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Review: The Beatles: Rock Band

Justin McElroy

In a real sense, debating the "fun" of The Beatles: Rock Band is a worthless exercise. As with other Rock Band games, how much fun you're having is directly proportionate to how much you enjoy the songs, and though you're absolutely entitled not to like The Beatles, it's pretty clear at this point in history that you'd be in the minority.

So, you'll find me talking largely in terms of presentation for this review, since (a) that's really the meat of what you're buying here and (b) it's absolutely, jaw-droppingly, top-to-bottom stunning.

Gallery: The Beatles: Rock Band (07/20/09) | 25 Photos

Though the basic guts of a Rock Band game are here, the experience they've been embedded into feels like no other rhythm game. Sonically, it's flawless, and it's so visually refined that every other music game before it (and likely quite a few after it) is going to look amateurish by comparison.

Every song in The Beatles: Rock Band has gotten it's own visual feel, from the more literal but painstakingly recreated performances on The Ed Sullivan Show and in the Cavern Club to the much more ethereal Abbey Road sessions that blend the band playing in the studio with trippy visuals inspired by the tunes' psychedelic overtones. Even the note buttons (the same color pattern, but with a slightly washed-out tone) are classy.

Beyond the look, each song is buffered with sounds of the band warming up or ad-libbing, giving a real sense of authenticity to each performance, and many of the songs are counted in by Lennon or McCartney.

The extras thrown in to pad the experience, like rare still images and video clips, are a treat even for semi-fans, offering a completely humanizing look that's a nice counterbalance to the nigh-deification going on elsewhere in the title.

The attention to detail extends to the game's instruments, which look gorgeous and play exactly how you'd expect. Me, I'm always going to prefer the Guitar Hero click strum bar to the Rock Band squish, but if you can get past that, it's a really lovely instrument. The totally extraneous, but utterly charming faux bass drum you've probably spied in pictures is the perfect representation of what an exquisitely detailed project this is.

The overwhelming sense that washed over me was that I was taking part in the very first gaming documentary; a band's career told not solely with words or images, but with an interactive soundtrack.

The slavish attention to detail (and the choice to set the game's songs chronologically) does present a few challenges, namely, in the last fourth of the game, which takes a decidedly down-tempo turn and just isn't as fun to play as the rest. It may seem like I'm contradicting what I said earlier -- i.e., the fun equals how much you enjoy the tunes -- but my complaint is more about structure than the individual songs. In this same vein, I could have lived forever and ever and not played the last three minutes of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." I literally had to will my fingers to stay on the frets.

Again, if that's your very favorite Beatles song, there's every chance you'll be transported, but I'd already been ground down by too many late-game plodders to work up much enthusiasm.

The worst complaint you can level against The Beatles: Rock Band is that the end of the foursome's career together doesn't make for a very good ending to a game, which, when I put it that way, is almost ridiculous enough to send my pinky hammering on the Backspace key. This is a gorgeous labor of love that will almost certainly change the level of polish people demand from their music games, and one that -- in perhaps the most telling compliment I can offer -- completely lives up to its inspiration.

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