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Posted by David Collins on June 9, 2009

E3 First Look: The Beatles: Rock Band

I’m not a Beatles fan. Sure, I like some of their songs, but I can’t be classified as a fan. I have never bought a Beatles album either. I grew up with Hair Metal, so The Beatles were too “classic” for me. I also wasn’t a music game fan. I didn’t jump on the Guitar Hero band wagon. When Rock Band first released, I didn’t jump on that either. In fact I didn’t even start seriously thinking about getting Rock Band until just this past holiday season when I was trying to find games we could play as a family. We found a killer deal at Toys R Us on the Rock Band 2 Special Edition, so we picked it up. Little did I know that it would become a massive hit in this house. So, here I sit, 6 months later, with both Rock Band & Guitar Hero band sets plus an extra guitar & more DLC songs than I can count. I didn’t think I would care about The Beatles: Rock Band. Why should I? I have everything I need now & as I’ve said, I’m not really a Beatles fan. But after E3, I discovered I do care about The Beatles: Rock Band. ALOT!

When I arrived at the Harmonix booth, I was immediately ushered into a large room decorated to look like Abby Road (the most famous recording studio in the world & the place where The Beatles recorded their most famous album). On the stage was the full special edition kit that will be sold with the game. One of the producers of the game was on stage, talking a bit about the game, but he spoke so fast that I missed a lot of it. They played a few songs for us & the most striking thing was just how much the experience felt…accurate to the era. It felt right for the period of time they are trying to convey. Once the demo was done, I was ushered into a sort of free-play area. They had 3 stages set up with The Beatles: Rock Band & several kiosks with PSP’s running Rock Band Unplugged. Naturally most people were surrounding the stages. At this point I got to play a song, but let me skip ahead to when I was done and I was able to site down & chat with Josh Randall (the game’s Creative Director).

My first question for Josh was about the journey to get the license for The Beatles. Apple Core (the company who manages all the license requests for The Beatles) doesn’t hand out the rights freely. I figured there would have been some kind of battle between MTV Games & Activision to get the rights. But that was not the case. Josh said that Apple Core was on board right from the start. The biggest request they had was they wanted something different. This naturally led them to create a band-specific title, similar to the Metallica & Aerosmith titles that Guitar Hero has released. From start to finish, this game has been 2 years in the making with the last year & a half being the actual construction of the game. Harmonix had unprecedented access to all the The Beatles recordings, film footage, notes, etc… along with the involvement of the surviving members of the band.

So what’s different? What gameplay changes have they done to set this title apart from Rock Band 1 & 2? Well, the most obvious one is the game has 3 part harmonies. Now up to 6 people can play the game. The practice mode will allow each person to practice with different modes (i.e. same harmonies or varying scales). The next big difference is the Easy mode will now be automatic ‘No Fail’. So if you have a player who isn’t very good or a child that wants to play, set them to Easy & you’re good to go. Lastly, there really isn’t a Tour Mode this time. It’s more of a Story Mode, which follows the progression of the band from their breakout on the Ed Sullivan Show to their final years together in the 1970’s. All the venues played will be actual venues The Beatles really played in. They will also be appropriate for the time frame you’re in during the Story Mode (meaning you won’t play the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1970’s, Since that took place much earlier in their career). You will also see how the visuals will change as you progress. As the player reaches Abby Road, the visuals get more psychedelic & colorful.

All songs both in the game & offered as DLC will be actual songs performed by The Beatles. No covers from other artists. None of the songs (on the disk or the DLC) will be compatible with the previous Rock Band titles (but it will be compatible with the instruments). This was a creative decision as Harmonix didn’t feel the proper Beatles experience can be conveyed with just the music. The first piece of DLC will be All You Need Is Love & the proceeds from that song will be donated to charity (Doctors without Borders). At this point, no exclusive songs have been announced for the other platforms, but I wouldn’t rule it out. The next piece of DLC will be the full Abby Road album. The game will ship with 45 songs. Here are the ones we have confirmed:

  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand
  • I Feel Fine
  • Day Tripper
  • Taxman
  • I am the Walrus
  • Back in the USSR
  • Octopus’s Garden
  • Here Comes the Sun
  • Get Back

Overall, I came out impressed. When you play it, it just feels a bit different than previous titles. I don’t know if it’s the play style of The Beatles or the visuals or maybe a combination of the two, but it was just a different experience than what Rock Band players are accustomed to. The instruments are so much better looking than the Rock Band 2 instruments. The whole package just has that touch to it that makes it feel like a Beatles product. With the amount of obvious care Harmonix has put into handling the license, I can just imagine what they would have done with the Metallica license. I hope to have more on The Beatles: Rock Band as we get closer to launch. It will be available on September 9th, 2009 for the Xbox 360, PS3, & Wii.

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