VIDEO GAME REVIEW: The Beatles: Rock Band

And when I play you, I get happy inside.

Beatlemania exploded across various forms of media this month as the world threw a collective celebration for the Fab Four. Their CDs were remastered and released in one massive collection. Rolling Stone published an in-depth article explaining why the band broke apart. But the most interactive activity in this impromptu Festival du Beatle has to be Harmonix Music System’s “The Beatles: Rock Band,” which transforms you into the fifth Beatle as you play alongside John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 45 tracks.

Those familiar with previous “Rock Band” titles will understand the game play. “The Beatles” version changes little, simply specializing the menus, animations and between-tunes themes to match the Beatles. There are two options on the game: Quick play (for an immediate trip through the game’s catalogue of songs) and the amazing Story mode. Start a career as a Beatle and you’ll follow the band’s progression from the Cavern club in Liverpool, circa 1963, all the way to the tragic, final days.

And that’s the hook of “The Beatles: Rock Band” – immersion into the total Beatles experience. Whether choosing your own set list or working your way through the Story (unlocking exclusive photos as you go), the game allows you to tear the roof off of a Liverpool pub with a barnburner like “I Saw Her Standing There,” then transition to the studio to soulfully pick the notes of George Harrison’s solo for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The game allows you to play along on guitar, bass and drums, or you can match the band’s vocal prowess by singing into your microphone. I also like to put my hands behind my back and bow in rhythm with the Fab Four. Out of respect, mainly. But also because it makes me (and not Yoko) feel like the fifth Beatle.

The computerized likenesses of the band are fantastic, matching the look of the iconic rockers when they graced the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show or blew the doors off the now vacant Shea Stadium. If there’s a gripe about the game, it’s the absence of certain songs, though full albums reportedly will be made available for download in the near future. And then there’s my favorite location in the game: When “Beatles: Rock Band” puts you on top of Apple’s headquarters so you can strum along on “Don’t Let Me Down” during the Fab Four’s final live performance. That’s the kind of attention to detail and understanding of rock history fans want and need from these games.

But that’s melancholic. Play atop Apple’s brownstone and you are contributing to the Beatles’ demise. It’s a stark reminder that the good times ended – and acrimoniously. “The Beatles: Rock Band” restores harmony to the legacy of the Fab Four. And thanks to games like this, it ensures that the legendary pop music of The Beatles lives on forever.

“The Beatles: Rock Band” is a must-own for fans of the music, and of the current homemade-rock-player genre that’s sweeping living rooms across the universe.

Overall Grade – A

EM Review by
Sean O’Connell
Originally Posted 09.21.09