Review: Guitar Hero: Van Halen

GuitarHeroVanHalen.jpg I enjoy Guitar Hero (and Rock Band) as much as the next gamer, but enough is enough already, for Pete’s sake. I can live with yearly sequels in the main series, but the growing fad of dedicating games to specific bands is getting way, way, WAY out of hand. I sort of understood it with The Beatles: Rock Band since landing the rights to The Beatles catalog was a big deal and there was at least some effort put into rebuilding the game to celebrate the band’s career, but the band-specific Guitar Hero spin-offs – Metallica and Aerosmith – have come across as blatant money grabs to me, and the latest, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, is the worst such offender yet.

Guitar Hero: Van Halen was initially made available as a freebie to those who bought Guitar Hero 5 and submitted the redemption code received with the game, and that’s exactly what the game feels like – a bonus freebie.

A total of 47 songs are included (see the complete set list here), which seems like a pretty solid amount at face value. However, only 25 are actual Van Halen tracks, while three are short Eddie Van Halen guitar solos and the remaining 19 tracks are supplied by various “guest artists.” The 28 Van Halen tracks encompass a solid mix of band hits, Eddie’s incredible guitar work makes for equally incredible note layouts that are a joy to play, and the audio quality for the music is excellent.

But strangely, all songs from the band’s Sammy Hagar era were excluded and the in-game avatars only consist of the current band members (though you can unlock old-school costumes). So really this game is only celebrating a tiny portion of the band’s history.

And then there are the “guest artist” tracks. Some are great, like Queen’s “I Want it All,” Tenacious D’s “Master Exploder,” Judas Priest’s “Painkiller,” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” but others are downright head-scratching, Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” and Blink-182’s “First Date” in particular. As a whole, though, none of the guest tracks make any sense for a Van Halen tribute game. To me they seem more like a mish-mash of DLC leftovers that got tossed in to pad the track list.

What’s even more flummoxing is how Van Halen reverts to a pre-Guitar Hero 5 state, which means there is no drop in/drop out Party Play or career bonus challenges, and the presentation comes across as old and chintzy. Instead what you get are basic Career, Quickplay, Head-to-Head and Online play modes, the Music Studio song creator, and simple goodies to unlock like lyrics and “Rock Facts” for each song. Again, that’s a sizable chunk of content for a free game, but as a retail product it is a huge step backward.

At this point, Activision has surged well past the likes of EA as the publisher many gamers love to hate on, and this game carrying a full $60 price tag only gives such haters extra ammunition. It was nice of Activision to initially offer its Van Halen tribute game as a limited-time freebie to those who bought Guitar Hero 5, and if you were able to snag it for free with that offer I’m sure you are glad you did – I got my review copy for free too and enjoyed playing it like any other Guitar Hero game. But in no way would I ever consider dropping $60 on this game – it’d even be a tough sell at half that price — and therefore I simply cannot recommend it. Even if you are a Van Halen diehard I don’t see how you could honestly justify paying that much for such an uninspired production.

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Pros:
+ Core Guitar Hero gameplay never gets old
+ Included Van Halen tracks are great
+ Some fun guest tracks (even if they are out of place)

Cons:
– Only 28 Van Halen tracks
– Only presents a small slice of the band’s history
– Guest tracks don’t fit the theme at all
– Guitar Hero 5’s main upgrades are missing
– Way overpriced at $60

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also on PS2, Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft / Underground Development
Release Date: 12/22/09
Genre: Rhythm / Music
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!