Review: Guitar Hero: Van Halen

Barring Guitar Hero 5’s revitalization of the series, Guitar Hero is becoming a bit of a one-trick pony. Take the latest iteration: Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Given out for free with the purchase of Guitar Hero 5, the full retail release has finally reached store shelves. It “features” 20 rock “superstars” alongside 80s rockers Van Halen in a wholly underwhelming exercise in tedium that reminds me exactly why I treasure my quality time spent with more polished offerings that rely less on filler tracks completely unrelated to the featured band and more on making my experience feel like a unique one with some of the music I love. Perhaps this game is a real treat for the hardcore Van Halen fans still truckin’ out there — after all, they are quite the prolific outfit — but even for franchise fans, this is most certainly a miss.

If you’re at all familiar with the Guitar Hero series, then know that this is no departure. Choose a song from a predetermined setlist and rock out while your fingers deftly maneuver a row of multicolored buttons on a plastic guitar peripheral. There’s absolutely nothing new here. Guitar Hero: Van Halen is actually the third attempt at capitalizing on a single band’s success. Where they ultimately failed with an underwhelming Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Activision did a commendable job with Guitar Hero: Metallica. However, two critical mistakes plagued both prior titles: both setlists featured less of the spotlighted band and more of supporting acts. A prime example of the correct way to honor a band’s legacy is The Beatles: Rock Band, which wisely places the emphasis on, well, The Beatles, as is expected from games that feature one band in the headline. The second mistake? Underwhelming career modes.



A career mode should chronicle the band’s rise to stardom and follow them through the best and the worst areas of their working years. The career mode in Guitar Hero: Van Halen is nearly nonexistent save for a few miniscule scraps. You simply must choose songs tossed together in a rather disjointed way, occasionally trading out venues and crowds for new ones. There are no famous setpieces throughout Van Halen’s history to explore, no noteworthy extravaganzas that will linger with you long after you complete the game. Instead, you get a hodgepodge of some of Van Halen’s greatest hits interspersed with some entirely forgettable filler tracks, spiced up with some admittedly classic songs like “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” that break up the monotony, but have nothing to do with Van Halen. In fact, out of the 44 songs included, only 25 are actually Van Halen tunes. I can’t stress enough how irritating this is, especially to diehard fans. It’s true that the extra songs included are performed by “guest acts” hand-picked by Wolfgang himself, but so many of the musical styles clash and some are just plain awful.

The digitized version of the band looks tired and sluggish, almost disinterested in the goings-on in their own game. Audio quality and visuals are decent, but most certainly have not been knocked out of the park. Everything about this iteration feels definitively stale, as if it’s the best that Activision can do, slapping a new name and label on a mishmash of songs that may or may not relate to the artist or their creative vision. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as this game was originally meant to accompany Guitar Hero 5. That should say something about Activision’s faith in this project as a whole.


If you didn’t pick this up for free along with your retail copy of Guitar Hero 5, I cannot recommend paying full price for what is essentially an expansion pack with a few Van Halen songs sprinkled throughout. It could have worked just as well as downloadable tracks. Rock Band continues to dominate with their attention to detail when it comes to honoring singular bands as we saw with The Beatles: Rock Band, but I’m wanting to see Guitar Hero really pull it off — perhaps with a little time the two games can be on the same level when it comes to artist showcases.

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