October 18, 2009

Guitar Hero Van Halen | First Impressions

Troy Benedict Says Guitar Hero Van Halen isn't scheduled for retail sale until December, but if you purchased a qualifying copy of Guitar Hero 5, you could receive a copy of the game for free today. I was lucky enough to take advantage of this deal. I had no idea that I’d actually receive it well before its scheduled December 22nd release date.

My wife sent me an MMS message with a simple message, "It's here!" and a photograph of the Guitar Hero Van Halen cover. The pre-release copy of this game is nothing fancy, in fact it's in a cardboard sleeve, just large enough to fit the game disc. No manual, no box. We're talking barebones here. But hey, it's free!

The back of the “box” boasts that there are "25 epic Van Halen tracks, with 3 Eddie Van Halen signature solos." Also included are "19 scorching Guest Acts," such as artists like Queen, Billy Idol, Judas Priest, and Weezer.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical going into this game. For one, the game is being offered for free with a copy of Guitar Hero 5, and to me that seemed to imply a lack in confidence on Activision/Red Octane's behalf. Because it was being offered for free, I also was a bit skeptical if this would be a full-instrument game like the previous Rock Bands and Guitar Hero releases, or if this would quietly be a guitar-only game, riding on the interest of popular guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

Thankfully, the answer to that last bit of skepticism was answered right away, as GHVH's cover has a label clearly stating "play on guitar or with the whole band."

I fired up the game and immediately jumped into a solo Guitar career. The rocking out as Van Halen starts immediately upon pressing start. There are no menu selections as you’re introduced to Van Halen’s two-set introduction.

The game seems to take place with today’s Van Halen, but features a late 70s, early 80s Van Halen, with an exclusive set list of David Lee Roth stylings. Activision has been kind to the digital representation of Van Halen. None of the rock stars looked anything like classic Van Halen. My wife’s observation of the game was priceless: "The developers took 30+ years of drugs and alcohol abuse off of David Lee Roth." Current photos of the band do show that they have certainly taken a more youthful, metrosexual rockstar approach to 2009's classic Van Halen lineup, but this certainly didn’t look like Van Halen from the videos that I grew up watching on MTV.

After completing the 2-act introduction to Guitar Hero Van Halen, I was presented with a menu with which I could create my rockstar. Interestingly enough, your selected rockstar will only perform with the "Guest Acts." While I think this makes a lot of sense for consistency’s sake, I can’t imagine taking the time to customize my rock star if he’s not going to be featured on all of the songs! That being said, I would have been a bit unimpressed if my rockabilly rockstar took the stage in place of Eddie.

The set lists alternate between Guest Acts and Van Halen performances. None of them seem to overlap or cross paths in a weird choice of opening acts (would Queen actually open for Van Halen, or would it be the other way around?). While the Guest Acts are nothing more than filler tracks, I appreciate the decision to keep Van Halen and the other artists separate from one another.

Another interesting feature of Guitar Hero Van Halen is that after completing a song, you can then go back and access the song's “Extras,” which includes the lyrics and a non-interactive performance of the song featuring facts about the song. These extras seem to apply to Guest Acts and Van Halen songs alike. If you're a fan of VH1's Pop-Up Videos and the informative behind-the-scenes information they give about the songs, you might appreciate this feature (minus the Pop-Up-ness).

After playing the game for about an hour, I'm much more impressed with it than I was expecting. While it offers nothing really ground-breaking, when compared to previous Guitar Hero releases, the choice of classic Van Halen songs has not disappointed, and even choice of Guest Acts and their songs are fairly enjoyable.

For my final impressions of the game, check back soon for my full review.