We know the score by now. Guitar Hero meets world-famous, multi-million album selling band and hence a new notch on Activision’s belt is formed. Following on from Guitar Hero’s Aerosmith and the highly successful Metallica spin-off, where to next? Everyone who embraced glam metal, wore red jumpsuits and never cut their in the early 80’s will be glad to hear it’s Van Halen.
Sadly though, I can’t help but feel even fans of Van Halen will be disappointed by Guitar Hero’s latest venture. Despite Van Halen having a 40 year-plus career, the game only offers 28 tracks recorded between their 1978 self-titled release and their 1984 album. Halen lovers will note that their ’84 album also marked David Lee Roth’s final studio release for the band which brings me to my next point. Through-out Guitar Hero: Van Halen there is little or no mention of Sammy Hagger, Michael Antony or Gary Cherone. The game should really be titled Roth Halen.
Fans will also be disappointed to hear that Activision have no plans for any future downloadable content for Guitar Hero: Van Halen meaning that any non-David Lee Roth material will never appear in the game. But the Roth era still includes your Van Halen staples with hits like "Panama," "You Really Got Me," "Runnin' With the Devil," "Jump," "Dance the Night Away," "Unchained," and so on. Eddie Van Halen does get three of his most insanely awesome solos in the list as well.
Adding to the strangely capped period of Van Halen is the choice of using their modern day, older character models through-out the game. The bands 80’s counter-parts with their flowing Pantene conditioned locks, skin-tight body gloves they called costumes and energy bound stage antics are all missing from this game. Despite the developer’s using motion-capture of the likes of Guitar Hero: Metallica, the animations of current-day Van Halen in this game seem lacklustre and… well kinda motionless.
For those people who have a brain aneurysm and buy Guitar Hero: Van Halen without actually liking Van Halen, there are 19 guest artists to top off the track-listing. There are some great tracks here including Lenny Kravitz’s rifficliously funky “Rock and Roll is Dead” and The Foo Fighter’s scream-worthy “Best of You”. But then there are other crazy additions like Weezer (“Dope Nose”) and Third Eye Blind (“Semi-Charmed Life”) thrown in. I was hoping the world had forgotten about Third Eye Blind after 1997. Other tracks like Tennacious D’s “Master Exploder” and Queens of the Stone Age’s “Sick, Sick, Sick” are absolutely brilliant, but anyone with Rock Band 2 will be left feeling like they got stuck with the recycle pile. Same goes for Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”.
Another sore point for the game is that unlike Guitar Hero: Metallica, there is no story mode of any sort here. There is no time-line progression and definitely no videos or short cinematics to put Van Halen’s epic history into perspective. And as already mentioned, the character models and costumes don’t match the tracks in any way from the late 70’s to mid 80’s. Instead you just plough through tracks unlocking stars. It’s a real shame and seems a lazy step-backwards compared to Guitar Hero’s previous efforts.
Playing Guitar Hero: Van Halen really made me appreciate games like Guitar Hero: Metallica and Rock Band: The Beatles that both had a fan-worthy attention to detail right the way through. Sure Van Halen was a great choice for the Guitar Hero franchise with their finger-numbing solos, hectic drums and glam metal vocals but the execution and presentation is off the mark. I can’t help but feel that perhaps this game should have been left as downloadable track packs for Van Halen fans and not a full-fledged release with a high price-tag.
Author's note: After writing this review I was informed that Guitar Hero: Van Halen has seen some release delays which may help explain a couple of factors. Firstly, GH: Van Halen was meant to be released late last year before Guitar Hero 5. In fact Activision were looking to reward buyers of Guitar Hero 5 with FREE copies of the Van Halen edition via unique codes. It also looks likely that Activision will drop the retail price for GH: Van Halen. It is important to note that the timing of the game launching after Guitar Hero 5 and the high price tag have contributed to this score.