E3 2009: The Beatles: Rock Band

Putting one of the best-known video game franchises together with the music industry's all-time biggest brand name seems like a no-brainer way to sell a lot of plastic discs.

Putting one of the best-known video game franchises together with the music industry's all-time biggest brand name seems like a no-brainer way to sell a lot of plastic discs. We've previously voiced our concerns about the timing of this long-in-the-making first foray by The Beatles into digital music, but even if this might have a bigger money machine a year ago, it's still virtually guaranteed to be the one game coming out of E3 that nongamers will sit up and take notice of.

Unlike previous music game forays by Metallica, AC/DC, and Aerosmith, the Beatles version of Rock Band goes to great pains to stand out visually from the main Rock Band franchise. The graphics, menus, and interfaces are all new, and all designed to emphasize the historic nature of this collaboration.

The trippy magical history tour look through the band's past reminded us of the recent Beatles-based Las Vegas show, Love. 3D avatars of John, George, Ringo, and Paul change their looks depending on the era, and while standard Rock Band plastic instruments will work fine, MTV Games would no doubt prefer you to buy the new versions, modeled after some of the band's iconic gear (such as Paul's Hofner bass).

A key element in capturing that Beatles sound is the vocal harmonies, and for the first time, a guitar-based music game has allowed more than one singer at a time. Even for a musically minded type, pulling that off in front of an audience can be especially humbling. Also, trying to play an instrument and sing at the same time, while keeping an eye on both parts as they zip by the screen, is very challenging, which we discovered while trying to play and sing George Harrison's "Taxman." During one of our attempts at playing the game, we switched off with a group including Dhani (son of George) Harrison and Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse.

The set list will satisfy most mainstream fans, but the 10 tracks out of 45 already announced veer a bit too heavily toward the overplayed oldies radio hits for our tastes. The completist in us, perhaps just to be difficult, would love to see rocking rarities such as "Hey Bulldog" included. (Although it very well may be).

Downloadable content will be a big part of the Beatles: Rock Band experience, and the first DLC pack announced for the game is the full album of Abbey Road, to be available shortly after the game's September 9 release. Additionally, the single "All You Need is Love" will be an Xbox 360 DLC exclusive, with proceeds going to charity. No word yet on an unlockable Pete Best mode (with apologies if you've heard that joke 50 times already).

About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.

 

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