Guitar Hero: Van Halen is about as bare-bones of a product that you can imagine. This is probably why it was offered for free to everyone who purchased Guitar Hero 5 a few months back. The latest band-specific GH game is certainly not for anyone who has watched the series progress, but more for the nostalgic fans when it was all about shredding on the guitar. Eddie’s riffs are intense and invoke a sense of tearing through some of the more complicated solos in the original games. However, the dated presentation and lack of extras really make this feel more like a quick cash-in as opposed to a full-fledged entry to the series.
One of the biggest reasons that this entry feels like it falls flat is the presentation. The latest GH release featured a bevy of new features that really set the series apart from its rival. Van Halen takes several steps backwards and feels like it was based off of the GH: Metallica palette. This is most evident when you look at the career mode, or lack thereof. There is no progression to playing as the band and if you are a fan of the Sammy Hagar days, there is nothing here for you. Watching the band move around on stage further enforces that little care was given to invoking the sense that you are actually playing as the classic rockers. The whole layout simply feels flat and rushed.
Once you complete the “career” mode you are given a chance to play as classic Van Halen, but it is hardly a reward as they still do not look interested in what they are playing. That is probably my biggest gripe with the presentation is that the game seems like it was built without much help from the band itself. The motion capture work is credited to the Neversoft team, and the likeness of each of the members seems very stagnant. There was so much that could have been accomplished with a band like Van Halen, but unfortunately the presentation all around simply falls flat.
The bright spot here is again the music. If you prefer the Roth-era of Van Halen, you will be pleased with the selection. Songs such as “Hot for Teacher”, “You Really Got Me Now” and the cramp-inducing solos of “Eruption” really do a fantastic job of showing off the talent of the band. The guitar solos are absolutely a blast to master and will challenge even the most die-hard of Guitar Hero fans. Unfortunately if you prefer the “Right Now” stylings of Sammy Hagar, you will be disappointed. There is more than enough music in the band’s library to fill out an entire setlist, which is another reason the game feels more phoned in than past versions.
The collective guest acts range from puzzling to just plain peculiar. Not to discredit any of the bands found on the soundtrack. In fact some of them are great GH songs such as Weezer’s “Dope Nose” and Tenacious D’s “Master Exploder”, but they really have little bearing on the featured band at all. There are also some truly questionable acts such as Alter Bridge and Fountains of Wayne that simply do not mesh into the target audience at all. I mean seriously does anyone who listens to Van Halen actually like the song “Stacey’s Mom”? The amount of songs is pretty standard and it will keep you occupied long enough to make it feel like a solid release, but not being able to import the songs into GH 5 or worse, not having the option for future DLC; this game simply fails compared to recent releases.
What will likely upset most people about the game is that it just feels like the band had little to no involvement in its creation process. Unlike GH: Metallica before it, everything here feels like Guitar Hero focused around a specific set of songs. Thing back to the AC/DC track pack for Rock Band and you get the idea. The songs are great, and some of the solos are downright incredible to play, but the experience of playing as Van Halen just isn’t there. The game plays just like every other GH before it and the addition of playing as the entire band makes it great for fans that play together. You can of course hop online and play with others or create tunes in the GHTunes section, but outside of that you get nothing.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen is not a bad game; in fact if you love shredding impossibly guitar solos then this is easily one of the better options as of late. The song list is great if you love classic Eddie and the guest bands while not relevant, offer a solid mix. Not being able to export the songs into GH 5 or download any new tracks really hurts, but the lackluster presentation hurts even more. The idea of playing a game based on Van Halen is the desire to feel like the band; sadly that does not happen here. If you got the game free it was truly a blessing, but unless you are a die-hard Roth-era Van Halen fan, the retail disc is not likely worth your dough.
Review copy provided by publisher.