Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review - Guitar Hero Van Halen

A Guest Review by Tom McShane
  • Game: Guitar Hero Van Halen
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Console: PS2, PS3, Wii
  • Developer: NeverSoft
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Genre: Music/Rhythm
If there’s one guitar solo in the history of all music (nay, all sound) that makes women moist and gives guys the nut-chills, it’s Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’, and before now the only coverage the spandex-clad, harmony-fuelled rock gods have had in the world of music video games has been a cover of ‘You Really Got Me’ in Guitar Hero II, and a blisteringly-difficult rendition of ‘Hot For Teacher’ in World Tour. So is the addition of a Van Halen iteration to the roster of band centric Guitar Hero titles enough to give you those Eruption-esque chills all over again?

The answer, sadly, is no. Unlike the Aerosmith and Metallica instalments, this is quite a lacklustre effort from the folks over at Neversoft. Picture the scene; Van Halen are in their prime, rocking it with some of their best known songs with flamboyant frontman David Lee Roth. They’re leaping around the stage looking like they’ve been poured into the skin-tight spandex and leather… wait. That’s right – Van Halen’s major, non-musical traits (their typically 80s outfits; their over-the-top stage presence; David Lee Roth’s flowing hair) are all but absent from this game. The band appear as they did on their 2009 tour – complete with a short-haired David Lee Roth, a rather aged Eddie Van Halen and lacking both original bassist Michael Anthony and any of the band’s signature stage presence.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the core of the game, mind you. It’s still Guitar Hero, and the plethora of classic Van Halen songs (all from the arguably superior David Lee Roth-era) are fantastic fun. Pretty much every single song that made Van Halen who are they is in here – ‘Panama’, ‘Jump’, ‘Eruption’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Running With The Devil’… the list goes on and on for 25 songs of rocky goodness. In fact, you could take the songlist from this game and easily package it as a ‘Best Of’ that fans (myself included) would lap up and hand over a tenner for. But there’s nothing new here that stops the game becoming anything more than a glorified expansion pack that rapes your wallet of £40, which also unfortunately seems to be the way the whole Guitar Hero franchise is going.

The game mechanics are exactly the same - in fact they might even be worse, seeing as Guitar Hero: Van Halen actually lacks the drop-in/drop-out play mode of Guitar Hero 5, despite the VH iteration being the newest game in the series. Everything looks the same (save for some gratuitous red, black and white Van Halen striping around the menus) and the on-stage models are much the same too – incredibly realistic looking, but when it comes to movements they’re stiff and lifeless. The animated band does move about a bit and pull off the odd stage antic (like the David Lee Roth spinning the mic stand) but it’s all very half-arsed. There’s just no Van Halen magic to it at all. Maybe I’m expecting too much for some 3D animated models to capture the same stage magic of the real-life Van Halen from way back in the 80s. Or maybe that’s the problem with the game and why the first statement sounds like I’m having to make excuses for a game that feels rushed and half-finished. I mean, what’s so ‘Van Halen’ about short, neat haircuts, a nice shirt and smart jeans, and a reserved, ‘in awe of a stadium audience’ stage presence and attitude.

David Lee Roth’s ability to hit those high notes is no surprise after you get one look of the spandex tightly hugging his crotch.

Yeah, ok, you can unlock stage models of the band from their spandex/ass-less chap era (late 70s/early 80s) but there’s two reasons why this is totally rubbish, the main reason being that it’s totally backwards. This classic 80s formation of Van Halen is that one that should be available from the very beginning; long hair and ridiculous skin tight, glittery costumes is the epitome of Van Halen and the glam rock era they championed. The rather polished, ‘we’ve grown up now’ look of the modern-day Van Halen is the costume and model set that should be unlockable – not the real Van Halen!

Which leads me into the second reason as to why the character sets are completely backwards – it means that for a large part of the game it just doesn’t feel like you’re playing as Van Halen. It feels like you’re just playing as some random collection of computer-generated rockstars performing away in the background on an extra-large Van Halen song pack on Guitar Hero: World Tour. And that’s all the game is really – an expansion pack. Hell, those lucky American folk got this for free if they bought Guitar Hero 5.

So if there’s a bottom line here it’s “don’t buy this game”. It’s such a shame as Van Halen are the perfect band for a game like Guitar Hero – catchy riffs, blistering solos (one thing to mention about the game is its racked up difficulty in comparison to a lot of older GH material) and screaming lead vocals. But it’s pulled off in such a way that will leave you feeling short changed. Maybe if some generous American fella is selling his free copy on eBay dirt cheap, or the market price responds to the abysmal press scores it’s been given (averaging less than 66% on GameRankings as well as a meagre 4.9/10 on IGN), then it’ll be worth it. Until then, it’s probably best to crank up that Van Halen record and air-guitar around your room like a buffoon. It’s cheaper and much more satisfying.

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