Greg Hunter

Preview: The Beatles: Rock Band

In Games on August 19, 2009 at 9:08 AM

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There’s an undeniable magic to the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series, a magic that has propelled the two franchises to collectively gross over three billion dollars in sales. But that magic is a fleeting type, mostly vicarious thrill and excitement. The big question for The Beatles: Rock Band is whether that thrill and excitement can lead to something deeper and more profound than the rush you get  after completing Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” on expert difficulty.* Does it fall short? Or soar like most of The Beatles’ songs so easily did?

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While the mechanics of the game remain the same as its predecessors, large sections of the game have been stripped away in order to increase focus on The Beatles’ songs. Most importantly, the experience of being booed off the stage has disappeared. I’m particularly disappointed by this change; the booing and the failure were one of the chief reasons why being successful in the game was so much fun. Anyone who has played Guitar Hero for any extended amount of time can probably replay in their minds how the crowd and the guitars sound and how the characters look seconds after failure. Without the booing, The Beatles merely fade from the screen as “Song Failed” pops up. The flourishes and tweaks Rock Band usually allows players to add into the song are also gone. I guess this shouldn’t be too unexpected—Did you really expect to be able to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo get booed off Shea Stadium’s stage or did you really expect Paul McCartney would let you add notes to his bass line in “Dear Prudence”—but these creative and risk restrictions affect important parts of the game.

So what, besides being able to play The Beatles songbook, do you get in exchange for the creative limitations? Well, it sure looks like a lot. Just watch the preview video above. Without having to accommodate individual avatars with their own special hairdos, the background animations are elevated from just occupying screen space to an artistic experience. Without being forced to choose whether you’ll play John or Paul’s line, the camera can move and fly about. One moment on John, the next on Paul, the next, the band is floating through space. It looks trippy and immersive. It was said that McCartney wanted as life like characters as possible, but luckily the designers convinced him otherwise. The highly stylized Fab Four look great. For you young kids, remember imagining what Hogwarts looked like before you saw the movies, and how much of a let down seeing the CGI photo-realistic  Hogwarts was? After watching the preview for the new game, I thought to myself that is how I feel when I’m watching some of those Beatles’ songs. And I hope that when I get to play the game, I’ll get a little bit of glimpse of what it felt like to be one of The Beatles.

*I love Guitar Hero, but I don’t want to hear about how it improves musical ability or encourages kids to a greater interest in playing instruments. Let’s just accept that the games are fun and may or may not be a completely novel way of interacting with music.

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