October 22, 2009

Guitar Hero Van Halen | Review

Troy Benedict Says "Who are these metrosexual rock stars on my TV, and what have they done with Van Halen??!"

Those were my first words as the digital representations of Van Halen took the stage in Guitar Hero Van Halen.

It was an awkward first impression, especially for a casual Van Halen fan like me who last saw photographs and videos of David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen many years ago. I totally expected Neversoft, the game's developer, to be overly kind with regards to the band's appearance, but when Eddie took the stage he very well could have been some young, hip guitarist from a teen drama on the CW. In other words, Van Halen, as a group looked like "Young Van Halen" as if they somehow time traveled from the late 70s, met up with a stylist from 2009, but had the vocal stylings and talents of "classic Van Halen" complete with with Diamond Dave's signature high-pitched shriek and Eddie's guitar thrashings.

However, as the classic saying goes, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." Regardless of what I think about "Young Van Halen's" overly youthful appearances, the Van Halen tracks are pure rock awesomeness and are a blast to play!

Outside of the exclusive Van Halen tracks and their digital on-stage representations, Guitar Hero Van Halen is pretty much your standard run-of-the-mill Guitar Hero game. It also features support for full band kits: guitar, bass, drums, and microphone.

The track list for GHVH consists of a little more than 25 David Lee Roth-helmed tracks, primarily from the late 70s and early 80s, like Panama, Jump, and Hot for Teacher. The rest of the lineup, consisting of about 20 songs, is a medley of other "Guest Acts" like Queen, Judas Priest, Weezer, Deep Purple, Blink-182, and Billy Idol.

Being a casual fan of Van Halen, I found myself enjoying or at least recognizing a majority of the songs offered, and couldn't help but smile when rocking out to some of Van Halen's best music. I even thought that a great deal of attention was put into squeezing David Lee Roth's body language and personality into the on-screen character, so much, in fact, that I couldn't help but laugh seeing Diamond Dave's mannerisms, out of the corner of my eye, while playing songs like "Jump" and "Hot for Teacher."

While I felt that the majority of Van Halen songs were strong and fun to play, the guest act songs felt like nothing more than audio filler. Maybe it's just me, but I have issues with songs from the last couple of years being featured alongside classic rock songs. Maybe it's just me being out of touch with today's young, hip acts, but I think there should be a 5-10 year waiting period before a song can be included in a Guitar Hero/Rock Band game. The way that Guitar Hero is structured, I'm pretty sure that it's possible to focus on playing only Van Halen songs and never once have to play as a guest act.

Achieving a certain number of stars for playing songs will unlock a new venue. Unlocked venues feature about 5 to 6 songs, and alternate between clumps of Van Halen tracks and guest act tracks. The number of required stars to access a new venue is usually easily acquired. If you're a competent Guitar Hero/Rock Band player, two 5-star performances is all you need to access a new batch of songs.

Other Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have let you customize your rock star, but doing so in Guitar Hero Van Halen is pretty much a waste of time, as you'll never see your rock star on stage unless you are playing as one of the 19 guest act's songs. When Van Halen takes the stage, the member of the band that corresponds to your instrument will be featured regardless of the guitarist you selected/customized at the start of the game. I actually commend Neversoft for not allowing you to replace somebody like David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen with some horribly created Glam Viking rock star.

After all the ribbing I gave Neversoft in the opening paragraphs, I was pleased to see that Van Halen's final act features "Classic Van Halen" avatars as you may remember them from the music videos and concerts from the late 70s and early 80s.

In addition to the exclusive Van Halen tracks, there is also a Van Halen sound board that you can access, that will fire off some tasty Eddie Van Halen guitar licks with the press of a few face button combinations. An extra feature is unlocked once you've completed a song that plays back the performance and gives you behind-the-music information about the song's history. It reminded me of VH1's Pop-Up Video, but without the "Pop-Up Video" personality.

The game took me less than 3 hours to earn enough stars to access Guitar Hero Van Halen's full track list. I played through the career mode on solo, focusing on the guitar as my instrument of choice, but as always the game supports multiplayer.

As much as I found myself enjoying Guitar Hero Van Halen, I couldn't help but feel that the game would have been so much better if some of Sammy Hagar's 11-years of contribution to Van Halen could have been featured as well. Whether or not it was a political reason, the exclusion of Hagar, and even Gary Cherone, felt like somebody just tried to rewrite history. I understand that the game is supposed to be based (roughly) around the recently reunited Roth-helmed Van Halen, but writing off 11+ years of Van Halen hits just seems wrong.

It would be nice to see a Sammy Hagar DLC pack in the future, perhaps also featuring a way-too-youthful-looking digital avatar of The Red Rocker himself on the mic. That being said, I would have much rather had a mix of Roth and Hagar, than the rather unimpressive filler tracks of guest acts.

Guitar Hero Van Halen doesn't hit retail shelves until December 22nd. As much as I enjoyed the game for its classic Van Halen goodness, I can't recommend paying the suggested retail price of $60 for this game. If it's not too late, go out and pick up Guitar Hero 5 and get your free copy through the mail like I did.

Don't get caught paying full price for this one. It's good, but it's not THAT good.