The game is officially in Dolby Digital 5.1, but Giles Martin explains the music track he produced with mix engineer Paul Hicks is basically stereo, with ambience in the surround channels and effects/dialogue in the center (and silence in the subwoofer). Even as one of the biggest fans of music in surround, I can honestly say: Nothing wrong with that! Especially when the stereo is made appropriately robust for the game. And especially when the surround channels perfectly reflect the venue, carrying moderate continuous Screaming of the Girls for the chapter on "The Ed Sullivan Show '64" before boosting it big-time for "Shea Stadium '65." My wife was also the first to notice, at the start of a rooftop sequence, the sound of birds flying from the right rear to the left rear. For purposes of placing studio recordings in live settings, some songs are still allowed to fade, but many others are given new cutoffs, which bothered me one time only: for the don't wanna-stop "Taxman," which ends before the second (albeit repeated) guitar solo. I can overlook that, however, in light of getting the entire "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" with the white noise of the ending mixed way down - all the better to play along with (and freshly appreciate) that supreme metal riff.
PLAY THE GAME!
First things first: Don't forget to calibrate! The game has a program to help you sync the controllers to the images and sound, and it's crucial to get this as accurate as possible. Also important is installing the game on your console's hard drive, so that you're playing from there instead of from the disc. As my son Paul remarked after doing this for us and then selecting our first song: "Wow, that's fast loading."
That song was actually one we had previously downloaded: "All You Need Is Love," bringing the game's total to 46 songs. For a limited time, it's available from the game's site for $1.99, with all proceeds benefiting Doctors Without Borders. (Buying it also enters you automatically in a contest, ending December 9, to win a cool Beatles-themed console.) And speaking of downloading, there's more to come: The entire Abbey Road will be made available on October 20 for $16.98, and it will include the option of being able to play the Side 2 medley as one continuous track. Coming in November and December: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul.
If you're new to this sort of game, the tutorials will help. I gotta say, though, that even after practicing the three-part harmonies, they often proved to be devilishly difficult. But singing lead vocals was no problem.
We barreled through the game like a bunch of kids, which was a snap, considering that some of the players were kids (see sidebar on facing page). Gameplay was easy enough for everyone - as long as I stayed in Easy mode! Thankfully, I was able to progress to Medium for all songs. (You can also try your hand at Hard and Expert.) The more rollicking numbers - things like "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Drive My Car" - were especially fun, leaving everyone smiling and, sometimes, laughing outright.
Then came "Helter Skelter." I insisted on attempting this nasty classic at each position in turn: guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Which is to say, "Helter Skelter" played four times in a row. After two plays, I had lost my wife as a bandmate; after three, I had lost my otherwise indefatigable son Paul. But my other son, Tony, soldiered on with me. When it was all over, we didn't have blisters, but we certainly were rockers.
Throughout the game, if you score high enough, you can win prizes like audio clips (such as The Beatles' Christmas Record from 1963), performance segments (a rehearsal of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for a 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance to be broadcast from Miami), and making-of imagery (concept art for the wardrobe and other graphics).
You can also win some truly rare and fascinating photos; by the end of the game, we had earned 61 of an available 104 images. Full disclosure: Brett Milano, a longtime music reviewer for this magazine, works at Rock Band developer Harmonix. He's credited on this game as a writer/researcher, and one of his jobs was to create photo captions. Of course, that won't stop me from correcting a few things that he may (or may not) have been responsible for. To wit: In the caption for the "Twist and Shout" photo, "vocal cords" is misspelled as "chords." And in the caption for "I'm Looking Through You," the absence/presence of the recording's false starts is attributed to mono vs. stereo, where in fact it's an issue of British Parlophone vs. American Capitol. Nonetheless, the captions overall are entertaining and well written, and they include a few bits of trivia that I didn't know myself.
When all was sung and played, a splendid time was truly had by all. And Paul summed it up best: "Rock Band was always good. But Rock Band combined with the Beatles is even better. It just works."
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