"As made famous by." Guitar Hero veterans will remember that phrase all too well as the euphemism employed early in the series to convey the fact that you were playing not the original version, but a cover. "As made famous by Boston"; "As made famous by Queen"; "As made famous by Ozzy Osbourne".
How times have changed. Billions of dollars and tens of millions of game sales later, master recordings are the standard rather than the aspiration, and recording artists increasingly find themselves legitimately labelled "As made famous by Guitar Hero", or "As made famous by Rock Band".
From banging on record label doors, begging and bidding for content on a tight budget, to rockers falling over themselves even in a sober state to bag a place on what have become playlists that can make a band - that's happened in just four years. But as big as Activision and MTV's music giants have become, they're not The Beatles. Nothing and no-one else is.
So the first important point to make about The Beatles: Rock Band is that it's amazing it even exists. It's music's most valuable catalogue, one which has still never been released digitally - yet next Wednesday gamers can download All You Need Is Love from Xbox Live, with full album downloads of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper already confirmed to follow.
Complete the Story mode, and the endlessly rolling non-developer credits reveal a Gordian knot of unfathomable corporate complexity and competing interests. Somehow, Harmonix has not only handled that, but has then gone on to produce a celebration of such incredible care and artistry it sets a new standard by which all band-specific game experiences will be judged in the future.
Viewed purely as a Beatles experience, it has exceeded the expectations of even this obsessive Beatlemaniac. As I noted in my preview, MTV could easily have shoved out a Beatles track pack with great fanfare and, piggy-backing on the release of the remastered catalogue, it would hardly have tanked. But that, aside from anything else, is not how The Beatles work.
The reason I stress this point is because of the complaints levelled at the tracklisting. Why only 45 songs, when Guitar Hero 5 packs 85 and Rock Band 2 (if you include the free downloads) served up over 100? And what's with the song selection? Where's "Help!", "She Loves You", "Hey Jude", "Strawberry Fields"? It's just a massive con to exploit gamers via DLC, right?
Four points. First, 45 Beatles songs stack up pretty well next to the 28 Metallica tracks in the box for their Guitar Hero gig, the rest contributed by "friends"; second, how many artists are there who have 45 songs strong enough to justify a commercial release?; third - boring commercial reality time - these songs must cost a staggering amount to license and MTV does not have an infinite vault of money; and fourth, how many tracks on average do you genuinely love in the average Guitar Hero/Rock Band release? Be honest. I can only speak personally here, but every single track on The Beatles: Rock Band, whether it be a particular drum fill, a swooning bassline, ingenious harmony or classic riff, contains a memorable, enjoyable gaming moment.
The game is structured to lead the gamer through the high points of The Beatles' remarkable career, with songs specific to each period: from the early days of The Cavern Club, to the US-conquering appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, followed by the hysteria of gigs at Shea Stadium and the Budokan, the retreat into Abbey Road Studio 2, and that final legendary performance atop the roof of Apple's London HQ.
As a snapshot of a career's output, it's clearly not comprehensive and is more akin to listening through the Red and Blue compilation albums. Yet, as an entertainment experience, it's so much more. For a Beatles geek, the archive material is a joy, and testament to the efforts not just of Harmonix, but predominantly Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer Sir George, whose fastidious efforts in picking through the original masters has facilitated the inclusion of rare studio outtakes.
Once the game shifts into the studio at Abbey Road, before each song begins in earnest we're treated to audio of the band tuning up, jamming, commenting to each other from the actual recording sessions for each song. For the Fab Four junkie, it's crack; for everyone else it's a fabulous touch that helps bring the game to life beyond what is otherwise, essentially, a pretty rigid, repetitive structure by design.
The archive is also plundered in more straightforward fashion via unlockables. Complete various score-based requirements and you unlock photos relevant to the song, each accompanied by Beatles trivia checked over by the surviving Beatles themselves to ensure authenticity. On one photo related to "Good Morning, Good Morning", for example, we learn that the Abbey Road effect library was plundered for animal noises, with Lennon insisting they be ordered so that each would scare the previous one.
The lavish detail extends to the animations. Each venue along the path of the Story mode is recreated beautifully, with the unmistakable scream of Beatlemania present during the live gigs, hysteria etched into the faces of fans. The Beatles themselves, after a stylistic, cartoony makeover, move, play and lip-synch with uncanny realism. Which is no surprise, given we're led to believe Yoko Ono insisted Harmonix change the way Lennon moved his eyes, for instance, while Ringo pointed out his elbows were raised too high when playing.
Which is not to say that The Beatles: Rock Band is free from clumsy historical inaccuracies. In the animations for both "Back In The USSR" and "Dear Prudence", Ringo is sat cheerfully in Studio 2 on drums, but Ringo does not play on either track on the recordings that were released on the White Album. With tempers frayed during the sessions, Starr stormed out leaving Macca to pick up sticks and record the percussion parts for both himself.
Now, in Harmonix's defence, they're a bit hamstrung by having to show all of The Beatles on screen playing their respective instruments for game purposes. And yes, I'm also being a picky arse. But, in a game that bends over backwards to offer insight into the way the band created its music, it's a fact worth knowing: not least because the urgency of the beat in "USSR" and the thunderous fills in the outro to "Dear Prudence" stand apart from Ringo's unmistakable clattering - with the latter being, in my humble view, the greatest drum part in the Beatles canon.
Pedantry aside, playing The Beatles: Rock Band offers fresh insight into the unique styles and personalities of each band member. As such, the tracklisting has been carefully assembled to ensure John, Paul, George and Ringo are all well represented. And as back-of-the-hand familiar as many of the songs will be, the opportunity to play through the Beatles catalogue instrument by instrument offers fresh insight into their methods, like McCartney's peerlessly creative basslines. This applies to vocals, too, with a McCartney melody liable to travel - forgive me - Here, There and Everywhere, while Lennon often favoured a static melody, preferring to experiment with harmonic progression. (For the ultimate comparison of these styles side-by-side, listen to "We Can Work It Out".)
That's a lot of words, you may be thinking, without actually talking about what The Beatles: Rock Band is like to play. That's because, to a large extent, it plays exactly like Rock Band 2, with a few tweaks - an already fantastic and refined formula. And there are no hidden surprises across guitar, bass and drums, with even the replica Beatles instruments featuring the same components as before (in other words, the guitars aren't as responsive as Guitar Hero ones).
One important point to make regarding difficulty. This is not a difficult game in the way previous Rock Band and, particularly, Guitar Hero games have offered a challenge. I played through the entire guitar career mode on Expert without failing a single track. I'm pretty good on guitar, but if you're looking for finger-busting fret-wankery, you won't find it here. And if you stopped to think about it for a moment, you could probably have guessed that. Harmonix, quite rightly, has not artificially raised difficulty - the notes you play are the notes The Beatles played. As it should be.
The same applies to the other instruments. My drumming skills are average to say the least, but none of the tracks, even on Expert, offers a challenge that is particularly insurmountable to a Rock Band veteran. The difference is, what the tracks may lack in cripplingly traumatic difficulty, they make up for mostly by being a simple joy to play - creativity over cock-rockery, if you like. And since everyone involved wants the game to appeal to the broadest crowd possible, every track (bar the final one unlocked in Story mode) is accessible in Quick Play from the off, and a No Fail option is there for the most cack-handed novices.
Vocals see the biggest change. As you're no doubt aware, Beatles: Rock Band supports vocal harmonies for up to three people simultaneously. There's no better game for Harmonix to trial this feature in - and indeed 27 of the 45 tracks on disc support the full three-part warble. Harmonies are far more difficult to sing than a regular melody line, so the studio has included a vocal trainer to teach you - which does a reasonable if not brilliant job of spelling out the basics. Ultimately, practice makes perfect, but it's only truly fun with at least two people singing together.
Expense is a key consideration. To enjoy the full Beatles experience you need three mics, a drum kit, three guitars and three mic stands. That's if you really want to 'be' The Beatles. But this will not come cheap if you and friends don't already have the kit lying around. However, peripherals are cross-compatible between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, with SingStar and Lips mics also supported, which could ease the burden somewhat.
One thing I have not been able to try is any of the online features, which are blocked ahead of the game's launch. Full multiplayer support for bands and soloists is included, and should work just like Rock Band. Likewise, the DLC store doesn't open for business until next Wednesday.
Clearly, despite the overall quality of the content, not all songs are as much fun to play as others, and mileage will vary depending on your love and knowledge of the band's works. "Yellow Submarine" is a tedious plod for everything but the vocals, for instance. Of possibly greater concern, songs from later in the band's career are already stretching the format up to and occasionally beyond its limits, with compromises made where instrumentation does not match the basic set-up.
We've seen this before in previous music games of course, but it presents a genuine creative problem to Harmonix when they have entire albums to deal with. Are we going to end up playing the clarinet part of "When I'm 64" on the guitar? Won't that be a bit rubbish?
So while in some ways The Beatles: Rock Band marks the pinnacle of the series' and the genre's achievements, in other ways it also begins to expose its limitations. Nevertheless, viewed in terms of what it set out to achieve, The Beatles: Rock Band is nothing less than a triumph, and one with in-built longevity in the sense that these are songs that have already survived four decades unmatched, now given a new lease of life thanks to remastering and fresh enough to last another lifetime.
Beatles fans will have their own highlights from the game. Mine is the 45th and final track of the game, "The End", also the final track on Abbey Road, the final album recorded by the greatest band in history. It's the unimprovable climax to an astonishing career, with Paul, John and George trading riffs before the final swooning couplet, encapsulating the Beatles' philosophy, melts into lilting strings that leave you unsure whether to laugh or cry. Before all that, though, Ringo goes ape for about 20 seconds, clattering around like a football riot in a dustbin. On Expert, that's my gaming moment of 2009.
The Beatles were fascinated by the number nine. 09/09/09 is no coincidence. So it's only fitting that the game gets...
9 / 10