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Guitar Hero: Van Halen

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

A big problem with Van Halen headlining a Guitar Hero title is you're always going to come out on the short end with music selection. Van Halen's internal problems, particularly the Hagar/ Roth feud, are legendary. As a result, big parts of the band's catalogue are absent. All of the songs featured in the game feature David Lee Roth, so you're missing out on some Hagar-era hits (and to a lesser extent, Gary Cherone). Whether Roth was responsible for Van Halen's bigger hits is debatable, but completely ignoring Hagar results in the inclusion of "B-side filler" rather than a bunch of great songs to play. A few non-Van Halen songs are included (including the requisite Foo Fighters song) and, oddly enough, are probably more fun than a majority of the Van Halen tracks.

Presentation was a big part of the previous band-centric titles, but here, the Van Halen name is really just a label. You get virtual versions of Van Halen, including both their "big hair" look and the current clean-cut, older look. As Guitar Hero games go, the virtual versions of the band look good, but there's also something a bit unsettling about their look. Whether it's David Lee Roth's chest hair or Eddie Van Halen's creepy Solomon Grundy-like expressions, I wasn't as enamored with how things came off.


Guitar Hero: Van Halen is not the first band-centric Guitar Hero release, but if the quality is any indication, I hope it will be the last or at least lead to a major reboot on how Activision handles the concept. With the two previous releases, GH: Aerosmith and GH: Metallica, Activision pulled out all the stops on highlighting why that band deserved its own title. Aerosmith delivered a playable "Behind the Music" retrospective on the band, while Metallica's music spoke for itself. With GH: Van Halen, we get what amounts to a track pack with a heavy dose of Van Halen.

Structurally, GH: Van Halen is GH: Metallica, but with weak connections to the band's history. Things start out strong with a two-song set based on the group's last tour, but then it's just a run to earn stars and unlock new venues and earn money to buy things for avatars you won't see much of during the game. When it comes to band-specific stuff, GH: Van Halen is able to muster up some pop-up trivia for songs in Career. Though interesting, big parts of the band's history are omitted. I understand not wanting to dig up old wounds and am certain legal issues are a part of the deal, but if you can't do a major send up, I'd rather just see something along the lines of Band Hero rather than a watered-down tribute.

GH: Van Halen retains Quickplay and Head-to-Head, both of which can be played online, as well as access to the GH Studio. Though their inclusion is appreciated, I had a difficult time finding online games. At least the quality of the songs in the GH Studio are drastically improving, including a set of great remixes of Christmas songs.


Although the playlist is a bit of a disappointment, there are some challenging songs buried in the B-list. Oddly enough, some of game's more challenging songs come from the guest artists. "Master Exploder" (Tenacious D) is probably one of the game's trickier songs outside of the short, but really cool Eddie Van Halen solos unlocked towards the end of the game. Drummers get the added benefit of Expert +, though I only had problems with "Hot for Teacher."

Unlocking venues and songs isn't much of a challenge. I was able to "complete" (as in, unlock venues and songs) in about an hour without playing many of the Van Halen songs. This was the case in GH: Metallica, but at least there were incentives like the Unlockable Tour Vault to keep you going. With Van Halen, you're just chasing down Achievements.

Game Mechanics:

All of the cool features introduced in Guitar Hero 5 and even Band Hero are absent from Guitar Hero: Van Halen. No drop-in, drop-out quickplay; no four-player, same-instrument play; no instrument-specific challenge, nor the ability to play DLC. Everything is rolled back. You still have full band support, though the songs aren't very interesting and replay value is minimal. My friends and I can usually go 4 - 5 hours easily playing, but couldn't make it past two four-song sets before turning to the GH Studio for something new to play.

On a more positive note, the note tracks are well done. Most of the songs feel right and are comfortable. Several songs use taps rather than strums, which is interesting and adds some challenge. The only song I really had a problem with was, again, "Hot for Teacher." The drum intro is really tricky, even on lower difficulty settings. I'll admit it's a hard song, but it did feel like some of the beats were slightly off of the actual beat.

Guitar Hero: Van Halen is what it is, a Van Halen-heavy track pack. I'd normally tag this as something for the hardened Guitar Hero players looking for something else to play, but I really can't. There's too much missing and with the exception of maybe a handful of songs, there isn't much here to really get excited over. Even Van Halen fans may come away disappointed unless you hold a massive grudge against the Hagar years. If you're just in the market for new songs, invest in DLC over GH: Van Halen.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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