Yesterday I was invited by Harmonix and MTV to go down to MTV’s offices in NYC, forcing me to brave… (shudder) Times Square. As a native New Yorker it’s possibly the place I hate more than anywhere in the world, but I dodged fat midwestern tourists and hurtled past cabbies with abandon because at that moment I had one mission, one goal in my life- to finally get to play The Beatles Rock Band.
With Abbey Road spinning in my head from blasting it all day I went up into MTV’s unassuming offices and immediately got lost wandering past grey cubicles till I found the demo room and met up with John Drake from Harmonix. Like everyone I’ve met from the company he seemed excited as hell to show off the game, despite being exhausted from nonstop traveling and playing Beatles songs with journalists. Could be a worse way to earn a living, that’s for sure.

The first thing he showed us was the biggest new feature in the game- the vocal harmonies. The Beatles: Rock Band features two or three part harmonies in 42 out of the 45 songs included in the game. The way this works is fairly simple. Since of course they couldn’t extract each vocal part from the master track (they’re all recorded together) they’ve instead allowed for anyone to sing any harmony at once. If you’re singing it by yourself you can choose to stick to the main vocals and you won’t fail out, but you can try your hand at the harmonies too if you’ve the skills. If you’ve got friends and family members nearby that want in they can just jump in and try singing backup by following the different colored lines on the vocal track at the top of the screen.

The game will support pretty much any mic that works with your system of choice, although you can just all dogpile on one if you like. Better hope you’ve got all wireless guitars or another usb hub, however, cause it can get crazy with another three mics.

They’ve smartly included a training mode to teach you how to sing the harmonies, since they’re a lot more difficult than you might expect. Pick a song and you can scroll through the different vocal tracks and learn how they play. A little Casio keyboard-sounding note plays that indicates the sound your words should make, which is good because some of them just sound so bizarre out of context of the rest of the song. John told us that it took a helluva lot of practice for Harmonix to get their background vocals set for a good performance at E3.

After looking at some other modes and features that I can’t speak about, we jumped into the game. It plays pretty much exactly as you’d expect- it is a Rock Band game, after all. Besides the harmonies there are two minor changes, however.

Rock Band devotees might be surprised to learn that there aren’t any tapping parts for singers. Usually you tap along with the music during the parts where the vocals are silent, but there’s nothing of the sort here. Thankfully since The Beatles as a band were driven by their vocals there are barely any long stretches where you’ll be left without anything to do, so you won’t be stuck standing around with your hands in your pockets anyway.

Also, the drums no longer have the fills sections. You’re playing as Ringo, damn it, and you’re going to play his fills! There are still overdrive sections that simply light up the notes, and hitting the last glowing green one will initiate it.

The first song we played was an obvious one- Twist and Shout. Almost immediately I forgot that I was there to record my experience of the game, jumping right back into playing the game and singing along because let’s be honest, who the hell can help it? It’s immediately obvious that this is going to be a huge party song, the perfect showcase for what the game can do.

Next up I chose Octopus’s Garden, which took me off guard because on expert guitar it had quite a few tricky parts. While it doesn’t appear that the game will be too much of a challenge for Rock Band experts it’s easy to forget how intricate some of the songs are. Now I was also finally paying attention to the background, which was great because the song was set underwater. The visuals definitely keep things interesting and fun for people not playing the game, and the style really is impeccable. Each song is set in a particular age of their career and the models and environments change to reflect that.

The last song we got to try before the next few journalists came in I unfortunately can’t talk about, but was a blast to play with the guitar.

Check this brand new trailer for just-announced songs for the game!

Of the 45 songs that will be available (and unlocked from the very start!), here are all the ones that have been announced thus far. Note that the first ten songs were originally shown off at E3, this is the next wave of 15. I absolutely love the fact that they’re not picking entirely obvious ones.

* “I Saw Her Standing There”
* “I Want To Hold Your Hand”
* “I Feel Fine”
* “Taxman”
* “Day Tripper”
* “Back In The USSR”
* “I Am The Walrus”
* “Octopus’s Garden”
* “Here Comes The Sun”
* “Get Back”
* “Twist And Shout” (New)
* “Do You Want To Know A Secret” (New)
* “Can’t Buy Me Love” (New)
* “I Wanna Be Your Man” (New)
* “Eight Days A Week” (New)
* “Paperback Writer” (New)
* “And Your Bird Can Sing” (New)
* “Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB” (New)
* “With a Little Help from My Friends” (New)
* “Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows (New)
* “Yellow Submarine” (New)
* “Revolution” (New)
* “Birthday” (New)
* “Dig A Pony” (New)
* “I’ve Got A Feeling” (New)
I saw so much more at MTV that I wish I could talk to you about, but we’re under embargo till mid-August. But trust me when I say that this is the real deal, not that we’d expect anything less from Harmonix. This isn’t some half-assed cash in, they’ve done it exactly the way you’re hoping they will, and September 9th can’t come fast enough.