addition to the successful Rock Band franchise, it’s a step backward for a series that, in a relatively short space of time, has progressed so far.