Guitar Hero: Van Halen
A band biography with a dozen pages missing and a few new paragraphs glued in.
Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii – Rhythm
Release Date: December 22, 2009
Players: 1-4+ (up to 8 online)
When I pop in a Band-Centric Guitar Hero game, I expect to be treated to a visual and musical time capsule full of all of the band’s definitive moments, a decent collection of their songs spanning their career, and a treasure chest of little known facts, rare memorabilia, and well, some evidence that the band itself was involved with the game. After bringing Guitar Hero: Van Halen to a close, I don’t see my criteria met. Instead, I ran through my third (fourth if I bought Smash Hits) Guitar Hero game of 2009, and after finishing it, I don’t feel like I’ve learned much about Van Halen itself.
By now, anyone who hasn’t played a guitar hero game shouldn’t start with Van Halen. If you have this game, you either A) Followed up on the free voucher offer after purchasing Guitar hero 5, B) Are a Van Halen fan, estatic to see them in their own music game, or C) Proving it’s possible to play Guitar Hero all year round, since a new game is released by the time you finish the previous one.
If this is your first foray into Guitar Hero, or any music game for that matter, I highly recommend picking up one from the main entries in the series first. For the same price as GH: Van Halen, Guitar Hero 5 has 85 songs from a larger variety of artists, while Guitar Hero 4 (World Tour), just a year older, has 86. Since we’re dealing with a band-centric game, expect to hear a lot of Van Halen, and not much else.
The same familiar formula of playing is present here, but without getting too technical, Van Halen’s game engine is the same as GH Metallica’s, making it “older” than Guitar Hero 5. This is all well and good, but it’s an odd choice on Activision’s part, because it was released after GH 5. In my opinion, this isn’t as much of a setback, because the controls feel a lot tighter under this engine compared to GH 5. The songs are note tracked pretty well. The difficulty curve steadily rises as you make your way through the set list, alternating with a venue for guest artist tracks, and a venue for Van Halen’s music. There isn’t a point where you’ll ace one song and the following song will be so far over your head you won’t know where to begin. The slider sections, characterized by transparent notes connected by a clear rope, are still pretty useless, because they are just thrown in randomly, or when you reach a very “difficult” section where the game expects you to use it, its just easier to flail on the keys.
By now, most of us know what to expect with Guitar Hero, so the only factor that handicaps Van Halen is it’s presentation:
I’m betting that Van Halen fans will be disappointed once they notice the game completely omits their bassist of 31 years, Michael Anthony, and their second vocalist who fronted the band for 13 years, Sammy Hagar. While Anthony’s absence can be overlooked (Metallica featured songs from all three of their Bassists, so it could have been done here too), the decision not to include any work from Hagar effectively cuts off the chance to feature any songs from their albums after their last album with original and current front man, David Lee Roth, 1984. All this cutting, trimming and removing results in a setlist that only features 25 of their songs, with 3 of Eddie’s solos. I believe the amount of material they’ve recorded from 1978 to 1998 should warrant more than 28 tracks. Tacked on are 19 songs from guest bands/artists, some who have a questionable affiliation with VH, coming to a grand total of 47 tracks.
Don’t get me wrong, Van Halen’s music is decent, and fans of their legacy would quickly find a handful of their favorite tracks here. GH fan’s prayers have finally been answered with the long overdue addition of Eddie’s famed solo, Eruption. Hang ‘Em High, Panama and Jump are all easily recognizable classics, and are a blast to play. Guest tracks like Deep Purple’s Space Truckin’ and Queen’s I Want It All complement Van Halen perfectly, but oddballs like Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne seem well, out of place.
Once you’ve played through all of the songs or just your favorites, that’s pretty much the end of the game. There’s really no further indication of the band’s involvement with this game, which is very surprising. There’s cheesy footage of the band in awkward mo-cap suits recording their movements on stage(a la Metallica), no rare pictures, band interviews(Aerosmith), or even a “hey, thanks for playing our game!” message from the band. Beyond playing the songs on our plastic instruments, the only way we know its Van Halen is when the four of them are on the stage.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen is a decent game when not stacked up against it’s contemporaries. It continues to feature the great gameplay that Guitar Hero is known for. But since this game focuses on the legacy of a single band, their presentation is just as important as the game itself. Players who know nothing of Van Halen’s background will be treated to a history lesson that leaves out a handful of important events and people. In Van Halens case, its inexcusable to not even mention the time and effort Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar put in.