We Who Are Ready to Rock…try Another Band
Out of the pantheon of rock bands deserving a specific Guitar Hero or Rock Band title, there is little denying that Van Halen is more than worthy of the honor. Since forming in 1974 the band has seen global success that only a few other bands have, with over 200 million albums sold worldwide. Led by the iconic axeman Eddie Van Halen, the band has endured for 35 years and its career reads like the script for a daytime soap - which should make for a fairly interesting game. Sadly Guitar Hero: Van Halen is not such a game. At its most basic, it is an uninspired and pedestrian experience, especially when compared to The Beatles: Rock Band and series siblings Guitar Hero: Metallica and Guitar Hero 5.
Developer Underground Development does a fine job at presenting the core Guitar Hero gameplay that gamers have come to know and love over the past half decade. Gamers will still attempt to play along with the song by hitting steaming gems (notes) coming down the highway with their plastic instrument controllers. Guitar Hero: Van Halen utilizes the full-band setup that has become the new standard for the series set in last year's Guitar Hero: World Tour. It features all the same career, multiplayer and online modes that are expected from every Guitar Hero game and it is still great fun, but then again the core gameplay mechanics have never really been called into question.
Where Guitar Hero: Van Halen stumbles is in its overall package. Some of this can be directly pinned on publisher Activision while other faulty aspects can be pinned on developer Underground Development and even Van Halen itself. That's right, I am calling Van Halen out on this. The band is just as much to blame for the lackluster delivery of Guitar Hero: Van Halen as anyone else who was involved.
Plenty of Van, Lacking in Halen
As I mentioned earlier, Van Halen has been rocking the scene for the last 35 years. During those 35 years it have had three distinct eras, with David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. Each offered something significant to the legacy of the band, (although Cherone's stint was just for one rather forgettable album), but for some reason Guitar Hero: Van Halen only covers the first era of the band with music ranging from releases over a six year period from 1978-1984. While there is a vocal contingent of fans who believe the only real Van Halen is Van Halen with David Lee Roth, there are four #1 albums with Sammy Hagar as the lead singer that say otherwise. The fact that Hagar was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Van Halen makes his exclusion highly bothersome, especially for longtime fans of the band. Though the game offers up 25 Van Halen songs, plus some of the most iconic rock songs from the late 70s and early 80s, the exclusion of Hagar and Cherone's music (an example of the petty bickering that has engulfed the band for the last decade) makes the game suffer.
The lack of Hagar or Cherone era music is only part of the overall issue the game has with its set list choices. Like Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Metallica before it, Guitar Hero: Van Halen features guest acts to help flesh out the overall set list. However unlike the previous two Guitar Hero band games which feature songs by bands that have influenced or toured with those bands, Guitar Hero: Van Halen features a very strange set of music, with over half of the guest songs are from newer bands that haven't toured and certainly did not influence Van Halen. Sure “Stacy's Mom” by Fountains of Wayne is a fun song, but it doesn't exactly mesh with the hard rock feel of Van Halen.
Guitar Hero: Cash In
While the music is the focal point of any Guitar Hero game there are other things amiss with Guitar Hero: Van Halen. For one, Activision overloaded the market with Guitar Hero games putting developer Underground Development and Guitar Hero: Van Halen in a bad spot, namely behind Guitar Hero 5 which featured an entirely new graphics engine and a slew of new features, none of which are part of Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Underground Development built the game on last year's Guitar Hero: World Tour engine, and while games using that engine can look good, when compared to Guitar Hero 5 it looks dated.
Feeling dated is something Guitar Hero: Van Halen does extraordinarily well though. The character animations are stiff and unrealistic looking despite having one of the most flamboyant and athletic lead singers to ever grace a stage. If anything can make David Lee Roth and Van Halen look boring, it is Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen feels like a product that Activision did not have a whole lot of faith in, and that showed quite clearly when they offered the game for free to consumers who purchased the far superior Guitar Hero 5. As a free game, Guitar Hero: Van Halen will offer gamers some fun Guitar Hero, but as a full retail package I am less inclined to suggest it. The game has a bevy of problems, feels old, and unless you are a die-hard fan of the early days of Van Halen, should be avoided.
Free for those who own Guitar Hero 5. Van Halen!
Looking old (and we're not talking about the band members)