Video Game Review: The Beatles Rock Band

It was clear that The Beatles: Rock Band had fully captivated the imagination of my son Paul when - after hours and hours of playing the new videogame - we all needed to actually take a break and get something to eat.

Heading out the door, I said, "I'll drive."

"No, I'll drive," said Paul, walking over to his car instead.

"Why?"

"Because," he explained, waving a hand toward his blue bug, "it's a Beetle."

After playing the game yourself - with its attention to Fab visual detail and its richly transferred selection of the band's original master recordings - you may find yourself pointing to the screen and honestly believing, "It's a Beatle!"

Been living in a cave? The Beatles: Rock Band takes you from "The Cavern '63" to the "Apple Corps Rooftop '69," following the group's entire career as you learn to play along with 45 songs. As usual with guitar-based videogames, you score points (and increase your accuracy percentage) by reacting when each note, flowing down from the top of your screen, crosses its target near the bottom. And as usual with the all-inclusive style of play pioneered by the Rock Band franchise, you can choose to press frets on a wireless guitar controller, hit pads on a wireless drumkit controller, or sing into a wired microphone. Or, if you've got friends and family, you can all sing and play together.

This edition, however, ups the ante. To achieve the band's wonderful three-part harmonies, the game supports not just one but three microphones. And the controllers aren't just generic instruments but, rather, replicas of the Beatles' instruments. Which means that the bass guitar is modeled after Paul McCartney's Höfner violin bass, the lead and rhythm guitars resemble John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 and George Harrison's Gretsch Duo-Jet, and the drums hark back to Ringo Starr's early Ludwig set, complete with the black-on-white logo of "The Beatles" on a simulated kick-drum head and the pearl-like finish on the sides of the four drum pads.

Allowing for three singers, up to six people can join the band, which means you can use only two of the three Beatles guitar controllers at the same time (one for lead/rhythm guitar lines, one for bass). But then there's nothing stopping you from, say, using George's guitar to play Paul's bass lines.

I reviewed the Xbox 360 version; the game is also available for PS3 and Wii. Whichever you select, you can of course buy the game disc separately ($60) and use almost any instrument controllers you already own (see thebeatlesrockband.com/compatibility). But to truly become the Beatles, you've got to get the Limited Edition bundle ($250), which includes the Höfner and Ludwig controllers, a microphone and a mike stand, the game disc, and a set of eight postcards. If you want the Rickenbacker and Gretsch controllers, you'll have to buy them separately ($100 each); same goes for the extra mikes (you can get wireless ones for $60 each).

The Xbox 360 game-controller replicas (from left): Paul's Höfner violin bass, George's Gretsch Duo-Jet, John's Rickenbacker 325, and Ringo's Ludwig drum kit.

THE BUILD QUALITY

That can add up to a lot of cash. Are you getting your money's worth? Absolutely. The Höfner, Rickenbacker, and Gretsch controllers are gorgeous replicas that you wouldn't mind putting in a guitar stand for display in your living room. Detailing is impressive, from the accurately placed knobs to the Gretsch's Bigsby bridge and tremolo bar. Finishes are beautiful, too, especially on the sunburst-replica Höfner - and not to forget the silvery blue on the sides of the drum pads, a nice touch indeed.

Of course, the game developers had to take some liberties. To keep the Höfner controller compatible with other editions, they had to make it right-handed and add an anachronistic whammy bar. Buy hey, nothing is that real.

Mccartney 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Mccartney 2009, launching the game at E3.

THE GRAPHICS

Skeptics - in other words, those people who have never played a guitar-based game before - will complain that the Beatles themselves don't look that real, or at least that their movements are a bit stilted. However, a certain level of marionette-like quality for characters is a given in these music games, which need to invest the great majority of their resources in the actual gameplay.

That said, these Beatles do look like the Beatles - especially in later years, when features like John's long, flowing hair and Paul's beard help to distinguish them further. You can also tell that the surviving Beatles and widows were consulted on the game when you see how accurately each animated Beatle carries himself and his instrument. Furthermore, there's often excellent detail in lip-syncing. When Paul's heart goes "boom" in "I Saw Her Standing There," you can see him lip both the "oo" and the "m," and when John serenades his "girl" in "Eight Days a Week," you can see both the "r" and the "l." And as my wife, Millie, first noticed, the rendering of the eyes - always a difficult task in games - is especially good.

Meanwhile, rich high-def colors are everywhere, not just in the orange glow of lights as seen onstage at the Cavern but also in the psychedelic images of many of the "Dreamscapes" that help illustrate the three chapters based at Abbey Road Studios (1966-67, 1967-68, and 1968-69). Equally impressive are the game's opening and closing cinematics, designed by Pete Candeland of Passion Pictures, the same folks responsible for the look of the animated rock band Gorillaz.

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