Another month, another rhythm-based game. That’s how it seems, anyway, with so many trying to compete for your attention. Guitar Hero 5 was out recently, with Band Hero coming our way only two months later. DJ Hero — released only days before Band Hero — is new to the mix and falls somewhere between The Beatles: Rock Band and Lego Rock Band. So why do you need another guitar-based game? Well, you probably don’t, all things considered. With the recent deluge of rhythm-based games and all the choices you would face in your selection, you might get angrier than David Lee Roth with a bowl of brown M&Ms. So where does Guitar Hero: Van Halen stand in all of this? On the one hand, you already have so many games to choose from, but on the other hand, how could you say no to a band-exclusive game that boasts some of the most classic guitar riffs in rock history?
Running down the basics, this is yet another band-exclusive game peppered with a load of guest acts. There’s guitar, bass, vocals and drums, all with varying difficulties. You get a music studio (for custom song creation), a great online component and an infectious multiplayer. That’s all well and good, but this material has been a staple of Guitar Hero for a while. What’s different aboutGuitar Hero: Van Halen? Well ... Van Halen, of course. The most important aspect of the game should be capturing the band’s stage presence, and that’s one hell of a task with Van Halen at the forefront. Luckily, the hand-picked songs (the Van Halen ones at least) do the band justice.
Some of the great Van Halen songs include “Jump,” “Ice Cream Man” and “I’m the One,” but there are also a few classic Eddie Van Halen solos. This is the first time in Guitar Hero that special attention has been given to the solo work of one individual, and I have to say that “Cathedral,” “Spanish Fly” and “Eruption” not only were some of the most fun guitar charts I’ve ever played, but also ranked as some of the hardest I’ve played in a great while.
From a guitar standpoint, this is the strongest title in the series since Guitar Hero II and sells itself easily to anyone interested in this one instrument alone. From the distinguishable riffs of songs like “You Really Got Me” to the absolutely insane tapping solos of, well, “You Really Got Me,” you’ll soon find that practically every Van Halen song in the game follows this pattern and goes above and beyond in delivering a versatile guitar-playing experience. The vocals are as catchy as Roth is obnoxious, so even the singing rocks. Belting out the tunes would have you splitkicking into the air if it weren’t for the outdated nature of the singing engine and problems with flow and accuracy that arise from such a sad state of affairs.
The bass stands legitimized in the game because of the open note introduced in Guitar Hero World Tour. Before World Tour, I believe the bass was usually the more boring of the two axes and often played by whoever didn’t get a chance to play guitar. In Guitar Hero: Van Halen, the bass work is nothing crazy, as not only would it be hard to upstage Eddie himself, but to surpass the precedent set by Guitar Hero: Metallica as far as bass work goes would be incredibly difficult. The drums are a nice companion to the guitar in terms of difficulty. The learning curve is good despite all of this and can slope quickly for anyone wanting something much faster. The drums remain the most active option of the three instruments, and with expert-plus thrown into the mix, any drummer worth his salt will be enjoying the latter half of the set list due in part to some crazy drum charts like “Hot for Teacher.”
Everything looks great, with the members of Van Halen portrayed accurately. Some fans may grimace that there’s no Hagar, but Roth is definitely as crazy as he’s ever been, so I’m not sure what the problem is as far as disappointment. Also, their old bassist is left out for Eddie’s son, so the new lineup is really what’s available, but their classic costumes are up for grabs for an old-school feeling.
So yeah, nothing but good news from Guitar Hero: Van Halen so far. Nothing but. Did you enjoy that moment of brief delusional pleasure when Guitar Hero had no problems? Well that moment is over now, sorry. Among the qualms and the bad news, the game’s guest acts are a major cause for concern. I’m not sure if anyone from Van Halen actually gave his input for any of the extra bands included, but I’m pretty sure David Lee Roth would vomit blood if he were to see some of the choices available. Of course, David Lee Roth vomiting blood is not that rare, but the point stands and is a painful one to acknowledge, especially for David. With such songs like “Dope Nose” by Weezer, “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, how in the world someone thought these bands paired correctly with Van Halen is beyond me. At best, it’s a last-ditch saving throw to try to attract the teenyboppers frightened of “the dude that looks like a weird dinosaur,” and to show them why a band from the Jurassic era matters in the slightest. At worst, Activision has little recollection of what Van Halen stood for back in the day and what the spirit of the band embodies. With very few exceptions of actual rock (“Painkiller,” “I Want It All,” “End of Heartache”), the guest acts stand as some of the worst inclusions to a band-exclusive game.
The other major problem here is that, as soon as the game launches, it will automatically be outdated. No, there’s no game-breaking glitches, and no, Guitar Hero won’t make you a part of a gigantic social experiment being used to control the masses (maybe); the problem is the engine that the game runs on is based off Guitar Hero: Metallica’s engine. This means that all of the features, neat new quirks and overall advancement of Guitar Hero 5 and all it brought will be sadly absent, leaving you with an old engine. So if you’re reading this and you don’t even care why the hell that matters, or why a game would need an engine to run if it's not a car, then you’ll be set.
Aside from a few issues, I can definitely see why the creators chose Van Halen for the full band treatment. The band’s charisma is captured to great effect, and the gameplay succeeds entirely on almost every instrument. I had my reservations before I got my hands on the title, but very early on realized how many great Van Halen songs there really are. Jamming out with buddies is always good fun, and this band was a nice representation of that. The real question boils down to where your loyalties lie. If you were lucky enough to get this as a free gift for purchasing Guitar Hero 5 early on, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend some quality music game time. For everyone else who has to decide whether or not to buy it, weigh the options. There’s no downloadable content, so once you play through, that’s all you’ll ever have.
If you have a penchant for wanting nothing but the best guitar tracks, Guitar Hero: Van Halen is an easy pick. If you are looking for a ton of great variety from several bands attached to a four-person multiplayer, it’s not a safe a bet. This game’s quality, like most music games, will boil down to your own preferences and how you like to spend your Guitar Hero time. I think it’s a wonderful addition to an already dangerously full market, but as long as the games are fun, I’m ready to rock.