I should say right from the beginning that I’m writing this as a casual Van Halen fan. I’m familiar with a large portion of their catalogue but there are plenty of songs here I did not recognize, even when I started playing them.
Also keep in mind that since I’m in Canada, I wasn’t entitled to the Guitar Hero 5 deal where you could get this game for free. I actually had to put some money towards this game. Rental money, but money nonetheless.
So how does a somewhat Van Halen fan feel about a game he should have been able to get for free? You know where to go for the answer.
Guitar Hero Van Halen has clearly been thrown to the wolves. Not only did they give it away for free months before it was released, but they’ve given it a release 3 days before Christmas with little to no advertising. They’re also now charging full price for it. It’s almost like they don’t want people to buy it. It also doesn’t help its case that this is I believe the seventh game in just the ‘Hero’ franchise to be released in 2009.
Does the game deserve this shoddy treatment? Kind of. At this point in the release schedule the game definitely feels like a step backwards. Guitar Hero 5 really took the franchise to the next level but Van Halen doesn’t employ any of the changes we saw there. Party Play? Nope. Switching instruments during the career? Gone. Song specific challenges? Not anymore. That was my favourite new element in GH5 so it’s really a shame to not see them here. You do get the trivia tracks from GH:Metallica for the majority of the songs, which are a nice bonus, but don’t feel like enough.
The career mode feels incredibly basic. Going back to how it used to work way back when, you select an instrument, and then just play through various setlists, earning stars to unlock more songs. That’s about it. It’s all very bare bones. You don’t have to earn a whole lot of stars to progress either so if you just want to beat the career without playing all the songs, it will not take you that long.
I knew going in that any of the songs with Sammy Hagar are nowhere to be found in this game. Even as someone with little attachment to the band, this seems ridiculous. I know some diehard fans choose not to count those years, but at least give us the option to play those songs if we want to. It seems odd and a little lazy to not go the extra mile and include the song catalogue from that time period.
Now I’ll catch shit from the fans here but for the first few songs I played I couldn’t help but think “why is there a 16-year-old kid on stage with them?” A little bit of research taught me that this is actually 18-year-old Wolfgang Van Halen, who replaced bassist Michael Anthony a few years ago. It turns out that for the most part, only the current version of the band is depicted in the game. This of course means the Career mode doesn’t mean a thing as you don’t progress through the band’s career in any shape or form.
So we’ve established the game is definitely flawed. Are there any positives? Well yes. You see even with the obvious laziness on display here, the game is still fun. The songs are enjoyable across the board, with the exception of some of the non-Van Halen tracks (Stacy’s Mom was no longer relevant about a week after it was released) and even more important, they are fun to play. They also get challenging as hell later on. I got massacred on even the Hard difficulty, so the mere thought of Expert terrifies me.
As fun as the songs are there simply aren’t enough of them. There’s no reason this couldn’t have worked as a DLC pack. There are just over 40 songs in the game so you will see everything within a few hours.
Really what it boils down to is the same old concept – if you like the songs you’ll like the game. It’s the same game play we’ve come to expect so if you look at that track list and like what you see, then definitely give it a shot. However on the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the lack of effort on display here.
I believe if you got the game for free, you got yourself a fantastic deal. It’s absolutely worth free. It is not worth full price. In Canada this thing is 69.99 at most retailers. That’s more than Dragon Age! If it come out for 39.99, I could probably recommend it a lot easier. As it stands though, it’s probably best to wait for the inevitable price drop.