The Beatles: Rock Band has produced more buzz than any video game since the last Grand Theft Auto. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr took the stage at Microsoft's Xbox press conference at E3 this summer to a standing ovation.
Gamers already know and love the Fab Four. Will the more technophobic members of the Beatles' huge fan base finally pick up a game controller?
In Rock Band, designed by Harmonix Music Systems, the controllers are ersatz guitars, drums and microphones. The object is to match the onscreen notes: If you see a green guitar note, you have to hold down the green fret and hit the strum bar. Drummers must pound colored drumheads, and singers must match pitch and phrasing.
The $250 Beatles premium bundle includes all the gear you need, but you can use instruments from previous Rock Band or Guitar Hero games. And if you have a few extra microphones, you can reproduce the band's three-part harmony.
The game play is intuitive enough that just about anyone can join in, and the use of Beatles songs makes it even more accessible. There are 45 tracks, but no Yesterday or Strawberry Fields Forever. More tunes are on the way, and before the end of the year, you'll be able to download the albums Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul in their entirety.
The initial track list, drawn from all the Beatles' studio albums, smartly follows the band's career arc. It begins with I Saw Her Standing There at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England (the band played a lunchtime session at the club in 1961), followed by gigs on The Ed Sullivan Show and New York's Shea Stadium.
After the band stops touring in 1966, the music gets considerably more challenging. The woolly psychedelia of I Am the Walrus, the ominous proto-metal of Helter Skelter and the minimalist blues of I Want You (She's So Heavy) give a musical outline of the band from its peak to its disintegration, in 1970.
With no concert footage to work from, the Harmonix animators illustrate the studio years with hallucinatory "dreamscapes." Yellow Submarine reprises images from the 1968 movie, and Here Comes the Sun transports the boys to an idyllic field.
It's irresistible, even if you prefer the Rolling Stones. And it could be a gateway for music lovers who have resisted Rock Band.
On the other hand, fans of the genre might be disappointed. Harmonix doesn't offer the depth of its previous games. You get only half as much music, and the linear story mode (you can whip through it in an afternoon) doesn't offer the unpredictable, globe-hopping challenges of the tour mode in Rock Band 2.
Still, this is a first-class production that lives up to the high standards set by the band and developers.