I normally blog about a video game here when I finish playing it; that causes problems with games that I never actually stop playing, and the Rock Band games are the worst offenders in that regard. Still, with Rock Band 3 coming up, I figure it’s time to come to some sort of stopping point with The Beatles: Rock Band.

I decided that I’d declare victory when I’d gone through all the parts (including vocal harmonies) on all the music (including all the DLC). And the fact that I’d do such a thing (indeed, had already almost finished doing that, I only had three album parts to finish before this last push) is both a sign of the excellence of this game and a sign that I’m still sticking with my earlier thesis about the non-fiction nature of the game. Because I learned something over and over again when doing that, whether about the music or about my relationship with the music.

The music: Paul McCartney’s bass lines are awesome. Ringo’s drum parts, while less inspired, are surprisingly pleasant. Playing through the different eras of songs brings home in a very direct way how the band evolved, how much the music changes every couple of years. Drive My Car is super fun to play. The tabla part on Within You Without You is a revelation, completely different from any drum part in any other Rock Band song I’ve played. The trombone part in All You Need is Love is not so much fun to play: the controller has more of an effect than I’d expected. (I had the same experience with the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Symphony #9; more reason to look forward to keyboards, though it won’t be a perfect match with either of those examples, of course.)

And then there’s my relationship with the music. I do a lot better with the drum parts and vocal parts than I do on most Rock Band songs (my vocal range isn’t that great a match for Paul’s, but I actually kind of prefer singing in falsetto, so it ends up a wash); but, despite intending to branch out more, I still ended up spending most of my time on guitar. I’m lousy at vocal harmonies, in particular almost completely unable to hit them if the harmony is beneath the lead vocals; but on those occasions when we do hit them, it feels great. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had when playing a video game; the flip side is that it’s one of the video game experiences I’ve had that is least tied to the medium, which is a somewhat unsettling thought: maybe I should be spending more of my time elsewhere! I tried out simultaneous guitar and vocals, though I also didn’t spend as much time with that as I would have liked; and even for songs where I knew the vocal parts well, playing expert guitar turns out to demand enough of my concentration that singing along became quite difficult. (I wonder how much that speaks to the artificiality of pre-Rock Band 3 guitar parts? It’s not that the mechanics of playing expert guitar parts are necessarily so difficult, I just can’t do them by ear.) And actually medium guitar turned out, in some ways, to also demand more of my concentration than hard: so many of the notes were missing that I had to concentrate a bit more to hit the rhythms.

Also tying in to the nonfiction nature of the game, and to the mentoring power of achievements: the achievements for hitting all the hammers-on and pull-offs in a piece. When I first saw them, I thought it was a fun idea, but it seemed odd to include three such achievements: wouldn’t one be enough?

As it turns out: no. I’m not a guitarist in real life, so doubtless Dan will correct the details here, but it turns out that the three songs use hopos in rather different ways. Octopus’s Garden is the most traditional; the hopos are rather elaborate but ultimately they’re there for runs of notes. In Dig a Pony, however, you’re sort of sliding around the guitar; in particular, it has the highest proportion of chord hopos. And in Dear Prudence, the actual music is finger picking instead of strumming, so the hopos are used for notational purposes, to heighten the fact that you’re simultaneously picking out a melody part and harmony parts.

Quite a game. It’s a real shame that the other ten albums didn’t make it out as DLC; but Harmonix had good enough taste in the three albums that they chose and in the on-disk content that I don’t feel too sad about that. And, after all, I have thirty or so pieces of regular Rock Band DLC sitting on my hard drive that I haven’t gotten around to playing; I should really take care of that before Rock Band 3 lands…

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