Video Game of the Week The Beatles: Rock Band

Last week we reviewed Guitar Hero 5, Activision's latest offering in their rock music simulation classic series that has brought video gaming to a whole new generation. Drowning out Guitar Hero, and ushering in yet another Beatles revival, is the release of The Beatles: Rock Band, which represents an amazing accomplishment by the developer Harmonix Music and publisher MTV Games.

The most surprising aspect of The Beatles: Rock Band is that it happened at all. Apple Records and the various owners of The Beatles' music catalogue have been notoriously guarded over who can copy their likeness or utilize the recordings. The fact that Harmonix was able to bring this game to market with cooperation from the two surviving Beatles, as well as Yoko Ono and the estate of George Harrison, is nothing short of remarkable.

As with Guitar Hero and previous editions of Rock Band, gameplay consists of players using "instruments" to try and match scrolling notes as they appear on the screen. Hitting the correct notes in time to the music increases the player's score and builds their performance meter, while missing notes will cause the meter to drop. Players have a choice of lead or bass guitar, vocals using a microphone, or drums.

That the game is more of a celebration of the Beatles than a revolutionary development in video gaming will be immediately apparent to Rock Band veterans. Even in Expert mode, none of the tracks offer an insurmountable challenge to the experienced player. To appeal to as wide an audience as possible, every track is immediately accessible in Quick Play, and a "No Fail" option is available for complete novices. But what the game may lack in difficulty is more than made up for by the joy of playing familiar classics alongside arguably the greatest rock band ever.

The game is structured to lead the player through the high points of The Beatles' remarkable career, with songs specific to each period: from the early days of The Cavern Club, to the US-conquering appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, followed by the hysteria of Shea Stadium, the retreat into the Abbey Road Studio, and that final legendary performance atop the roof of Apple's London HQ.

The Beatles: Rock Band offers fresh insight into the unique styles and personalities of each band member. The tracks have been carefully assembled to ensure John, Paul, George and Ringo are all well represented. The attention to detail also extends to the animations. Each venue along the path of the Story mode is beautifully recreated, with the unmistakable hysteria of Beatlemania etched into the faces of fans. The Beatles themselves, despite a stylistic, cartoony makeover, move, play and lip-synch with uncanny realism.

As with other full band video games, expense is a key consideration, particularly for families that haven't previously ventured into the rock band game market. To enjoy the full Beatles experience you need three mics, a drum kit, three guitars and three mic stands. But this will not come cheap if you or your friends don't already have the kit lying around, with the Limited Edition Premium Bundle costing $250. Some of the peripherals are cross-compatible between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which could ease the burden a little.

Perhaps appropriately with The Beatles, vocals are the biggest challenge. The Beatles: Rock Band supports vocals for up to three people simultaneously, and 27 of the 45 tracks allow the full three-man harmony. Harmonies are far more difficult to sing than a regular melody line, so the game includes a vocal trainer who does a pretty good job of teaching the basics. Even so, vocals are most enjoyable when at least two people sing together.

All in all, The Beatles: Rock Band is a landmark achievement in video gaming, capturing the heart and soul of the legendary band with stunning graphics and flawless storylines. A must for Beatles fans of all ages and an opportunity to bring some of the greatest rock music to yet another generation.

The Beatles: Rock Band is rated Teen, for suggestive song lyrics and some shots of band members smoking.

Publisher: MTV Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii
RRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: "Teen" for age 13 and older

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