Yes, the new Beatles Rock Band game is great for all the reasons you've heard - including those I mention in my cover story for Spectrum. But now that I've had a couple weeks to play around with the finished product, there's something I'm wondering: is one rock band too much for one game?
Part of what made Guitar Hero and Rock Band great was their ability to transport you, the player, onto the stage. You felt like you were the star, even when you were playing well known songs. You weren't limited to one artist, you could make your own playlist from a variety of songs - the dumber and louder the better. Plus, you weren't assuming the role of some celebrity. You made your own avatars. The characters on screen were nobodies, and when you scored big it felt kind of like getting discovered. The Nowhere Man (or Woman) was you.
From the second you boot up the Beatles game, though, you know who owns this club. It's all Fab, all the time, from the Cavern Club to the psychedelic montages. There is no you, there is just Them. I wonder how the game would have felt if it had all the incredible Beatles songs, but without the John/Paul/George/Ringo avatars. Or if you subbed out one of the Fab Four and put yourself on stage with them instead. My guess is that it would felt better. Also, the songs aren't dumb and loud by any stretch - no Eye of the Tiger here - instead their smart and quiet, another problem. When was the last time you air-guitared "Strawberry Fields?" It's presumptuous to think that every song will work in a Rock Band game, and the fact is that many of the Beatles songs don't.
The game is an amazing technical and artistic achievement, but it is not the greatest videogame of all time - like many lazy critics would like you to believe. It's obsequious karaoke, and the next Band game needs to put back the rock.
David Kushner is the author of many books, including Masters of Doom, Jonny Magic & the Card Shark Kids, Levittown, The Bones of Marianna, and Alligator Candy. A contributing editor of Rolling Stone, he has written for publications including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine.