The Beatles: Rock Band Review: Morning After Edition

Game Name: The Beatles Rock Band
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher(s): MTV Games/Viacom
Developer(s): Harmonix
Genre(s): Music
ESRB Rating: Everyone

When I first played The Beatles: Rock Band, I gave it an “A”. Why? Because I’m a lifelong Beatles junkie. I’d been hyperactively waiting for the game’s release for months. I thought about asking for the game for Christmas, but decided I simply could not wait- the time between 9/9/09 and 12/25/09 was too long to bear. I pre-ordered the game on Amazon and had it shipped to my door- there was no way I was going to go to Best Buy on its release date, only to find it sold out. Truth be told, I also wanted to avoid the expected crowd of Beatles freaks dressed up as cut-rate Sergeant Peppers lined up outside, next to their tents.

When I got the game, I immediately plowed right through it. The Beatles, shit- in a video game! And from a band whose music had never even appeared on iTunes! I was happy as a clam.

…But then what happened?

Am I still playing it anymore? No. Surprised? I am.

I don’t want to slam the game, but give it its due. The problem is that The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out Rock Band video game, or even a real video game at all. It feels like an interactive Beatles exhibit, sponsored by Rock Band, at a museum. It’s fun for about 20 minutes- max- and then you want to move on. At the end of the day it’s little more than a glorified stand-alone track pack. Very little about the game makes you want to invest yourself in it as a person and play it again.

Let’s start with customization. The game, in many ways, is reverent to a fault. I know that some throwbacks are shocked by the fact that these beloved superstars from a different era- two of whom are very much deceased, one murdered- have been recreated in digital, video game form. What a travesty! Who cares.

One huge flaw of this game is that the characters do not function in the same way they do in the other Rock Band editions. Although the Beatles do certainly appear onstage, you cannot play AS the Beatles. You cannot pick one of Beatles and customize their clothes or their body. I was excited to make a Fat John Lennon (a la Fat Elvis), but alas this is impossible. It would have also been cool to create your own character, and see yourself play along with the Beatles onstage. Maybe Rock Band 2 has spoiled me with all these options, but goddammit I wanted to see them in The Beatles: Rock Band.

Another drawback is with incentives to keep playing. Relatively speaking, gameplay in Rock Band 2 ran pretty deep.  When you played with your band, you got the feeling that you were part of a real story, whose twists and turns you could at least in part control. It was a happy moment when I had enough points to be able to hire the spiritual guru for my band. It was a satisfying moment, if a silly one. You do advance through a story in the Beatles, of course- “the” story of Beatles, and their rise to fame from humble Liverpudlian roots. However, there’s so much more to the Beatles story that is never touched upon in the game. Again, the game in this sense is far too respectful for its own good. Wouldn’t it be fun to, after earning enough points, buy a trip to visit India and visit the Maharishi? The other Rock Band editions are full of unlockables. The Beatles: Rock Band has a distinct lack of fun unlockables. After you’ve played through the game once, there’s little extra motivation to pick up and play the game again…except to play those marvelous classic Beatles tunes.

Which brings me to my greatest gripe about the game. The songs. And the lack of them. And, more specifically, the lack of good ones.

What… the… fuck?

45 songs? That’s it?

I understand that these are not ordinary songs. These are Beatles songs (read: $$$). Rock Band 2 was full of filler crap like Lacuna Coil and Bang Camaro and, worst yet, Z-grade cuts from big names (“Shackler’s Revenge” by Guns ‘n Roses? How insulting!). But at the end of the day the game had 80 songs, plus free downloadable extras. At least 50 of the songs were consistently fun the play (and, let’s face it, every once in a blue moon you do get a hankering for Bang Camaro…). It took a long time, in the months, for me to get truly bored with Rock Band 2’s song selection. (I ended up paying $9.99 for the 6 song Toby Keith track pack, just to annoy my roommate- worth every penny!)

By contrast, I ended up getting bored really quickly by the 45 songs in The Beatles: Rock Band. Why?

Because so many of them are crappy. It would be one thing if the 45 songs in the game were the cream of the Beatles. If the game had only 45 songs but they were my 45 favorite Beatles songs, I’d be in hog heaven. Not the case. The game has 20 marquee Beatles tracks at, best. Where was “Norwegian Wood” or “A Day in the Life”? While it was cool to see some obscure Beatles favorites too (like personal favorite “Hey Bulldog”), I was pretty sure their inclusion was motivated by the fact that they were cheaper to put in than the more well-known songs. When it comes to music, the game simply does not give Beatles fans what they want. The whole thing feels like a play for fans to throw down even more cash to get all the Beatles songs they actually want. Which pissed me off. For $59.99, I expected a Beatles game that, musicwise, didn’t feel incredibly thin on classic Beatles tunes.

One aspect of the game that was stunning was the background animations for some of the songs. Two standouts were the incredibly trippy “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Octopus’s Garden”. The problem is that these songs’ animations set such a high standard that most of the rest of the game felt like a huge drop-off by comparison. It really feels like the programmers blew their wad on 5 or so “standout” song animations, leaving the rest as filler.

What else? The three-part harmonies were cool in theory, but who has three microphones? I don’t. The new peripherals are pretty cool, but I don’t have $200 to blow on a new fake Ringo Starr drum kit.

Why am I being such a grouch? Because I love the Beatles and expect so much out of a Rock Band game about them. Don’t get me wrong- I was and still am incredibly stoked to see the Beatles and their music in a video game, especially since the Fab Four had shied away from the digital world for so long.

I like this game. I do. But it lacks too much in too many ways for me to love it, both as a gamer and a Beatles fan. After my brief honeymoon with the game has long since passed, I give The Beatles: Rock Band a disappointing b-.