The dog days of summer have arrived, which means that the September 9th release of The Beatles: Rock Band draws ever closer. Information about the game has been coming from a variety of sources; two days ago, we found out that Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will join Abbey Road as the first full albums to be released as downloadable content for the game.
The Beatles: Rock Band (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)
Publisher: MTV Games
To be released: September 9, 2009
Harmonix knows that The Beatles are a band whose audience transcends generational boundaries, so they’ve designed The Beatles: Rock Band with accessibility in mind. MTV is marketing the game through avenues that are unconventional for videogames to reach Beatles fans -- specifically, adults -- who may not necessarily be gamers, and thus, might not have ordinarily been aware of this product.
So what does that mean for the game? Well, all 45 songs are available from the start in Quickplay. Instead of progressing through the Story Mode to unlock new tracks, you play to unlock rare -- and, in some cases, never-before-seen -- media. This comprises photos, audio, and video spanning the entirety of the band’s life. The Story Mode’s main screen lists the game’s songs; they’re organized in chapters based on periods of the Beatles’ career. You start out with their first gig at the Cavern Club, and you make your way through a chronological setup including other famous concerts and albums, all the way through to the rooftop performance on January 30, 1969.
Each song shows your star rating (one to five) and two camera icons signifying unlockable photos. To unlock the first photo, you merely have to complete the song with three stars. But in order to see the second photo, you’ll have to finish it with a five-star rating. Harmonix publicist John Drake explained that it was set up this way so that everyone -- even people playing on Easy difficulty, which has “no fail” turned on by default -- can see at least one photo. But this still offers a challenge for the more skilled, veteran Rock Band contingent, especially the ones attempting to five-star songs like “Birthday” on vocals.
Another feature designed to make life easy for newcomers is the game’s drum teaching. Harmonix added to the drum trainer that came with Rock Band 2; this time, it’s called Drum Lessons. It’s more of a “rudiments trainer” than the beat/fill practice in that game, a result of Harmonix’s “presumption that people coming into this game are probably even less good at drums than people who’ve played Rock Band 1 and 2 -- like, they’re probably even more entry-level.” So it begins with the basics -- eighth notes first, followed by one hand and the kick pedal. The third test has you drumming with both hands, and the fourth lesson puts it all together. As Drake put it, “That’s your first week of drum lessons if you’re nine years old.”
Everything I’ve seen so far of The Beatles: Rock Band indicates that Harmonix has done their very best to ensure that nothing about the game even hints that it’s a mere cash-in, or that it’s “milking” the Rock Band franchise. The unprecedented access that the developer had to the surviving Beatles and their family is being conveyed to gamers. After hearing The Beatles Christmas Record, I remarked, “This [game] is going to make people cry.” And it very well might.