When going down the list of legendary bands who deserve to get the Guitar Hero or Rock Band treatment, there is no denying that the late 70’s and early 80’s and even 90’s juggernaut that is Van Halen is worthy of the honor. Since getting together in 1974 the band has seen a level of success that few other bands have. Over 200 million albums sold worldwide is a clear indicator of that. Led by Eddie Van Halen, the band has kept on truckin‘ for 35 years and the bands story reads like something right out of a soap opera - which most would think had the makings of an excellent game. Such is not the case with Guitar Hero: Van Halen. At its most basic, it is an uninspired and pedestrian experience, especially when compared to similar titles like The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero: Metallica.
Developer Underground Development may want to stay underground. The dev does a fine job at getting the core Guitar Hero game play right. Gamers will still attempt to play along with the song by hitting steaming notes coming down the highway with their plastic guitars. GH: Van Halen utilizes the full-band setup that’s become the norm for the series. It has all the same career, online and multiplayer modes that are expected from each Guitar Hero title and it is still great fun, but then again the core game play mechanics have never really been called into question.
As mentioned earlier, Van Halen has been on the rock scene for the last 35 years. During that time the band has had three very different eras, with DLR, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. Each singer brought something different to the legacy of the band, even though Cherone wasn’t around very long, but for some reason Guitar Hero: Van Halen only covers the first era of the band with music ranging from 1978-1984. Sure the only real Van Halen is the Van Halen with David Lee Roth, there are four #1 albums with Sammy Hagar as the lead singer that say otherwise. And this is coming from a die-hard David Lee Roth fan. The fact that Hagar was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Van Halen makes his exclusion pretty F’ed up, especially for longtime fans of the band. Though the game offers up 25 Van Halen songs, plus some of the most iconic rock songs from the late 70s and early 80s, the exclusion of Hagar and Cherone's music (an example of the petty bickering that has engulfed the band for the last decade) makes the game suffer. And somehow we’re only covering a period in Van Halen history which Wolfgang wasn’t alive, yet he usurps Michael Anthony on bass? Man Eddie and Alex are petty. Okay, that rant is over.
The failure to include Hagar or Cherone era music is only part of the overall issue the game has with its music choices. Like GH: Aerosmith and GH: Metallica before it, Guitar Hero: Van Halen features guest acts to help flesh out the overall set list. But unlike the previous two Guitar Hero band games which feature songs by bands that have influenced or toured with those bands, Guitar Hero: Van Halen features a very strange compilation of music, with over half of the guest songs are from newer bands that haven't toured and certainly did not influence Van Halen. Sure "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne is a fun song, but it doesn't exactly mesh with the hard rock feel of Van Halen. Who put this list together? Wolfgang Van Halen?
The music should be the focal point of any Guitar Hero game, and we already know that’s a miss. But there are other things wrong with Guitar Hero: Van Halen. For starters, Activision saturated the market with Guitar Hero games putting the developer and Guitar Hero: Van Halen in a bad place, namely behind Guitar Hero 5 which featured an entirely new graphics engine and a bevy of new features, none of which are part of Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Underground Development built the game on last year's Guitar Hero: World Tour engine, and while games using that engine can look good, when compared to Guitar Hero 5 it’s stale and dated looking.
It’s amazing that GH: Van Halen features one of the most exciting and athletic lead singers to ever front a band and yet due to the dated graphics engine and lack of production value, this title makes the great DLR look boring and stiff. And even at his current age, David Lee Roth can JUMP!
Guitar Hero: Van Halen is exactly what Activision has marketed it as. It’s a pack –in bonus for people who purchased the far superior Guitar Hero 5. The worst part about this game is the excitement that Van Halen fans felt when news of the title broke. We all thought we’d be playing backyard gigs, arenas, and up until, and including the reunion tour with David. Sadly this game meets no one’s expectations and only seens to succeed in failing. As a free game, Guitar Hero: Van Halen will offer gamers some fun Guitar Hero, but as a full retail package I can’t even jokingly suggest a purchase. The game has a bevy of problems, it feels old, unpolished, and empty. I do enjoy playing some Van Halen tracks and seeing Diamond Dave in the lead, but this game could have been so much more.