The Beatles. The name is instantly recognizable to almost everyone.  Over a ten year span from 1960 to 1970, the group from Liverpool recorded some of the most influential and revolutionary albums, enjoyed enormous success, and served as manifestation of the cultural revolution of the times.

There are a lot of music games out for virtually every platform, yet none of them have ever included this legendary band’s music. The Beatles are notoriously protective over their likeness and intellectual properties, something that has aggravated fans for years. Luckily (through what was undoubtedly an expensive purchase), EA, MTV Games, and Harmonix were able to sign a revolutionary licensing agreement which allows the use of the Holy Grail of music libraries. For the first time you are able to experience life as John, Paul, George and Ringo.

At the MTV Games booth at E3, I had the opportunity to check out the game. As expected, Harmonix kept the basic setup of the successful Rock Band games. The prospect of playing new songs made the appointment highly anticipated.  The first song we played was I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a song written early in the Beatles’ odyssey.

A Harmonix representative explained the basics of the game and also informed us that the game supported backup singers, a key component of the Beatles’ sound.  I sang lead.  I noticed there were two other icons on the karaoke section of the screen.  These icons allow the guitarist and bassist to sing along in harmony. When playing I Feel Fine I came to the realization that singing and playing guitar simultaneously was a difficult task. Luckily, when playing an instrument, singing can do nothing but help the player. In other words, you won’t fail the song if you are incapable of handling two things at once.

The next song we played, I Am the Walrus, was important to the demo as it showed diversity unseen in the previous Rock Band games. As aforementioned (and something everyone should know), the Beatles dramatically changed both physically and musically during the 1960s. They morphed from a pop group with mop-top haircuts to psychedelic visionaries with extravagant wardrobes and facial hair.  I Am the Walrus is a key song to play in order to understand why the game generates excitement.

After playing music from early in the Beatles’ career, this song made it seem like a completely different game. Of course, the musical style is vastly different, but it is the visual style that changes and creates an entirely new ambiance.  You are no longer playing to the screams of teenage girls. Instead the dazzling colors representative of the psychedelic drug experience are constantly swinging in patterns across the background. The group members also reflect the changes as they don extravagant costumes and sport unruly hair and mustaches.

In past Rock Band games, the user-created band would play all the big cities in a variety of developer created venues. However, in the Beatles Rock Band, you will not only experience the Beatles’ career by playing as the members of the band, but also by playing their most important locales. The early songs are played in places such as the set of the Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium, while the later songs could be performed on the rooftop where the Beatles played some of their last songs. These settings add an extra sense of immersion, something that was missing from other band specific music games.

The experience of playing as the Beatles is complimented further by the addition of replicas of the Beatles’ instruments in the special edition version of the game. Besides looking similar, the instruments feel much sturdier than those bundled with previous versions. The drums in particular are a large improvement over those packaged with Rock Band 2. Eventually cymbal attachments were released for the Rock Band drum set, but in Beatles Rock Band, the Ludwig drums include the cymbals which greatly enhance the experience.

After playing a few more songs, it became clear that Beatles Rock Band was one of the most impressive games at the show. Allowing players to be members of one of the greatest bands of all-time is an experience that developers of music games have attempted to create for years. The small taste of what should be a robust final product made it clear that the Beatles Rock Band is shaping up to be a must-have game when it is released on September 9.

With only one real full-band music game on the market last holiday, the competition between Guitar Hero III and Rock Band could hardly be called a true match-up. This fall, however, will finally see the two rhythm-based rivals battle it out on even ground, as Activision has brought the Guitar Hero franchise up to speed with Guitar Hero: World Tour’s full-band complement. The recent news of peripheral harmony may have taken some of the edge off the prospect of choosing between these two titles, but what about people looking for their first band experience? Last year merely marked the rhythm genre’s initial ascendance into the mainstream, so without a doubt more people than ever will be looking to jump in this holiday. That’s why we’re here, to settle all consumer confusion with a concise breakdown of what these games have to offer, and which is worth your money.

The Gameplay

Rock Band 2: In the first Rock Band, Harmonix began crafting a more laid back rhythm game series, with a noticeably easier difficulty than the more recent iterations of Guitar Hero. The game also possesses a “No Fail” mode, for when you might have some guests over that just want to have fun, instead of getting booed off stage in the middle of their favorite song. While it may not have the intense boss battles of World Tour, Harmonix will be delivering a “Battle of the Bands” mode for all the competitive metal heads out there. Every day new challenges for different bands to compete in will be updated that range from a wealth of different goals and objectives besides acquiring more points than the other guy. Rock Band 2 is clearly all about becoming the best way to gather a group of music loving friends, and get the fun started fast.

GH: World Tour: If you’ve played Guitar Hero III, you’ll know the series has headed into a more fast-paced direction when it comes to the number and speed of notes that players have to contend with, and World Tour is no different. To make things challenging for the entire band, there is no ability to save a member who has failed during a song, when you’re out you’re out. World Tour offers many gameplay modes similar to Rock Band 2, such as an on or offline tour mode.  One unique trait it does possess is the inclusion of boss battles, bringing in original music from some of the genre’s biggest icons. If the virtual presence of Ozzy Osbourne, Sting, and Jimmy Hendrix help make your rock experience all the more real, then World Tour might win the battle for you, just be prepared to bring the talent.

The Music

Rock Band 2: Gameplay and graphics are big components of most videogames, but when it comes to the rhythm genre the music takes centre stage, which is why both games have gone to great lengths to give players the most comprehensive and classic of lineups possible. At the onset, Rock Band 2 will feature 84 songs, all of which are masters. Shortly after the game’s release, an additional 20 (FREE) songs will become available.  That’s over a hundred tracks! Since Harmonix has always stressed Rock Band’s status as a platform rather than simply a game, it has also gone through the trouble of allowing nearly all the tracks from the first game to be transported into Rock Band 2 for a nominal fee.

GH: World Tour: Not to be outshined, Activision will be releasing World Tour with over 85 songs that are also 100% masters. Although Harmonix has been a little keener on releasing downloadable music, the developers at Neversoft are promising more frequent deliveries of content with World Tour. Something that may also aid the longevity of the game is the ability for users to create their own music, but we’ll save those details for the customization section.

Now we’re not going to list all the known songs for both games, but here’s a peek at each game’s most eminent exclusive offerings.

RB: Guns N Roses “Shackler’s Revenge”                      GH: Van Halen “Hot for Teacher”
RB: Judas Priest “Painkiller”                                           GH: Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train”
RB: Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give it Away”                      GH: The Eagles “Hotel California”
RB: AC/DC “Let There Be Rock”                                   GH: Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze” (Live)

The Customization

Rock Band 2: The original Rock Band sported a pretty beefy character creation system, but there was a problem, your custom character was restricted to just one instrument. Harmonix has rectified this issue, now allowing your character to take any position in the band, and is also supplying even more features to make your rock star unique. Clothing, body piercings and original tattoos can all be placed on your avatar, and to help give them more personality their movements on stage can be tweaked as well. In terms of musical adjustments, Rock Band brings less specific features to the table than World Tour, but does allow you to create a custom set list before any quick play session, meaning you don’t have to keep returning to the menus after every song.

GH: World Tour: Like Rock Band 2, World Tour will allow you to build your own character, but unlike Rock Band 2, you’ll be able to customize a completely original guitar, from scratch. Despite all this, the biggest customization feature, and most exciting part of the game altogether, is the inclusion of a very professional instrumental music creation program (sorry, no vocals). The program, which can quantize any off beat notes to make composition easier, will let players upload their songs onto a download service called GH Tunes, and become available in any difficulty for the community to enjoy. This may just be World Tour’s most important strength, and if done right it will bring an entirely new dimension of musical realism to videogames.

The Instruments

Rock Band 2:
The original Rock Band supplied Harmonix with their first foray into the production of peripherals (no longer having the assistance of Red Octane) and boy was it obvious. There are no fundamental changes with the sequel’s instruments, but all have obtained some key enhancements in order to avoid any “accidents”. The Fender Stratocaster makes a return with a new sunburst finish paint job, quieter fret buttons, a two piece strum bar, and an auto calibration system to easily ensure the sound is in tune with your TV’s visual output. The drums (now wireless) come with  a metal reinforced bass pedal, as well as quieter velocity sensitive pads that react to the amount of force put on them, and reflect it through the game’s volume.  Users wanting a more intricate drumming experience can make such expansions by separately purchasing up to three cymbals, and an additional bass pedal. Given what Harmonix learned from the first game, the full band pack for Rock Band 2 is a great set of instruments to start with if you’re new to music games.

GH: World Tour:
While Harmonix attempts to perfect the functionality of their instruments, Activision is still trying to figure out new ways to convince consumers to invest in yet another plastic guitar. World Tour’s guitar controller possesses some minor tweaks such as a large Star Power button.  The most intriguing addition is the touch sensitive slider on the lower portion of the neck, meant to be used with no strumming on complex solos, and can even serve as a way to alter the sound of sustained notes. World Tour’s release will also mark the debut of the franchise’s first drum set, which differs somewhat from Rock Band’s, equipped with three pads, two cymbals, and a kick pedal. The elevated cymbals are probably what sets World Tour’s drum set apart the most, making for what Activision calls a more realistic set of drums.

Those are about all the facts we can give you, and honestly neither game necessarily trumps the other. Both feature a set of high-quality peripherals, and neither of the song line ups should leave you feeling cheated. The choice will really depend on which game’s unique take on the rhythm genre appeals to you more, be it the ever changing daily challenges of Rock Band or the in depth music creation system of World Tour. It appears that Activision is taking a more enterprising stance in giving you ultimate access into the world of rock, where Hamronix on the other hand is all about supplying the best collective musical experience possible that can be shared with friends. Ultimately the better game will be decided by you, the consumer. So rock on, in whichever way you choose…

To say that the Guitar Hero franchise has left quite an impression on the gaming world would be an understatement.  While skepticisms arose prior to the first game’s release for its sheer ambition and rather high price tag, the game proved to be well worth the extra money and became the quintessential music-based game.  After the release of Guitar Hero 2 (and in the middle of production on Rocks the 80’s) developer Harmonix went straight to work on an even more ambitious project that quickly surfaced under the name of Rock Band.  Rock Band pushes the ambition and price tag envelopes even further (at a paycheck-killing $170 with a mic and drum kit in addition to a guitar), but is the game really worth all the fuss?

Guitar Hero veterans will likely be going into Rock Band expecting a very familiar welcoming but the game has a number of differences that help it stand on its own.  For instance, Rock Band does away with the pre-made character selection and lets the player create their own rocker.  As you beat songs and gain cash, more items will become available to you so modifying your character doesn’t become old quickly (it can get addicting if you really get into it).  While Guitar Hero fans might miss their favorite pre-made shredders making your own character is definitely the preferred route in the long run.

Solo players will want to head to the Single Player tour area where they can choose to play through the songs Guitar Hero style in a campaign that’s oriented towards guitar, drums or singing.  The single player portions feel a little too tried and true but for what it’s worth there’s still some fun to be had.  But the beauty of Rock Band doesn’t come out until you have more than one person playing.  Have four people taking a single instrument in the Band World Tour mode (which we’ll get into later) or the Band Quick Play and you’ll find yourself playing what’s quite possibly the best party game ever.

The Rock Band bundle comes with the game and three weapons of rocking: a Fender Stratocaster replica, a standard microphone and a four pad drum set complete with a bass pedal.  Included is a multi-USB port hub with four slots that connects to your Xbox 360 but will also need to be plugged into a power outlet so that you can play all four instruments with convenience.  The microphone requires an extra controller for selecting options at the menus but otherwise it acts as you’d expect.  Rock Band’s included guitar controller is a bit of an odd case so your liking of it will likely vary.  The strum bar is very flimsy opposed to the click strum bars for Guitar Hero and the fret buttons are the actual frets rather than merely a nub-like button.  There’s also a second set of frets near the guitar body that can be used during guitar solos (indicated by the fret board on-screen becoming blue) without strumming.  Topping things off is a longer whammy bar and an effects switch for multiple sound pitch changes (None, Echo, Wah-Wah, Chorus and Flange).  The guitar controller isn’t necessarily bad, but most players will likely see a preference in the older Guitar Hero controllers.

Then there’s the drum set which comes with a bass pedal and two actual drum sticks and is definitely the most interesting and exciting of the instruments.  This is thanks in part to the fact that the drums are a whole new peripheral that hasn’t been realized until now.  What also helps make this instrument particularly enjoyable is how closely it mimics actual drumming.  Like the guitar and bass portions of the game, you’ll need to hit the notes that come at you on the board for the drums.  While hitting the notes on the drum pads is typically easy the included bass pedal makes things a great deal more challenging.  In addition to hitting the drum pad notes, wide orange notes stretching across the whole drum board indicate when the pedal will need to be pressed with your foot.  It may sound simple in theory, but just like with the guitar it will take time and practice to really master this part of the game.  One note of caution about the drums is there is a chance the bass pedal may snap on you, so you’ll likely want to tap lightly and without any footwear when playing the drums, especially on higher difficulties.  The copy we used has been holding up pretty well so far but there is still that possibility.

Finally there’s the microphone that also comes with the game for the vocal parts.  These sections work pretty similarly to SingStar in that you’ll need to hit the right pitch in order to get through the vocal parts.  Lower difficulties are more lenient towards missing the right pitch but higher difficulties will demand spot-on pitch changes.  While singing will usually be the last part of the song someone will want to take part in there are some songs that will be hard for several to resist.

Speaking of the songs in the game, Rock Band is in no short supply of popular and well-known songs.  The genre variety here is pretty good, spanning from grunge to punk and a couple lighter forms of metal.  There are fifty-three songs preloaded on the Rock Band disc, thirteen of which make up the bonus songs now under a menu called “Play Bonus Tour”.  You’ll find yourself rocking out to memorable anthems such as “In Bloom” by Nirvana, “Learn To Fly” by Foo Fighters, “Epic” by Faith No More and more difficult hitters such as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and The Outlaws’ “Green Grass and High Tides”.  While Rock Band’s pre-loaded soundtrack quantity doesn’t exactly stand tall against Guitar Hero 3’s seventy-one preloaded songs, the game offers plenty of downloadable songs to extend the replay value.  And not only are the downloadable songs available for Rock Band cheaper than those for Guitar Hero 3 (nearly half as much at 160 points per song instead of 300) but there are far more available (the total amount of songs for Rock Band towering over 130 whereas Guitar Hero 3 still has less than 100 songs available for shredding).  And while Rock Band’s soundtrack doesn’t have quite as many songs as Guitar Hero 3 the quality of the soundtrack itself is arguably better, especially with all but a certain few songs being master tracks.  Needless to say, Rock Band has more than enough to keep you coming for more and more rocking out.

But what good are all these available songs if none of them are any fun to play?  Well, don’t fear, because Rock Band’s songs are far more manageable than those in Guitar Hero 3.  Admittedly the less difficult songs might not feel so spot-on with the guitar notes to Guitar Hero veterans, but the game still manages to hit a perfect balance between challenge and fun (something many games struggle with).  But the real beauty with Rock Band’s difficulty is that the guitar-oriented part of the game is the only one that most should be able to jump right into.  The introduction of vocal and drumming sections guarantee that everyone who plays can hope to go from a beginner to eventually a master with at least one instrument.

Rock Band really isn’t so much about mastery as it is about working together and just having a fun time with your friends.  Whenever you get together with your friends and begin playing through the songs with every instrument the concern of difficulty is almost non-existent.  The game is far more cooperative than competitive so those who like to brag about being superior more than working with others might not see the beauty at first.  Fortunately it’s almost impossible to resist being able to just enjoy rocking out in a game with your friends.  Once you find that one song you’ve loved and known since you were a child like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and begin playing together it’s very easy to feel like you’re actually performing on-stage as The Who.

Really Rock Band’s only weakness as a multiplayer game is when you look at the online portion of the game.  While one might think a game that’s as multiplayer-oriented as this would have a very deep and involved online portion it couldn’t be any more disappointingly simple.  The only option offered for online play in a band is a Player Match in Quick Play, meaning that after you get together with any other number of people for one song and perform you’ll need to search all over again.  While the game’s two other means of multiplayer Tug of War and Score Duel (much like Guitar Hero’s Face Off and Pro Face Off respectively) are also available for online play they really don’t add much to the replay value that can be gathered via online play.

Fortunately, the lackluster online mode really doesn’t hurt the game too much in the long run.  While more and more games are trying to usher in the online possibilities nowadays, Rock Band’s really more about local multiplayer rocking.  You’ll still get a rocking feeling while playing the game online, but compared to playing with others beside you making the rock group on stage feeling come out more, online play here isn’t much of a concern.  About the only issue you might have with playing the game in a local multiplayer fashion is if your gaming area isn’t too large.  Having someone take up the drums with two people playing guitar parts can take up a decent amount of space so don’t be too surprised if at least half your room is filled by you and your friends in this scenario.

One final note about the game is its presentation and graphical quality.  While more and more games are trying to break ground by having sharp visuals, the Guitar Hero games have leaned less towards this aspect than anything.  Even though the visuals in most games are usually just for show Rock Band’s actually improve the experience for when you notice what happens on the virtual stages.  The amount of detail in Rock Band’s visuals might not strike your eye at first but as you keep playing you’ll notice certain details that really make the game look nice.  Perhaps the most impressive part of Rock Band’s graphics technically is how accurate and detailed the animations are.  The NPC’s that replicate the bass, guitar and drum playing look like they’re actually playing and the game will even zoom in on the guitar so you can see each note hit on the strings of the guitars.  It really leaves quite an impression when you see just how spot-on the animations are.

Helping to make Rock Band’s visuals stand out even more is the game’s excellent presentation.  While playing, you’ll notice the environments behind the nearly transparent fret boards alter their color and even slow down during certain parts to give the game a more 80’s like effect (or “tripping out” as some might call it).  The game’s menus are all nicely laid out and organized with some nice touches made such as mini-scale versions of the cities you’ll be readying to play in (these cities range from Boston, to Paris and even Stockholm).  Navigating through the game and seeing the little details put into the game before you even pick a song to play is a real pleasure and does well to give you that pre-rock concert excitement.

At the end of the day (or night even), Rock Band is easily one of the best party games ever made and one of this generation’s best, most enjoyable experiences.  Few games can really make you feel like you’re truly somewhere other than your bedroom while playing, but Rock Band manages to pull this off with ease.  If Guitar Hero didn’t quite bring out the rock star in you, Rock Band is almost guaranteed to make you feel like the biggest rocker in the world.  And if Guitar Hero did make you feel like a real shredder, then Rock Band will take that feeling to the next level.  The game’s price tag is quite hefty, but after playing this game, $170 will make it feel like a steal.