Guitar Hero Van Halen Review

Guitar Hero Van Halen is an odd entry in the crowded music gamespace. Guitar Hero Metallica, Activision's last band-focused Guitar Hero game, was a great homage to the band. Band history, trivia, interviews, and an extensive collection of songs spanning the band's entire career made it a great entry in the Guitar Hero series and a must-have for anyone with a remote interest in the band. There's none of that in Guitar Hero Van Halen, which is a pretty basic Guitar Hero game that happens to have a track list that's primarily made up of Van Halen songs.

The game's career mode follows the classic pattern of the previous generation of Guitar Hero games. Tracks are placed in tiers and you must earn a certain amount of stars playing the songs in a tier in order to unlock the next one. Each tier has a mix of Van Halen songs and tracks from other artists, and when you play a Van Halen song David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, and Wolfgang Van Halen appear on stage and the usual cast of characters such as Judy Nails and Lars Umlaut. The venues tied to each tier are new and supposedly drawn from Van Halen's career, but there's no band history in the game so I'm not certain. I do know that the apparent trip through the band's history is a revisionist one as Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony are entirely absent from the game, as are all songs from the Sammy era of the band. Personally that's not a big deal to me because I think that all of the band's best stuff preceded its sell-out to the mainstream with 1984. Those early songs are the game's real strong suit, as playing Eddie Van Halen's guitar parts on them is both challenging and a lot of fun. This is also one of the game's biggest disappointments because unlike Guitar Hero 5 you can't have more than one player on lead guitar. To be honest, Van Halen rose to prominence on the strength of Eddie's guitar virtuosity and not the band's bass and drum lines, and if you have two guitars one player will be having a lot of fun trying to match some frantic fret work while the other sits there tapping the strum bar and holding down a single fret button while playing the bass line. It's not always that bad, but if the series has already moved on to support multiple instruments on the same part then why not in this game? It would have been great to have four guitars trying to outdo each other on the opening of Little Guitars. And while I'm on the topic of disappointing things, I have to say that the other tracks in the game just don't seem to fit - Stacey's Mom being a particularly egregious example, a track that would be far more at home in Band Hero.

Guitar Hero Van Halen includes the aforementioned tiered career mode, but you can also jump in and play any song in free play and the entire track list is unlocked from the start. Online play is supported, both for co-op and competitive play. The game also includes the GH Tunes song creator, but it doesn't give you access to the downloadable tracks available for Guitar Hero 5 and you can't export the Van Halen songs to another Guitar Hero game. When you have the urge to play a Van Halen track you're stuck swapping discs.
The sound quality of the tracks is excellent, and all of the Van Halen tracks are originals and not covers. The graphics on the other hand look like they belong to the PS2 version of the game, with the character models standing out as particularly blocky and distinctly "last gen".

Guitar Hero Van Halen is enjoyable simply because it's so much fun to play the guitar line in many of the Van Halen tracks. Taken as a whole, though, the game's disappointing. It's essentially a track collection that's incompatible with the other games in the series, devoid of any of the extras that went into Guitar Hero Aerosmith or Guitar Hero Metallica. If you're excited by the prospect of playing songs like The Cradle Will Rock, Jamie's Crying, and Eruption, then just the chance to play those songs will keep you happy. If you're looking for more out of your Guitar Hero games, then just stick to Guitar Hero 5 for now and wait until a Van Halen Track Pack is added to the Guitar Hero Store.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 74%. A Van Halen track pack that's missing everything that made Guitar Hero Metallica a great band-focused Guitar Hero game.


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