Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

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The Impact of an Ending

Video games are a strange medium. Gameplay is paramount and story usually takes a backseat to fun. Sometimes, though, endings can bolster an otherwise lackluster experience into something worth venturing through.

That is the case with Suda51’s “Shadows of the Damned.” While not a bad game by any means, the gameplay is fairly conventional. Influenced by Shinji Mikami of “Resident Evil” fame, Shadows plays almost exactly like “Resident Evil 4,” with the improvements EA made with “Dead Space.” It’s fun, but it lacks creativity and originality.

What really sells the experience is the plotline and its ultimate ending. Not to spread too many spoilers, but when Garcia finally accepts his fate and the player is left powerless to change the outcome, the game comes full circle and you truly feel sad.

This contrasts with “The Dark Knight Rises,” the latest film I saw this weekend. I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the movie, but suffice to say the ending is a complete disaster. Certain elements I was taking away from the film become null and void when the cop-out ending occurs.

I’m really not going to spoil that, but if you find yourself more intrigued by the Bruce/Alfred dynamic like I was, you’ll leave the film completely disappointed. Nolan throws a completely idiotic and ridiculous twist at the last second and it ruins all emotional build-up that could have saved the lackluster movie.

From everything I’ve read on “Mass Effect 3,” I can understand why people feel so angry about Bioware’s failure to capture a climatic and cathartic conclusion. Investing so much into the characters and their fates and seeing nothing come of it is just frustrating. I wish Nolan stuck to the red herring he planted instead of giving us the “Hollywood” ending.

One of my favorite series from last generation, “Splinter Cell,” did something very similar in its second outing, Pandora Tomorrow. During the climax in the airport, Fisher runs through a gauntlet of terrorists guarding a bomb that will decimate the airport. Once he finishes them off and confronts the bomb, he realizes that he cannot disarm it.

So what’s the only option left? Well, planting it in the middle of the airport and letting the police deal with it. In an unexpected turn of events, Fisher isn’t required for the ending and the player feels completely useless. Why did Fisher even go to the damn airport? Third Echelon should have just called the police and let them deal with the problem.

As for ending that improve the drab parts of the movie, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” is a shining example. I am not a fan of that film. The movie is typical Tarantino self-indulgence and most scenes linger on for 15 minutes longer than they should. Still, the movie is pretty much redeemed by the ending in the movie theater.

Seeing the Basterd’s plan come to fruition, even with failures from the group, is just thrilling. The unadulterated violence and cleansing feeling of seeing bad guys getting eviscerated is unparalleled. I’ll still argue with you that the film isn’t worth a watch, but bombastic endings like that really make it hard to stand by my own stance.

I’ve heard the counter-argument that the journey through something is better than the ultimate outcome. The only thing I’ve agreed with that on is the Bill Murray film “Broken Flowers.” Still, encapsulating everything that works with a film or game during the final minutes really sells a product for me.

So what if some of the set-pieces are dull or the game isn’t “innovative?” If your journey ends on the highest note possible, isn’t everything worth the struggle? Doesn’t that kind of reflect life, as well? My trips with shitty customer service at restaurants are sometimes worth it when the food is exceptional.

While this blog is pretty unfocused, I just wanted to share some of these thoughts. Endings, to me, are the alpha and omega of an experience. Maybe I shouldn’t put so much emphasis on conclusions, but I prefer having my media end in a grandiose fashion instead of fizzling out.

Indie DLC = Old School DLC

I’m not sure if I’m too old school, but all of this recent DLC is starting to wear me thin. Every time I see a new game come out, I immediately think, “Might as well wait for the GOTY/Ultimate edition!” A few of my friends have been playing Forza 4, but I refuse to buy it and see that “complete” version a week later.

This past week, though, I recently bought two packs of DLC. Two of my favorite games from last year, “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse,” released full scale expansions. Both include gameplay that is roughly half the length of their main campaigns and feature other cool, optional extras. How the hell could I pass that up?

This is the kind of stuff I gladly paid for back in the late-90’s, early 2000’s. Every time a game I loved had an expansion, I was all over it. The Quake series has some great examples of long campaigns with expansions that increased the length two-fold.

Even “Battlefield 1942” gave us discs that were more than simply map-packs (even if Road to Rome was a glorified one). I miss those days were my extra content wasn’t some gimped experience with a $10 price tag.

You can make the counter-argument that most of the expansions from the past were $30 where as DLC is significantly cheaper, but then I’ll ask you to show me an example of DLC that wasn’t free in the past. “Call of Duty’s” DLC is some of the worst, but it’s actually not that the value of the maps are in question.

No, what makes it suck is how Epic Games has never charged for a single “Bonus Pack” in the “Unreal Tournament” series and each pack included about 8-9 maps. Think about that. “Call of Duty” expects an extra $60 for a total of 20 maps when Epic gave away nearly double that for free on each game.


Entirely free and it was on PS3! What gives?!

I also take particular offense on “Free-To-Play” games that charge you a dollar for weapons and skins. I do understand that they need some kind of money, but I’m really struggling to figure out why there are count-down timers and cool-down periods for things you buy with actual cash. I remember the days where extra skins were unlockable and even fan made!

Not every modern developer is milking DLC for all it’s worth, though. Rockstar Games did wonderful things with the expansions to “Grand Theft Auto IV.” While the two episodes weren’t as full length as Vice City or San Andreas, neither one was a slouch in replay value or story content.

I know this will lead into the debate about how length of content shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but I’m getting sick of paying what is now a premium DLC price for content that shouldn’t even have a price tag. Developers are losing a lot of faith with their userbases and I think changing DLC policies to something more old school would be the way to fix things.

I know Activision will never listen to reason, but why not give away some maps from time to time. If you want people to play your stupid and shoehorned multiplayer modes, give them a reason that isn’t attached to their wallets.

If you want people to experience more single-player content, make it justifiable for them to drop money. Provide either another complete campaign, or give us short experiences loaded with extra content and easter eggs to discover.

It’s just strangely telling how I refuse to purchase DLC for big budget titles, yet I immediately (and without question) bought the expansions to two indie games. Maybe if EA or Ubisoft didn’t make such awful add-ons, I wouldn’t have problems like this.

I know DLC is here to stay and that my voice probably isn’t going to do anything, but I just lament the passing of the old days. Games may not have been better values back then and I fondly remember spending upwards of $70 for N64 cartridges, but DLC is just getting out of control.

Until I get something akin to “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse’s” expansions in the future, I’m just not going to be buying much in the way of DLC.

Emasculation of an Action Star


During the course of the first “Dead Space,” you”d be forgiven for thinking Isaac Clarke was a complete bad ass underneath the suit. I always pictured him as a whimpering little bitch, but mainly because he screams at nearly everything that jumps towards him.

Visceral Games did the great luxury of fleshing out Isaac for 2 and the game feels a lot more human for it. Not only is Isaac really not a super-macho badass (the man’s in his mid 40’s, which is uncharacteristic of every muscle bound idiot), but he emotes about lost love.

SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON OUT. DON’T COMPLAIN!

The very first chapter of “Dead Space 2” has Isaac running through an insane asylum while strapped into a straight-jacket. This leaves Isaac with literally nothing to defend himself, stripping him of any kind of power that a gun or fists would give him. It’s incredibly tense and it helps build the fact that Isaac is far more powerful on the inside than most of his contemporaries.

Eventually the game gets into Isaac’s psychosis and reveals that he is feeling extremely guilty over the death of his girlfriend. In “Dead Space: Extraction,” players are shown Isaac’s girlfriend, Nicole, killing herself over the outbreak of the necromorph.

The entire first “Dead Space” game has Isaac trying to look for her (though getting sidetracked by some bitch’s personal agenda). At the end of that, Isaac sits at the cockpit of an escape pod and watches the last few moments of Nicole’s life on repeat. His facial expression clearly shows the man is in pain.

While 2 doesn’t delve enough into Isaac’s mind as I’d like, there are a few key points worth mentioning. One comes fairly early in the game (around Chapter 4) and showcases the dementia Isaac has. Right after crawling through a shaft, Isaac is confronted by an apparition of Nicole with a needle in her hand, attempting to stab him in the eye. Once you successfully pass the QTE, Nicole disappears and you see Isaac holding the needle up to his face.

It’s very shocking and makes you wonder exactly how deep this man’s heartache goes. His look of fear is also something you wouldn’t expect of a man who has dealt with some of the worst monsters in the known universe.

Later on in the story, Isaac meets up with another woman. Her name is Ellie and she’s trying to get off the Sprawl as much as Isaac. While Isaac simply wants to help her, she wants nothing to do with him and nearly shoots him dead. When she is seen leaving through an elevator, Isaac’s expression is something of worry.

Isaac begins to have transference with Ellie. She is envisioned to be a Nicole that Isaac can save. Towards the end of her role in the game, Isaac even says that to her. He potentially sacrifices his life so that Ellie can live; something he wishes was possible to do for Nicole.

After giving Ellie this speech, Isaac falls to the ground and looks down in a blind gaze. Lost in thought, Isaac isn’t sure of his actions anymore. He looks over to another apparition of Nicole and they share a conversation about why Isaac cannot let go.

This overwhelming sense of guilt is something not normally seen of male characters in video games, especially not ones in action games. It also one-ups “Lords of Shadow” by simply showing the angst in Isaac’s eyes instead of describing it to us.

The final scene that really nailed this out of the park for me happens around the middle of chapter 14. Isaac opens a door and the apparition of Nicole grabs him by the neck and thrusts him into the air. After yelling at him and asking him questions, Isaac utters an extremely heartfelt line.
“If I let you go, I’ve got nothing left.”

As the game closes, Isaac feels betrayed by the visions of Nicole and eventually has to face them in a thrilling climax. Nicole leads Isaac to the marker (the source of all power in the Dead Space universe) and Isaac doesn’t understand. He curses her and then destroys his visions of her.

After that, Isaac is finished. He’s ready to wait for death as nothing is left for him. Even though Ellie comes back and rescues him, the player is left unsure of whether Isaac will truly be able to let go of his guilt.

I know I’ve had similar feelings, though I’ve never actually witnessed the death of a past love interest. The first girl I really fell for in high school I wanted more than you could imagine. She was very friendly to me, we had lots of common interests in music and our attitudes about school were pretty much mirror matches of each other.

The only problem was that she was fairly promiscuous and she had some kind of guilt about it when it came to me. She never dared touch me and wouldn’t give me the luxury of seeing her outside of school. I tried my best to change that and I went overboard and practically began to stalk her.

When she finally ceased contact with me, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I began to feel extreme guilt over the things I had said to her and how I pushed her away. I lamented how I was borderline psychotic in my approach to finding her.

When I finally did let go of the idea of ever seeing her again, I realized that life isn’t so miserable. While losing someone is never easy, letting go of a person you love isn’t saying you’re no good. I definitely made mistakes (and I got my chance to apologize to her a few weeks ago), but I can’t keep thinking about them as current events. I’m no longer that man.

I’m happy that Visceral didn’t gimp out on the narrative for “Dead Space 2.” It could have been exceptionally easy to never give Isaac a voice and portray him as a rock hard man with no emotion whatsoever. I’m pleased they didn’t go that route.

Whatever happens with 3 and Isaac’s further emotional health, we’ll always have the dementia and pain from 2 to teach us to better ourselves. As long as we can wear our feelings on our sleeves and talk to each other, no pain to too great to conquer.

Demo Impressions – Dragon Age 2 & Yakuza 4

Dragon Age: Origins was a troublesome game for me. I’m a big fan of BioWare and I’ve always had a blast with their games (well, excluding MDK2. That game aggravated me), but nothing about Dragon Age drew me in. I think I ended my playthrough after 7 hours and I was only in the first town (where you have to pay a toll or kill the bastards at the bridge to get in).

I’m not quite sure what turned me off, but I think it was the lack of polish or the awfully generic storyline (which I hear has a satisfying conclusion). Nothing seemed very new to me and the technology powering the game was terrible to look at. Yeah, it had a grand scale, but it looked worse than Neverwinter Nights (a game that launched seven years prior!).

Still, there were certain aspects that I enjoyed and wished to see fleshed out in an expansion or sequel. When I heard BioWare wasn’t keen on letting their new IP die, I did get excited for the possibilities. Maybe some more action, a better art style, less filler.

While I can’t answer if 2 has any filler or not, I can say that my first few complaints have been rectified. The demo for Dragon Age 2 definitely showcases a much more action packed and engaging opening. The story is still a bit dull, but the demo begins with a bang and keeps going for a good half an hour without losing any intensity.

Much like the PC version of Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2 is better optimized on the platform. The menus are slick, if a bit console oriented, and the inventory/skill tree screens are nicely done. While I’m not a fan of the black backgrounds, I do like the text displays and important information being available all at once.

The biggest change is the pacing, though. Combat was a bit boring in the original, but the skill trees seem a bit more thought out this game. I had chosen a generic barbarian type character and his attacks made sense. Shield Bash, Whirlwind and Smash were all accounted for and helped clear out more than one enemy at a time.


All action, all the time!

Switching between characters was simple and worked without much of a hitch. Simply pressing F1, 2, 3 or 4 changed between available party members and the transition wasn’t as jarring as in the first game. The camera quickly focused on the party member and the skill bar updated without a problem.
The only thing I will note is that the lack of the overhead, Icewind Dale style view does make me a little sad. I enjoyed exploring the environments with an old school style, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as far as gameplay is concerned.

The art direction does deserve some commendation. It’s a lot more bright and colorful this time around. The level that the demo gives you is a bit generic in terms of location, but it does feel a lot like the opening to “Fellowship of the Ring,” and recreating something like that is impressive. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to rip through orcs and grunts.

As for plot, I’m not too sure what to think. The voice acting has improved marginally, but the game is still a bit bland for my tastes. We’ve all heard tales of some mystical and powerful evil invading some secluded land and it still doesn’t feel any more compelling this time. I will admit that I skipped most of the cutscenes after the first, though.

To sum it up, though, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up nicely. I may force myself to finish the first just so I can fully enjoy the sequel, but I’d say that those kinds of measures aren’t required for most gamers. The sequel has definitely been improved in all the right categories to let new fans jump in and feel welcome.

In more console related news, I was going to write a nice blog about the demo for Yakuza 4, but Sega didn’t see fit to really make much of a demo. So my thoughts on that will be limited to a paragraph or two. Yakuza 4 is the continuation of the Yakuza series and follows the plot of not just one character, but four!

As for what the game is about, I have no idea. The demo boots up and you’re given the option to start, which puts you directly in the shoes of the first character and makes you fight. After you finish the battle, you change to the next character and continue until you’re finished with Kazuma Kiryu’s battle (Kazuma being the main character of the previous three games).

It’s nice that the different characters have different styles, but I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to take out of this demo. I already loved the battles from the third game and I was eager to get some insight as to what the story might be about. Hell, I would have even liked to see some of the changes to the game’s fictionalized Tokyo.

As it stands, if you haven’t been introduced to the Yakuza series, don’t bother giving this demo a try. It will do nothing for you as it literally does nothing. It lasts about 10 minutes and just occupies 650 mb on your PS3. If you want a real taste of what Yakuza is about, give the demo for 3 a try. That gives you some story and a few substories to complete, as well as letting you walk around a small portion of Tokyo.


Until next time…

Beatles: Rock Band – Review

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After a few days of completely destroying The Beatles Rock Band, I can rest assured that a final verdict is ready. I’ve seen nearly all of the games challenges and conquered them and I’ve managed to play the harmony sections with a friend, so I definitely think everything is covered.

The Beatles Rock Band is Harmonix’s next game in the highly regarded Rock Band series. Instead of trying to focus all their effort into creating a mixed setlist, Harmonix focuses their efforts on one band and does everything to the fullest. You will not be displeased with this title if you are a Hardcore Beatles fan.

What may displease you is the gamer inside. Now, I’m a massive fan of the Beatles. I own all of their albums and even their 2 B-Sides collections and Live Albums. There is not a Beatles track that I don’t have in my possession. But what irks me about Beatles Rock Band is how nothing is dramatically changed over the previous titles in the series.

To start off, the game launches you into a story mode where you and 3 friends will follow The Beatles throughout their career with some animated cutscenes that detail little to nothing about the actual event you will be playing. The arenas and areas you play at are locations like “Shea Stadium,” “Abbey Road Studios” and “Apple Corp. Rooftop,” which all take the form of Chapters (there are 8 in all). While this is definitely an amazing touch in providing fans to see how the Beatles existed, it definitely leaves out the parts where Ringo and Lennon quit or any of their in-discrepancies.

Still, the setlist is what matters the most in this game and it definitely delivers the goods. Every song is a hit, though some may be a bit boring on Bass or Drums. The only real problem I have is that not enough is offered. The Beatles have 14 studio albums and while every one has at least 1 track in the game, some albums only have 1 track in the game. The game offers up 45 hits and this is a marked improvement over both Guitar Hero band based games, but it still amounts to about 3 hours of gameplay, at best.

Why not pull more from the catalog to give fans a more enticing package? Considering Rock Band 2 shipped with 84 songs and another 20 for free as DLC, thinking about why Harmonix chose to leave out such a large chunk of their work (and even singles like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Penny Lane”) is puzzling.

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Never been better.

The graphics in the game are something to behold. There is definitely a slight cartoon edge to the look of the group, but their charm has never been capture in a digital form any better than it is here. Each song showcases its own music video of sorts in the background and the more trippy songs from the catalog have equally trippy backgrounds to accompany them. The only problem you may run into is running this on an SDTV, as the bright colors can often be distracting.

The note charting on the instruments is the weakest part for hardcore fans of Rock Band. Virtually nothing will give you challenge other than trying to 100% a few songs. But, even at my worst, I managed 98’s on songs (even on Drums, which I am quite awful at). The way this game tries to add challenge is by giving you achievements that relate to songs.

The achievements sort of work like the challenge based career mode that Guitar Hero 5 exhibits. Things like, “Play Dig a Pony and hit every hammeron/pulloff without Strumming” is neat, but relegating them to the achievement screen means a lot of players will simply never bother to figure out what is next.

There is a challenge mode in the game, but it simply tasks you with playing each chapter from the story mode with the songs running back to back (almost like an endless setlist). You never have to play the entire game from start to finish, but even replaying the game without any added challenge makes it worthless. Why not give gamers something unique to perform while replaying the game?

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Harmonies can definitely be a pain, but they also provide some fun.

The one new addition to the gameplay is vocal harmonies. While these are not a dramatic change, their implementation is flawless. Harmonix made the game so that you can connect 3 microphones to your 360 and have 3 players singing at different pitches all at once. But instead of just assigning mic 1 to harmony 1, the game never tells you which part you need to specifically sing. This allows your friends to help you out of tough spots or even just have 3 players singing 1 single part.

Even with that innovation, this feature is not something that a lot of music games will adopt. There is limited appeal to singing in the first place, but having a group of people who even want to try singing together is just asking for trouble. What doesn’t help with the harmonies is the way the screen looks during these sections. Words for Mic 2 and 3 are shown on top, but Mic 1 is at the bottom. Since we’ve been trained to stare at the bottom of the screen since Rock Band 1, trying to look at the top is just confusing (there is no real other way to fix this, though).

What does help this game along is the promise of DLC. Harmonix plans to release full Beatles albums in the coming months to further flesh out the games catalog of music. If the entire discography of the group were to be released, this definitely would be the ultimate band based title you could ever buy. What hurts this feature is how the music is not exportable to other Rock Band titles (nor does the DLC even work in other games). You will always need to have this disc, which means that you can never expect a sequel to improve upon any aspect of the game you feel is weak.

Also, you have to think about the appeal of this title. If you truly don’t like The Beatles, there is absolutely nothing in here that will change your mind. I have nothing against all Beatles songs in a game about them, but trying to market this to other players seems impossible.

So for my verdict, I have to say rent this game. If you truly are a hardcore Beatles nut who needs everything with the groups name on it, just buy the thing. If you are getting extremely tired of music/rhythm games, there is nothing here that will sway your opinion. The game is of extremely high quality, but the gameplay aspect is so unchanged to really make waning fans take notice.

First Impressions – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.