How do you do a game review when what you’re reviewing is not a game to begin with? This was the challenge I was faced with when taking on the Rockstar Leeds developed and Rockstar Games published, Beaterator. At its core the game err application is basically a full fledged (portable) music production studio. What started out as a flash application on Rockstar’s website would eventually evolve into the monstrous music creation tool it is today (after a collaboration with the right person of course). To make things interesting Rockstar Leeds teamed up with hit-making powerhouse music producer Timbaland. With his long music making resume and Rockstar’s video game know how, it was sure to be a match made in music game heaven. One thing about Rockstar and their games is that they always include a soundtrack that helps immerse the player into the world they have created. The Grand Theft Auto series has been a perfect example of that. To this day, when I hear Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” I picture myself cruising around Liberty City looking for trouble. Music always has that ability to make you remember and with Beaterator, Rockstar has provided the tools to truly create your own distinctive soundtrack.
The gameplay, (if you can call it that) is pretty straight forward as it mostly incorporates navigating through menus. There are 2 primary play modes. One is Live Play, which incorporates many tracks (songs) custom made – by Rockstar and Thomas Crown AKA Timbaland. In this mode you have 2 tracks with 4 loops on each, and 4 variations on every loop. Each loop can be altered with ease by pressing on any of the PSP’s face buttons. The number of different variations seems almost endless, as there are over 70 songs included in Live Play mode, so you can just imagine (because I certainly cannot calculate) all of the possibilities available. Live Play may be the easiest part of the game but it’s also the most satisfying. While riding the subway home and playing this mode, things got so intense at one point, I swear had there not been that many people on the train car with me I would have ripped of my shirt and busted out some glow sticks and a whistle. It’s real music! Not cheesy or watered down at all.
The other main gameplay component is the Studio mode. This is where the game separates the men from the boys. I don’t care what music creation tool (games) you’ve played before, nothing brings as much to the table as Beaterator does. If you can think it, you can create it. Your only real limit is your imagination. Studio mode allows for a mind spinning 8 tracks with 4 loops on each that come together to comprise one master track. Tracks can be imported and more importantly saved and exported to be used in Live Play mode, that way you can have a little extra fun with them when your done creating.
All these fun and intuitive features unfortunately do come with a catch. The game loses a lot of points in its cluttered menu system. People unfamiliar with music production tools and software will most definitely not feel at home. The Studio mode’s learning curve is incredibly steep. There are video tutorials available, but I feel most will spend more time watching tutorials than actually creating music. There are plenty of pre-made loops by Rockstar and Timbaland that will allow any novice to enter the studio and create music fairly quickly, but if you want to make something your own and truly unique be prepared to spend some time in doing so. Another thing that I also found quite annoying was searching for that one right loop I needed. Previewing the loops felt like a chore as they took way too long to play back, which made the whole experience feel just a bit clunky and not as intuitive as other music creation tools out there (portable or not). I played it on UMD and not a digital copy (not even sure if it’s available digitally yet) so maybe the slow loop sampling speed can be attributed to that. This may seem like a nit pick but when you’re creating music, sometimes things just hit you in a split second, so when you figure out what you’re looking for it needs to be quickly accessible as you may lose the groove you’re in.
The reason I gave it 3 stars was because as a game (which is isn’t) it really doesn’t do anything that will blow you away from a “game” standpoint. The Live Play mode is the closest thing to a game that you will find in this title. Sound is top notch but the graphics are just mediocre. As a music creation tool (or application rather) it gets 5 stars maybe even more as it packs a lot of punch under the hood. The one thing that worries me about Beaterator, is the accessibility it allows for. Music production software usually goes for hundreds of dollars and require decent PC’s or MAC’s to run it. With a PSP and this “game” anybody can be a music producer. This worries me because now when I walk around Times Square here in NYC, instead of wannabe rappers asking me to check out their mix-tapes, it will be replaced with wannabe producers trying to sell me their “hot beats”.