I'm not going to lie to you, my expectations for Guitar Hero: Van Halen were extremely low. It's not just the fact that this is the sixth console "Hero" game this year and I have only a passing interest in the band. Instead I worried that the release date (a mere three days before Christmas) was a sign of weakness. Also troubling was the company giving the game away for free for simply buying the $60 Guitar Hero 5 disc. I went in to this game with the lowest of low expectations, I figured that just as long as the game doesn't blow up my system I would be impressed. Sadly I'm forced to report that Guitar Hero: Van Halen is even more underwhelming than I could have ever imagined. It makes a strong argument for why Activision should not continue to make band-specific Guitar Hero games.
You would think that Van Halen would be the perfect choice for a Guitar Hero game. After all, Eddie Van Halen is one of the very best guitarists in rock music (a mainstay on guitar magazine top ten lists). In the band's almost 40 years rocking, they've managed to sell some 90 million albums and become the band with the most number-one hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. They've been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have influenced an entire generation of musicians. What more could you want for a game called Guitar Hero?
Guitar Hero: Van Halen is a fundamentally flawed project that manages to misuse this once-great band every step of the way. This is a half-assed entry in the series, the type of game that feels more like a cynical cash-in than an organic video game project. While I've never been a huge Van Halen fan, even I can see that this band deserves better than what this game offers. Guitar Hero: Van Halen should be a wake-up call for Activision going into the new year, if they want to keep this franchise afloat they best avoid releasing products like this.
This isn't the first band-specific game Activision has released. Over the last two years they have provided us with both Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Metallica. While neither of those games were perfect, at least they offered a comprehensive set list of both new and old songs from their respective artists. That's not the case here. In this Van Halen edition you get 28 songs from the band, ranging from their 1978 self-titled debut album to their 1984 album, also known as David Lee Roth's final Van Halen record. That's it. That's the band's entire span of music in Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
What is completely missing from this game are songs from either the Sammy Haggar or Gary Cherone eras of Van Halen. Oh sure, for a lot of people David Lee Roth will always be the best Van Halen singer, but it's hard to completely forget about two singers that kept the band together for more than 15 years. There's some genuinely good music in that eras and only focusing on David Lee Roth feels a bit shortsighted or, dare I say, incomplete. We don't even get songs from David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen's solo careers, something we saw in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. Anybody looking for a complete Van Halen package will be extremely disappointed with what Activision has done to one of the biggest rock bands of all time.
To make matters worse, the developers of this game have decided not to include a story of any kind. None whatsoever. At no point in this game do you get context for why these songs are important or what Van Halen was all about. There are no videos adding insight or short vignettes that put everything into perspective. Heck, we don't even get digitally recreated versions of the band from the different eras. Instead of going back and giving us the big hair versions of the band from the late 1970s to early 1980s, Guitar Hero has decided to give us the aging portraits of these rock legends.
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