STAFF REVIEW of Guitar Hero: Van Halen (Xbox 360)

Saturday, January 9, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Guitar Hero: Van Halen Box art So let me set the scene?I?m a young teenager, reveling in the midst of the ?me? generation. My thoughts are scattered, my dreams are vast and my opportunities are endless. To the mix we add a healthy portion of, what is by far, some of the most influential music of any generation. Wrap it up with the realization that I don?t have enough musical talent to sing myself to sleep, let alone entertain the masses. Whip this mixture into a frenzy of 20+ years of social and commercial acceptance, the joys of being a family man (wife, 2 1/2 kids, mortgage, 2 car garage,white picket fence, the whole nine yards) and the comfort of being valued and successful in my career aspirations. Now what you should see before you is a middle-aged man, lounging in his living room, playing out the glory days of his youth as he ?rocks out? to the latest Guitar Hero ? However, I ended up with ?Guitar Hero: Van Halen.?

The third 'band' offering (and the 13th in the Guitar Hero series, including hand-held versions) from the group at Activision should be a gem. Surely, by now they've identified what gamers want. This being a band specific offering, the hits should be epic and the play-list immense, we should even see improvements in the graphic department. Instead what we get is a game that, while enjoyable, falls short on almost every front.

Most gamers have been exposed to the Guitar Hero franchise for quite some time and it can be difficult for them to offer an unbiased approach to GH:VH. Lucky for you, this is not the case where I'm concerned; I am one of the minority that have avoided the series because of the popular perception that 'you're just button pushing, not actually participating in the game'. I will say this, the addiction level in these games are incredible, not because you think you're actually playing the guitar but because of the sheer anticipation can't help but want to do a little better or try a track on a harder level...I will definitely be pursuing some of the other titles in the franchise.

But let's focus on Guitar Hero: Van Halen. I am a child of the 80's, I had various color and lengths of hair, I went to every party that I possibly could, my entire life is a medley of 80's hits and Van Halen is featured prominently in my soundtrack. So for me GH:VH featured many of the hits I relate to but (you'll find this review is full of 'but') there is nothing beyond 1985 (I don't care what purests shout, Sammy Hagar was a vital and integral part of Van Halen ). I don't mean that there aren't any hits after '85, nor do I mean the tracks are limited after '85, I mean there are literally no songs after 1985. The limited selection isn't necessarily a huge issue, especially for me, but to add insult to injury there just aren't very many Van Halen tracks at all. Again, I don't mean not many #1 hits or that there are no B sides (older gamers know what I mean), I mean there are only 25 Van Halen tracks on the entire game. Being that the game is named featuring a group, I was shocked to see such shortsighted offerings from a great franchise.

There are 19 other tracks to round out the game. You read it right, there are only 44 tracks on a full price Guitar Hero game. This could be a good thing right? There must be a lot of hits (not by Van Halen) to round out the game but, First date by Blink 182, Safe European Home by The Clash and the Takedown by Yellowcard do not exactly shout big hits (even by '80's standards). The game does give some favorites like Master Exploder by Tenacious D, Space Truckin' by Deep Purple and the romantic ballad; Stacy's Mom by Fountains of Wayne. Unfortunately the more popular tunes seem to come in as desperate attempts to save the game, it almost feels like, at any moment, Rick Astley will pop in crooning to sooth the masses (not that it would have hurt this title).

There are a few things the game does well. The tutorial section is well fleshed out and including the option to play as a band (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Singing) is a nice appeal. Showcasing the Van Halen Guitar's as unlockables kept me looking forward, and the player customization adds an additional layer to the game (but really, an achievement for getting a tattoo, come on!). The on screen antics by David Lee Roth and the finger dancing by Eddie Van Halen take me back to simpler times but, by now, we should see better representations of the performers (Activision chose to showcase the current look of the performers, the true '80s look only makes an appearance after you complete the 'career') and there are only 3 guitar solos by Eddie included in the 25 Van Halen songs.

It should be most telling that GH:VH was offered as a freebie to those who pre-ordered Guitar Hero 5 (in the States only, Canadians and Europeans have been, once again, forgotten in the numbers game). This offering could have easily been kept to the 25 songs, named 'Guitar Hero: Van Halen, David Lee Roth edition' and offered as downloadable content with Guitar Hero 5. The 19 other tracks could have been offered as individual downloads (I believe some have already been featured in other GH offerings).

In reference to my opening paragraph, I did lounge comfortably and I did finally experience what the appeal of Guitar Hero is all about and the 'Rocking Out' was entertaining albeit incredibly limited. The game was vaguely enjoyable and the flashbacks to the glory days were lacking. If you got this as a freebie ,good for you, if you find it in the (heavily) discounted bin then try it out (it should be there by Friday).

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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