The Beatles: Rock Band Hands-On

We sub in as one of the Fab Four in our first hands-on look at the music game featuring the legendary Liverpool quartet.

If you could choose to jam out a song or two with the Beatles, which songs would you choose? You'll be able to choose for yourself in Harmonix's next major music game project, The Beatles: Rock Band. Announced several months ago, the game has had its proper debut here at E3 2009, including a raucous unveiling at yesterday's Microsoft press conference (complete with appearances by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) and an E3 demo premiering today at Harmonix's stage set up on the show floor, built as a convincing replica of the Abbey Road studios. We were first in line to check out the stage show, ask some questions of game developers, and play the game for ourselves.

First up: the demo. After taking a seat in the demo area, complete with a proper stage and very comfortable chairs, the curtains opened to reveal a band made of Harmonix employees who, after a brief introduction, launched into "I Saw Her Standing There," which happens to be the first song on the band's debut album Please, Please Me. It was the first of three songs played onstage by the band, and the song takes place in the Cavern Club, a Liverpool club where the Beatles first got their start. The Cavern Club is one of five historical venues that will be part of the game, three of which were shown off today.

The second song, "Taxman," was played in the famous Budokan arena in Japan, the locale where the band made its Japanese debut in 1966. Taxman isn't just a showcase for Paul McCartney's active bass playing; it's a great showcase for the three-part harmonies that were a huge part of the Beatles' sound, and also a big aspect of the gameplay in The Beatles: Rock Band.

Before the third song was played, game producers talked about the split career of the Beatles. In the first part of their career, they were the biggest touring band in the world; as the band matured, however, it stopped touring altogether, instead choosing to focus on the process of making music in the studio and using countless innovative techniques to make those albums audio experiences. That change in direction posed a particular challenge for the Harmonix art team. It wouldn't make sense, after all, to have the band playing late period songs in the Cavern Club or Shea Stadium.

The solution? So-called dreamscapes, which are essentially visual reimaginings of famous Beatles songs. In the case of the third song played during the demo, the George Harrison-themed "Here Comes the Sun," the dreamscape features the band starting off the song in the Abbey Road studios (complete with accurate instruments, such as Paul's Rickenbacker bass). As the music continues, the scene shifts out of the studio to the band playing atop a hill in a summer setting, far away from the screaming fans and pressures of international fame, until eventually as the song reaches its climax, the sun slowly rises above them. It's an effective transition, one that makes sense in accordance with the Beatles' mystique and also serves as a chance for the Harmonix art team to flex its creative muscle.

After the three-song demo, we had a chance to speak with Josh Randall, project leader on The Beatles: Rock Band. Our first question was about the inclusion of three-part harmonies, which might pose a challenge for novice players. Randall said that the Beatles game will have a practice mode--much like the drum trainer in Rock Band 2--that will help singers identify harmonies that they might otherwise have trouble spotting. Similarly to how the drum trainer works, the vocal tutorial will let you loop specific sections of a song and even play tones from a particular harmony line that you can sing along to over and over.

While three-part harmonies are available to the Pauls, Johns, and Georges out there, you won't be required to nail them in order to have a great time in the game. In fact, a single vocalist can choose to fly solo with the song, or for a real challenge, players can jump on to vocals and try to sing and play at the same time, much like the Fab Four did. At the end of a song, the game will measure which harmony part a particular singer stuck to the most. If you can execute the three parts, however, you'll get a bonus point modifier (known in the game as "Triple Fab") that will reward your vocal prowess.

During our time with Randall we asked him about the possibility of sharing songs between The Beatles: Rock Band and the other versions of Rock Band (long story short: The Beatles game is a stand-alone product that won't support song-swapping either to or from The Beatles: Rock Band), the possibility of customization (players won't be able to customize their favorite mop top), and the process of remastering the original Beatles catalog for the game.

The 45 songs that will be included on the disc will be unlocked right away for Quick Play fun, though there will be a career mode to play through, and the process of bringing those songs from their humble tape beginnings to their current audio glory was an involved process. As Randall told us, the original masters featured stereo mixes that put instruments in sometimes strange places in the mix (such as the drums in the far right). These mixes wouldn't necessarily work for gameplay, and as a result, the game mixes for The Beatles: Rock Band will be completely unique for the game, separate from the remastered version of the Beatles catalog that will be released this September.

As for our hands-on time with the game, we managed to get two songs in: "Back in the USSR" and "Taxman." For the former, we played guitar and had a great time whipping out Paul McCartney's (not George Harrison, as we learned today) wiry solo in the game. For "Taxman," our chore was to try to reconcile the game's busy bass line with the just-as-active vocal parts and harmonies. It's a fun song to be sure, but the moment Paul McCartney changed the bassline in the second verse, our singing and playing performance took a steep nosedive. Sorry for anyone who witnessed it.

When The Beatles: Rock Band was announced, producers promised a trip through the band's entire catalog accompanied by a visual production that perfectly complemented the music. We can't say for sure that they've fully nailed that goal yet, but we certainly like what we've seen so far. Considering that the game will have plenty of post-release full-album DLC (the first being Abbey Road, naturally), we look forward to taking the long and winding road with the game. Stay tuned for much more on The Beatles: Rock Band in the coming months.

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Discussion

84 comments
MSZN
MSZN

i don't like the Beatles, but the concept of taking old music band is interesting

Un-B-Wii-vable
Un-B-Wii-vable

"Taxman isn't just a showcase for Paul McCartney's active bass playing; it's a great showcase for the three-part harmonies that were a huge part of the Beatles' sound" - FYI: A little Beatles trivia: George Harrison actually played bass on "Taxman', and McCartney played lead guitar. They did switch off instruments frolm time to time. Another bit of info, "Lady Madonna" was recorded with a session group by McCartney - no beatles played at all on the record (which is why it has that authentic 'Fats Domino' type sound).

killer978452
killer978452

This game will be the best yet and will change all the future rock bands made.

latin_boi
latin_boi

So games like Guitar Hero Van Halen and Metallica get blasted for being put out, but the Beatles Rock Band becomes one of the most anticipated games of the year? Something sounds wrong here. I mean...I understand that there are a lot of Beatles fans out there, but that shouldn't make this game any different than what Activision has already done with Guitar Hero.

fatkid22
fatkid22

This is gonna be the best rock band yet.

Jiraiyair94
Jiraiyair94

The Beatles ROOOCK!!! That´s the only thing i´m going to say... OK maybe not... I really like The Beatles and I think it was a very good idea to do a Rock Band game with their songs XD

3trinity56
3trinity56

i am definitely going to buy this. no one can top the beatles

haohmaru11
haohmaru11

this really sucks , i will never buy stupid music games ...it totally sucks bad ...it's for retarded ppl who never listened anything else then what tv or radio gave them

ascortjkk
ascortjkk

brood_alliance ey AC/DC is alredy out -.-

thisisreallybor
thisisreallybor

Music started somewhere. I will buy this, and as mentioned below I would buy a Queen rockband too

brood_aliance
brood_aliance

Finally a good band license (not to say Aerosmith, Van Halen, and Metallica were bad, but nothing can top the Beatles). All I can wish for now is a Queen, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin Rock Band

channel0
channel0

this game is going to be as good as Julie

theBIGtree
theBIGtree

I have to agree with a few people down there, a Stones game might be a little more appealing. I might even suggest AC/DC. That would be fun.

gedbyz
gedbyz

The Beatles are possibly the greatest band in history. I think they deserve their own game. Really hope they make Maxwell's Silver Hammer available.

Madcows
Madcows

Great idea most of the people that are gaming weren't even alive the the Beatles were around. Time to get a younger CEO.

Mr_Me_L33T
Mr_Me_L33T

mehh, i might get it cuz my friend looks like ringo starr, so ill get it for him for his birthday and find some way to lock out all other instruments except ringo lmao

SSBFan12
SSBFan12

I might rent the game but not buy it.

bumsliepsp
bumsliepsp

This is amazing for anybody who loves the Beatles. The fact that they did the remastering is awesome because there are a lot of songs that do sound weird on modern speakers. I hope they put out the entire White Album someday. At the very least Rocky Raccoon. I can't wait for this game.

DbleBassDrummer
DbleBassDrummer

I agree with Mr. Happy, the Rolling Stones would make a phenomenal Rock Band game.

Mr-Happy
Mr-Happy

I have to say that, I'd rather see like, the Stones or something among those lines, but The Beatles are fine too. Although, I can't picture this game being too difficult, hopefully it isn't too easy.

msudude211
msudude211

I really like what they did with the interface for this game. Looks very retro.

gmax
gmax

Maybe I'll know someone else who has this one. Might check it out that way...

Junior_AIN
Junior_AIN

Too much rhythm games out there.

The_AI
The_AI

Wow. Harmonix deserves MAJOR props for this. I can't wait to play it.

faceman420
faceman420

looks cool but I'd rather play prog metal.......................... rock band: dream theater plz!!!

Leos1000
Leos1000

my dad will love this game if he ever trys it xD imma get for his B-Day when it comes by ^_^ besides the beatles are very good and i think they are ok i know all the songs xD my dad plays them all the time ^_^ guys you gotta atleast try it i mean it guitar hero right? ^_^

GiveMeIce
GiveMeIce

Not the best move they could of made.

neonhair
neonhair

I'm really excited for this game, but not enough to spend $250, I guess ill just get the game itself

hollow56771
hollow56771

finally!!! i can play guitar and sing at the same time!!! awesome!!!!!!

macncheese101
macncheese101

All of you shut yo' faces. The Beatles were one of the most innovative bands in history, and without them so many bands nowadays would'nt exsist. Respect your elders.

Masamune31
Masamune31

Precious ears, have we nixx? You're opinions of the Beatles aside, lukas, Rottenwood hit the nail right on the head.

nixxl15
nixxl15

@diabloakaSAHA, really don't like the language, it's forbidenn to curse here :/ @lukas1051, maybe it's true what you are saying, that Metallica and Linkin Park and so on, but you got to remember, there are many Beatles fan on gamespot, and Beatles are one of the most highly anticipated bands of all time, so you gotta respect other's opinions ;), but not negolect your own. My opinion- can't wait for it, I think it's going to be innovative, from the HARD ROCK-METAL style to something different. Worth a try ;).

diabloakaSAHA
diabloakaSAHA

@ lukas1051 Linkin Park is a gimmick, compared to the awsomeness of thE BEATLES, if u hate beatles why bother to post here and humiliate urself.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

@lukas1051 You're allowed an opinion; it's just trollish to mock the Beatles on a thread about an upcoming Beatles game. If you need attention that badly, pop some balloons in a library.

lukas1051
lukas1051

What, I'm not allowed to have an opinion? Sorry I don't like The Beatles, they may be allegedly the greatest band ever, but I hate their music and I'd much rather listen to Linkin Park.

lukas1051
lukas1051

I absolutely detest The Beatles, so this is one game I will not be buying. Why the hell would you want to play as some mop-haired pop band rather than Metallica? The songs will be rubbish for Rock Band considering The Beatles songs are a piece of piss to play IRL, and only 45? Come on.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

My wife and I are absurdly excited for this. We were wondering about harmonizing, and it seems the developers have a full handle on it. The song total seems a little light, but I'm sure it will be remedied with an ample supply of track packs to squeeze a few extra dollars from us. Can't wait.

mhetzler
mhetzler

This game is going to be awesome!!! I can't wait for 9-9-09!!!

Eastcoast93
Eastcoast93

im getting special edition..best game ever!!!

LithuanianGamer
LithuanianGamer

I think I will get this one.Its going to be the first game with a guitar controller I own