Review: Beaterator

Review: Beaterator

Review: Beaterator

Platform: PSP
Release: Out now
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Publisher: Rockstar Games

It might seem odd that Rockstar Games would release music production software – for PSP, no less. But to any fan of Grand Theft Auto’s soundtracks it will appear just a natural extension of its evident passion for music. Indeed, it’s a passion that Rockstar has long explored already. Beaterator is based on an online Flash-based mixer of the same name, which itself is an offshoot from eight year old rapping toolkit Rhymerator. Now, Rockstar, through Chinatown Wars developer Rockstar Leeds, has channeled that enthusiasm into a small but powerful single package.

Hip-hop producer Timbaland provides exclusive samples and acts as the face of the product, and in his enthusiastic promotional videos touts Beaterator as a game. Certainly, its choice of hardware might give some that impression, but make no mistake: it really isn’t. There are no rivers of notes or beat matching exercises here. Beaterator is digital audio production designed for PSP’s controls, and that’s why you’ll find no score at the bottom of this review.

Beaterator’s tiered levels of complexity, from its Timbaland fronted Live Mode through to the Studio Mode and the Song Crafter, are its most videogame-like design choices. Live Mode is a relatively simple freestyle loop player. You are provided with a set of eight tracks, such as drums or keys, which contain four sets of loops. Using the D-pad and the four face buttons you can toggle on and off the various loops and mix a track on the fly while an awkwardly animated Timbaland avatar bops along.

The presets are good enough to allow even the most ungifted producer the ability to play music instantly, and the simplicity serves as a strong introduction to the more complex capabilities of Beaterator. From here you can dig into Beaterator’s deep library of loops to customise your song, and those of you that aren’t fans of the Timbaland style of pop and hip hop will be happy to see that genres from rock to house and UK garage are covered.

When you feel ready to level up, you can record your live play and take it to the studio. All your previous loops and their assigned keys remain present in this mode, but all pretenses of a videogame-like presentation are abandoned as the dancing avatar is replaced with buttons, switches and knobs. Here you’ll have access to a total of eight tracks (and a master track) and additional controls for volume, pan, BPM and swing.

On first sight it all seems straightforward enough, but dig through the menus and you will discover a robust and extensive set of modules. There’s a mixer, basic synthesisers, a key editor, a drum machine, a voice recorder, a MIDI (and WAV loop) importer and exporter, FX editors and more. Each component is preceded by an optional tutorial video decent enough to explain the intricacies of the interface, but unless you already know your way around the likes of Cubase, the abundance of options can be overwhelming. 

Don’t let the rudimentary Flash origins of Beaterator fool you – there’s a powerful music creation tool here. And while aspects of it are simplified for non-musicians, what you get out of it is entirely based on your musical ability or your level of patience. The good news is that when your hard work pays off, getting your tune out there is easy. Any song can be exported to your Memory Stick as a WAV or (limited) MIDI file or, more interestingly, can be directly uploaded to Rockstar’s Social Club community site. There you can listen to, rate, and favourite other users’ creations, and, if the author permits it, download their arrangements back to your PSP. These downloaded songs, along with the many included sample songs, can then be rearranged, remixed, deconstructed and examined.

Being able to see how others craft their tunes within Beaterator itself, is, in fact, far more explanatory than any tutorial. Unfortunately, however, the feature is handicapped by the fact that you can’t access the Social Club from within the application itself – you can only download what you had previously queued up on the site. It’s a rare clunky misstep compared to the rest of Beaterator’s interface.
Beaterator isn’t going to replace dedicated mid-level mixers, but its approachability and portability make it a useful addition, or introduction, to digital music production. It fills a space that the PSP library was lacking in comparison to the pocket sized musical creation tools on the DS (Korg DS-10) and iPhone. While it’s obviously less tactile than these closest competitors, it more than makes up for this with a vast library of available sounds. You’ll just have to provide your own Commodore 64 samples.